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Citizen's Assembly on Climate Change

by Michael Ford last modified 05 Feb, 2020 04:25 PM

Bishop Nicholas has attended the first UK-wide Citizens’ Assembly on climate change.

Citizen's Assembly on Climate Change

Original photo courtesy @UNAUK on Twitter

People travelled from all over the country for the first meeting of the UK Climate Assembly, which took place in Birmingham.

Over 4 weekends, they will discuss a range of issues with experts and decide on a set of recommendations for how the government can reach its target of net-zero emissions by 2050.

Bishop Nicholas, who is an Advisor to all 4 of the Assemblies, welcomed the experimental events and said:

“The Assembly is an interesting and potentially very important development. The care with which the issues of climate change are being addressed is impressive. I continue to pray for the members of the Assembly and look forward to seeing the recommendations that will emerge at the end of the process.”

Invitations to the assembly were sent out to 30,000 households chosen at random, and of the over 1,500 people who responded asking to be considered, 110 were selected by a computer to be representative of society.

The Assembly, which contains a mix of ages, genders, ethnic backgrounds and education levels, and even a range of views about the climate crisis, heard from a range of experts and were addressed by Sir David Attenborough, who thanked the volunteers for giving up their time.

He said:

“If you have a parliament of a fixed length of 5 years, it is very difficult to persuade politicians that they should give money and time and attention and worry to an issue which is not going to come to a climax – and people won’t know if it is successful or not successful – for 10 years, 15 years hence.”

“Your very existence here means Members of Parliament are taking it seriously. The people in this country ought to be extremely grateful to you, as indeed am I.”

The Assembly also heard from speakers at organisations including Natural England, the New Economics Foundation, and Wellcome and were given the chance to ask questions.

Some of these were practical – “What’s more environmentally friendly, British beef or avocados?” – while some were more ethical – “How can we ensure the cost of changes don’t affect poorer people disproportionately?”

Prof Lorraine Whitmarsh, the director of the UK Centre for Climate Change and Social Transformations, and one of the Assembly’s expert leads, said:

“It’s about distilling down the enormous complexity of climate change into small pieces of information that are accessible, balanced and meaningful for people, so it is quite a tall order.

“Some people are probably totally comfortable with a lot of what’s been covered today, and some people will have never really heard anything of this kind before.”

Assembly member Leia, 20, from Darlington, said giving up her time for the cause was an easy decision to make:

“You don’t get an opportunity to influence government policy very often and climate change is really important.”

Participants could hold up a yellow card if a speaker was going too fast, or a red card if they needed something explained or clarified.

A Citizens’ Assembly is a group of people brought together to discuss an issue or issues, and reach a conclusion about what they think should happen. They give members of the public the time and opportunity to learn about and discuss a topic, before reaching conclusions. Assembly members are asked to make trade-offs and arrive at workable recommendations.

Facilitated by experts, and combining small-group discussions with large-scale debates and a series of votes, members meet over a series of weekends with the goal of removing the conflicts of interest and tribal loyalties that can hamper politicians in reaching a conclusion.

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