By Sarah Allan
Director of Climate Programmes
On Thursday 10 September 2020 the first ever UK-wide citizens’ assembly on climate change launched its final report. A lot has happened in the few days since so I decided to pull together a list of my top ten developments.
Climate Assembly UK was commissioned by six Select Committees of the House of Commons. Speaking on the floor of the House of Commons on 10th September, Darren Jones MP, Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee announced a “major Inquiry” with a “two-pronged approach”:
First, we will launch an overarching Inquiry into the findings of the [climate] assembly in order to review on a regular basis the Government’s engagement and interaction with the findings of the assembly and progress in implementing its proposals. […]
Second and in addition, the Committee will mainstream the work of the climate assembly. We will undertake detailed scrutiny of its proposals within the context of other existing and future inquiries. For example, the BEIS Committee is currently undertaking work on net zero and COP26. And we will shortly announce details of a series of new energy and climate change inquiries…. […] The findings of the climate assembly will therefore shape and inform the Committee’s programme of inquiries for the duration of this parliament….”
The Chairs of the five other Select Committees who commissioned Climate Assembly UK also responded to the report at its launch event. Mel Stride MP, Chair of the Treasury Committee, described it as an “extraordinary and brilliant exercise” noting:
in terms of the democratic process, of course, a climate assembly is not the same thing as the Government. However I believe...that it does have authority. And I think there are two reasons for that having observed this process.
The first is the way in which the participants have been selected.… It has been a representative sample of individuals, and I think the objective way in which the sessions have been held has been a real strength. And the second reason, I think is … about the recommendations that have been made. These strike me as being proportionate... and also sensible. […]
This report will inform our Committee. We will look at it as a Committee very closely. […] We really do have a duty now given the gravity of what we need to achieve over the coming years to work together and you have my commitment and my Committee’S commitment to do just that.”
The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) is the government’s independent advisory body on climate change. Speaking about the Climate Assembly UK report at its launch, CCC Chief Executive Chris Stark said:
It’s a real first. We have had for decades in the UK a community of scientific experts who’ve been building a picture of the climate science and the urgent actions that we need to take to decarbonize the UK and our society. … but we have never had evidence like this before. This is the first time … that we can say we really understand the views of UK citizens. [….]
This was a tremendously valuable process which could, and I think really should, be repeated. […] My own organisation, the CCC, is going to use more of these deliberative approaches in the future I hope in our research. I hope others do too. For me and my organisation of course this is new data. […] I hope that Ministers listen and act on that [the recommendations]. This is for me is a really balanced and proportionate set of recommendations. If I was a Minister I would be really pleased to see this. So there’s a realistic package here and I know we at the Committee on Climate Change are going to make full use of this in our recommendations to government after this.”
You can watch Chris’s speech online (from 19.52). It includes a brief summary of the assembly’s recommendations.
The Rt Hon Alok Sharma MP gave the Government’s initial reaction to the report at its launch. It included:
“I do believe that the Climate Assembly has shown us the benefits of working with a dedicated group. One that’s been given time and information to consider complex issues in full. […]
And this report will help to shape the work that we in government are doing over the next critical 14 months. […] And in the run up to COP26, we will publish our own NDC [Nationall Determined contribution]. And the assembly’s report will help to inform our plans.
I have asked my officials to look at its recommendations in detail and we’ve also invited the assembly’s Expert Leads to [give] … seven briefings to government officials over the next few weeks. [….] Because I do think that the kind of cooperation that we’ve had here is absolutely crucial. It is only by working together that we will help and reach net zero.”
You can watch the Secretary of State’s speech online (from 9.35).
The six Select Committee Chairs wrote a letter 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 (here is one of the letters).
Well over 550 stakeholders and government officials have now attended in-depth briefings about Climate Assembly UK’s recommendations, and the numbers are still going up. In addition, attendees at the virtual report launch itself numbered over 200, with others watching the livestream on the Climate Assembly UK website. You can watch the launch event back in full online or watch our short introduction to the assembly.
Picture Zero Productions and Curious Films announced that they are making a documentary about Climate Assembly UK that “holds a mirror up to our society’s relationship with climate change.” You can read more about ‘A Very British Revolution’ online and watch three short vignettes each introducing a different assembly member. They are well worth a watch.
The Climate Assembly UK report wasn’t the only one published last week on the net zero target. The Institute for Government (IfG) also published its report on net zero. There are striking similarities between the two reports including their calls for stronger leadership and coordination from government, and ongoing and more honest engagement with the public.
For a brief introduction to both reports, have a listen to this excellent podcast from the IfG, featuring the authors of their report, and two of Climate Assembly UK’s Expert Leads, Chris Stark and Professor Becky Willis.
Some of Climate Assembly UK’s assembly members gave up large amounts of their time to speak at events and take part in media interviews. You can watch back what Sue (6.26 in), Marc (39.00 in) and Ibrahim (40.40 in) had to say at the launch event. A massive thank you to all the assembly members who helped with the events and media coverage, as well as the filming for the launch video.
There was some great coverage of the assembly’s recommendations. We counted over a thousand pieces of coverage – across online, print, radio and television – in total. One of my favourites was this great piece on Channel 4 News, featuring an assembly member and Chris Stark. Another was this Saturday editorial in the Guardian.
A wide range of organisations and individuals – including members of the assembly’s Advisory Panel - have published supportive statements, or made supportive comments about the assembly. It’s impossible to list everyone here, but it’s been really appreciated. Thank you. Follow #ClimateAssemblyUK or @NetZeroUK on Twitter for updates. The assembly is also @NetZeroUK on Facebook and Instagram.