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Wednesday 4 November 2020 - 04/11/20


The UK government has committed to reduce net carbon emissions to zero by 2050. In June 2019, six Select Committees of the House of Commons commissioned a citizens’ assembly to understand public preferences on how the UK should tackle this commitment, because of the impact these decisions will have on people’s lives.

The assembly’s 108 members come from all walks of life. Together they are representative of the UK population in terms of: age, gender, ethnicity, educational level, where in the UK they live (including 4 members from Northern Ireland), whether they live in an urban or a rural area, and their level of concern about climate change. They met 6 times between January and May 2020 (3 times in person, and three times online following the outbreak of COVID–19 in the UK).

The assembly’s final report The Path to Net Zero has just been published.The committees will use the recommendations in this report as a basis for detailed work on implementing the assembly’s recommendations. The Assembly provided an unprecedented opportunity for the public to contribute to the climate change debate, and to influence action taken by Government and Parliament.

The work of Climate Assembly UK is designed to strengthen and support the UK’s parliamentary democracy by ensuring politicians and policy makers have the best possible evidence available to them about public preferences on reaching the net zero target. Parliament will use the report to support its work in scrutinising the Government’s climate change policy and progress on the target.

Involve was the lead organisation contracted by the House of Commons to run Climate Assembly UK on its behalf, along with Sortition Foundation and mySociety.

Key points

  • A citizens’ assembly is a group of people who are brought together to learn about and discuss an issue or issues, and reach conclusions about what they think should happen.
  • The people who take part are chosen so they reflect the wider population – in terms of demographics (e.g. age, gender, ethnicity, social class) and sometimes relevant attitudes (e.g. their views on climate change).
  • Citizens’ assemblies give members of the public the time and opportunity to learn about and discuss a topic. Participants hear from, and question, a wide range of specialists. These can include, for example, academics, researchers, people with direct experience of the issue, other stakeholders and campaigners. Through this process, they hear balanced evidence on the issue, before discussing what they have heard with one another and deciding what they think.
  • In February 2020, the Northern Ireland Assembly voted to declare a climate emergency. The recommendation of Climate Assembly UK provides a place from which to start shaping how the devolved government responds to that emergency.
  • The Climate Assembly viewed local leadership as pivotal to achieving the goal of reaching net zero, and the need for ‘local community engagement embedded in national solutions’ forms one of the underpinning principles and is repeated in many of the recommendations across the various themes.
  • Well over 750 stakeholders and government officials have attended in–depth briefings on Climate Assembly UK’s recommendations so far. We want to ensure that stakeholders, officials and policy makers in NI share the opportunity for a full briefing, and have a chance to explore the recommendations in detail, as well as their implications for NI. Reaching net zero carbon by 2050 will impact on almost all areas of policy and involves complex trade–offs.
  • Climate Assembly UK’s recommendations cover many areas of life: travel, food, land use, our homes, shopping and consumption, energy generation and use, greenhouse gas removal and the impacts of COVID–19 on the path to net zero.
  • The report is an invaluable resource for decision makers across the UK because it reflects what the general public is likely to prioritise when faced with different policy directions and choices about how to meet the 2050 net zero target, why and under what conditions. It also highlights where further information or work is needed to build public support for action on climate change.
  • The recommendations are significant because they achieve an unprecedented range, breadth and depth of public input into how to take action on climate change. They have been described by Chris Stark, Chief Executive of the Committee on Climate Change (the government’s independent advisory body on climate change) as ‘new data’ and ‘a really balanced and proportionate set of recommendations.’
  • The report has been welcomed by the commissioning select committees, who have praised the members for their commitment to the process, their balanced approach and respect of each others’ perspectives, and the recommendations they have come to. The committees have pledged to use the report to scrutinise government policy and hold ministers to account. Committee chairs have written to the Prime Minister ‘urg[ing] the Government to consider carefully the recommendations in the report and ask[ing] that you publish a response before the end of the year.” They also wrote to leaders of the opposition parties at Westminster “to highlight a key ask of the assembly which you are able to help deliver” around the call for cross–party consensus and a long–term approach.
  • On 10th september, the Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) committee announced a major inquiry into the findings of the climate assembly in order to review the government’s engagement with the findings. The BEIS committee is also exploring mainstreaming the work of the climate assembly and its proposals in the context of future inquiries.

