The UK’s citizen-led Climate Assembly is calling for a green recovery – we all need to support its work so that government cannot ignore its recommendations, says Ann Link.

Climate Assembly UKParliament set up a Citizens’ Climate Assembly last year to enable people from all walks of life to discuss how the UK can reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. The assembly consists of 108 people selected like a jury to represent the diverse population and views in the UK. It met over several weekends this spring, listening to expert advice and hearing differing opinions.

Covid-19, of course, changed everything, and the assembly’s final sessions were held remotely. The assembly’s detailed report on the path to achieving net zero emissions is due to be published after parliament’s summer recess.

But in view of the pandemic, the assembly was keen to publish an interim statement on what steps it believes need to be taken to tackle emissions as lockdown eases. In the report, 93% of assembly members agreed that as lockdown eases, government, employers and others should take steps to encourage lifestyle changes that are more compatible with reaching net zero.

The major weakness of the Citizens’ Assembly is that it is not binding on the government, as Extinction Rebellion originally demanded when it campaigned for an assembly. In June, chairs of six parliamentary committees wrote to the prime minister asking for the assembly’s interim briefing to be taken into account when developing economic policy for a post-COVID 19 recovery. But there is no obligation on the cabinet to do so.

But I think there is value in the assembly itself because it shows the considered opinion of a representative group of UK people. It is easy to assume that only a minority of UK citizens want major change in order to combat climate change when in fact most people want a green recovery. A survey by Ipsos Mori in April showed that two thirds of Britons believe climate change is as serious as coronavirus and the majority want the climate prioritised in any plans for economic recovery.

Leading economists have also said that a green recovery is actually the best way to counter the economic damage caused by the pandemic. Their research suggested that green projects such as boosting renewable energy or energy efficiency create more jobs, deliver higher short-term returns and lead to increased long-term cost savings relative to traditional stimulus measures.

And recent government announcements are facing fierce opposition. Plan B, the campaigning group that won a case against expansion of Heathrow Airport, is already threatening to sue the government, saying that its recently-announced £3 billion package to kickstart an eco-friendly recovery still breaks the Paris Agreement to keep within a 1.5 degree rise in global temperature. You can read Plan B’s full letter to Boris Johnson and the Governor of the Bank of England here.

It would seem to be folly for the government to set up a Climate Assembly then steadfastly reject its members’ recommendations. But the government’s activities often bypass rational political thought.  By each supporting and highlighting the work of the Climate Assembly ourselves – recognising its value as a platform for the climate concerns of all of us – we can all make its activities harder for those in power to ignore.


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