The UK’s citizens’ assembly on climate change moves online this weekend as assembly members express determination to complete work and deliver recommendations to Parliament.

The members of Climate Assembly UK, from all walks of life, have committed to several online discussions across three weekends to complete the assembly’s work on the path to net-zero. 107 members are currently due to participate in the weekends virtually, which will run from mid-April to late May.

Climate Assembly UK was commissioned by six House of Commons Select Committees to explore public preferences on how the UK can reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The assembly met across three weekends in central Birmingham from January to March. However, due to the UK’s outbreak of coronavirus, the final weekend – scheduled for 20h- 22 March – was postponed.

The assembly will now reconvene online to complete its work and finalise its recommendations, with its remaining sessions split into smaller sections across three further weekends. Each weekend will involve a few hours of learning and discussion on Saturday and Sunday, to fit the work around assembly members’ other commitments. This new approach follows sustained interest from assembly members in completing the task they were assigned by Parliament and to find a way to do so without putting any assembly members, staff or stakeholders at risk.

“I’m disappointed that the final weekend was cancelled, but it was the right decision to protect everyone involved. The final weekend will now use video conference over three weekends in April and May, and I hope that there will be a minimum delay to completing this part of the process, while maintaining the momentum gained from the first weekends. “The use of video conference can impact some non-verbal communication, but the work done in the first three weekends will compensate for this. The drop in air and land travel due to coronavirus will also provide further scientific evidence on the impact our way of life is having on the environment and could strengthen the proposals that we put forward to parliament and the government. It may also allow people to rethink their lifestyles, including about how much they need to travel and where they source their food from.”

 Adrian, Assembly Member from Northern Ireland

“It was disappointing that weekend four didn’t go ahead, but obviously we have to protect everybody’s health, so it was the right thing to do. I am glad that it is going forward in some capacity and I think that doing it virtually is the best way to do this. “I’m happy that we’re not going to leave the assembly hanging and that we are going to finish the job, and I hope that the results are then taken seriously by the government.”

 Sharon, Assembly Member from Yorkshire

This weekend, the assembly will hear from a range of speakers on the topic of where our electricity comes from, before discussing their views on the strengths and weaknesses of different options, and voting on their preferences for electricity in, and on the way to, net-zero emissions by 2050. The speakers are Mike Hemsley (Committee on Climate Change), Professor Patricia Thornley (Director, Energy and Bioproducts Research Institute and Supergen Bioenergy Hub, Aston University), and Professor Jim Watson (University College London Institute of Sustainable Resources and one of the Assembly’s Expert Leads).

The assembly members will listen to a presentation from each speaker and then have an opportunity to question them in small groups. The speakers’ presentation videos will be live-streamed to the Climate Assembly UK website with slides and transcripts made available online next week. The Q&A sessions will not be live-streamed. Conversations between assembly members have not been live-streamed at any of the assembly weekends to ensure they feel able to have full and frank discussions.

“In order to achieve our ambitious plan for net zero emissions, coordinated action is necessary, not just between governments but also with businesses, specialist bodies and citizens. Climate Assembly UK plays such an essential role in championing collaboration of this kind and I would like to commend everyone involved for this.”

 The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office, Rt Hon Michael Gove MP

After this weekend, the assembly will meet across a further two online weekends to learn about, discuss and vote on the topic of removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, and check its earlier work on how we travel, what we buy, food, farming and land use, and in the home. Assembly members will also have the opportunity to discuss anything they wish to add to their report in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

All the votes taken by Climate Assembly UK will be conducted by secret ballot. Qualitative analysis of the assembly’s preferences on how to reach net-zero by 2050, and the results of the votes, will form a report to be presented to Parliament in the summer.