What the briefings will cover

Involve is offering an in–depth briefing on Climate Assembly UK for local government stakeholders in Northern Ireland.

This briefing will cover:

  • An overview of the Climate Assembly from Involve’s Sarah Allan, including membership, structure, oversight, expert contributions, and the deliberative decision–making process that led to the recommendations contained in ‘Path to net zero’
  • An overview of the recommendations from Climate Assembly UK expert lead*, Jim Watson, and their potential implications for national, devolved, and local government
  • Climate Assembly member’s perspective on being part of the assembly

The webinar will be chaired by Nichola Hughes, Director of Sustainable NI.

*The Assembly’s work is informed by specialists – known as the Expert Leads – in different approaches to tackling climate change. The Expert Leads are responsible for ensuring that the information provided to Climate Assembly UK assembly is balanced, accurate and comprehensive, and that the assembly is focused on the key decisions facing the UK about how to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

About the speakers

Sarah Allan

Sarah is Head of Engagement for Involve

Her work at Involve has included a number of high profile citizens’ assemblies, including Climate Assembly UK (UK Parliament, 2019–2020), National Assembly for Wales Citizens’ Assembly (2019) and the Citizens’ Assembly on Social Care (UK Parliament, 2018). She was Design and Facilitation Lead for the Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit (2017).

Beyond citizens’ assemblies, Sarah has worked with the Houses of Parliament and National Assembly for Wales to author guidance and training on how parliamentary committees can better engage the public in their work. She also develops and leads projects that focus on giving people with particular lived experience a say in decisions that affect their lives. She co–developed and co–led MH:2K, Involve’s youth–led project on mental health (2016 – 2018). She was also project lead for the Residents’ Reference Panel on Building Safety in High Rise Residential Buildings for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (2018–2019).

Sarah is an Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the Constitution Unit, University College London, and an Associate Member of the University of Leeds’ Centre for Democratic Engagement. She was a member of the Wellcome Trust’s working group on patient engagement.

Professor Jim Watson

Professor Jim Watson is Professor of Energy Policy and Research Director at the University College London Institute of Sustainable Resources. He was Director of the UK Energy Research Centre from 2013 to 2019, and Director of the Sussex Energy Group, University of Sussex from 2008 to 2013. Jim has 20 years’ research experience on climate change, energy and innovation policy. He frequently advises the UK government and other organisations. He is a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences, a judge for the Queens Awards (sustainable development) and a member of the government’s fossil fuel price assumptions panel. Jim has received particular support in the part of his Expert Lead role relating to the ‘How we travel’ theme from Jillian Anable, Professor of Transport and Energy at the University of Leeds, and a co–Director of the UK Energy Research Centre. Jillian is a member of Climate Assembly UK’s Academic Panel.

We will also hear from Tracey, a member of the Climate Assembly UK from Northern Ireland, who will speak about the experience of participating in a citizens’ assembly.

Nichola Hughes

Nichola manages the NI Sustainable Development Forum, a network of public sector officers working together to drive forward the sustainable development agenda in Northern Ireland. Previously, Nichola worked for the Climate Change Advisory Council in Ireland, a scientific body which provided advice to the Government on climate change policy. Nichola has a MSc in Climate Change from the University of East Anglia.

About Involve

The Involve Foundation (‘Involve’) is the UK’s public participation charity, with offices in Northern Ireland, Scotland, and England. It works towards creating a more vibrant democracy, with people at the heart of decision–making.

Involve demonstrates how democracy can be different, and supports people and decision–makers to work together to solve our biggest challenges.

Involve’s mission is to develop, support and campaign for new ways of involving people in the decisions that affect their lives.

Involve was responsible for ensuring that Climate Assembly UK was a high quality citizens’ assembly. Involve worked closely with the Expert Leads on the assembly’s design, focussing on areas such as the assembly’s structure, timings and accessibility.

Involve was also responsible for recruiting and leading the facilitation team for the assembly, and for managing the project overall. It was the main point of contact for assembly members.

About Sustainable NI

Sustainable NI is a membership and networking body that helps bring together people and organisations working in sustainability and empower them to change the system faster. It’s vision is a sustainable Northern Ireland in which prosperity, social equity and a healthy environment are achieved in a balanced way.

In addition to its work with members, Sustainable NI works with partner organisations on projects that help advance sustainable development. Sustainable NI also co–ordinates the All Party Group on Climate Action at Stormont.