As the UK Climate Assembly is about to launch in Birmingham on January 24th, on the other side of the Channel, the French Convention Citoyenne pour le Climat has got a head start. On January 10th, 150 French citizens met for the fourth time to look at how to address the climate crisis.

The synchronicity of these two major democratic events provides a unique opportunity to work out how deliberative processes can help us meaningfully respond to the climate emergency, and how citizens might usefully shape climate policies in the future.

What is the Convention Citoyenne pour le Climat?

The Convention Citoyenne pour le Climat is a deliberative process comparable to a Citizens’ Assembly. It was commissioned by the French President, Emmanuel Macron in April 2019 to answer the following question:

How to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in France by at least 40% (in relations to 1990’s levels) by 2030, in the spirit of social justice?

Unlike most Citizens’ Assemblies, the Convention has been given real power. In April 2019, Emmanuel Macron committed to ‘not filter’ any recommendations coming out of the process. Measures generated by the Convention are to be enacted either through a national referendum, parliamentary vote or directly turned into executive orders.

But as with most things, the devil is in the detail. During his visit at the Convention on Friday 10th January, Emmanuel Macron clarified what he meant exactly by ‘no filter’ because it has constitutional implications. For all the nuances around the ‘no filter’ aspect, have a look at this thread on Twitter.

We think this is the first time any national deliberative event has been given such powers.

In short, the Convention has teeth. This is not just another consultative process, but real deliberative democracy with a mandate from the top to write policy.

How and when was the Convention born?

The idea of a Convention on climate emerged during the Grand Debat National, the national consultation initiated by Emmanuel Macron in 2019.

In January 2019, in the midst of the Yellow Vest protests triggered by the rise of the eco-tax, a proposal  to create a climate Citizens’ Assembly was suggested to Emmanuel Macron by the Gilets Citoyens and Democratie Ouverte.

Gilets Citoyens is formed of several individuals and organisations from the participative democracy field, social movements such as Yellow Vests, Ecology and climate change groups, researchers and independent experts and elected representatives. It includes some famous names such as the actress Marion Cotillard, the documentary maker Cyril Dion, the Paris Agreement architect Laurence Tubiana, the campaigner Mathilde Imer and Priscillia Ludosky from the Gilets Jaunes.

In his speech on April 26th 2019 Emmanuel Macron announced the Convention was going to take place later in the year.

Who are the citizens involved in the Convention and how were they selected?

The selection criteria

150 citizens have been selected by sortition, which is a process of selection by lot to create a ‘mini public’ representative of the French population. The following 6 selection criteria have been used:

  • Gender: 51% of women and 49% of men, in line with the current spread in French society
  • Age: Six different age groups, proportional to the current population pyramid, including some young people under the age of 18 (3% of 16-17 year old, 11% of 18-24, 14% of 25-34, 24% 35-49, 28% of 50-64, 18% 65+)
  • Qualification: Six different qualifications levels with a particular interest in ensuring a fair representation of people without a degree (26% without a degree or just with a primary school level or secondary school level education, 21% with level 5 qualifications CAP/BEP, 19% with a Baccalaureate level, 21% with a post Baccalaureate level, and 13% currently studying)
  • Socio-professional categories: 1% farmers, 4% craftsmen, traders and entrepreneurs, 9% higher managerial levels and liberal professions, 16% intermediate professions, 16% employees, 10% technical workers,  27% retired and 18% unemployed. Amongst those citizens, two women in very vulnerable social and economic situation (situation de grande pauvreté) are taking part. They have been selected and are accompanied by the NGO Petits Frères des Pauvres throughout the process.
  • Type of territory: 62% from big conurbations, 23% from surrounding areas of big conurbations, 15% from rural towns and villages.
  • Geographic area: according to population size - see picture.

French Citizens Assembly map of geographic spread of participants

Unlike in Britain or the US, where people are often asked to tick a box about ethnic origin, in France it is illegal to classify people by ethnicity or to ask census questions on race or origins. The foundation stone of the secular French republic is that all citizens should be equal and free from distinctions of class, race or religion. As a consequence, ethnicity is not a selection criteria in the sortition process.

The selection process

With a budget of €280,000, the sortition process was done by the polling company Harris Interactive. They randomly selected 255,000 phone numbers (85% mobile numbers, 15% landlines) and in August 2019, they started proceeding with phone calls to select 150 citizens representative of the diversity of the French population, based on the six criteria listed above.

Substitutes

40 citizens have been asked to be on stand-by as substitutes (i.e. suppléants) in case of defections by Convention members. Several of them have already stepped into that role, as some of the initial citizens have left the Convention. The reasons for these and the exact attrition rate are not public at this stage.

Anonymity

The default principle is that the 150 citizens have the right to remain anonymous throughout the process. Their surnames are never communicated unless they decide to. Some of the citizens who are willing to be interviewed by the press or are active on social media can though often be identified by their surnames and the places where they live.

Whilst ensuring the anonymity of the citizens, there is also an intention from the Governance Committee, which oversees the running of the Convention, to encourage interactions with the media and to have a wider public outreach. The citizens themselves have expressed the desire to increase the visibility of the work of the Convention and to take the conversations beyond the walls of Palais d’Iena, where the Convention takes place.

How is the Convention organised?

Duration

The Convention has been designed to take place over 7 weekends between the beginning of October 2019 and the beginning of April 2020. The original plan was a period of 6 weekends between October and the end of January 2020, but due to the fourth session being postponed because of the strikes happening in France in December 2019, the whole process was reviewed and rescheduled. The addition of a further weekend came as a result of the demands from the Convention members themselves, who very clearly expressed their need for more time.

Each weekend is called a ‘Session’ as they span over two and a half days, starting on Friday at 1pm and finishing on Sunday at 4pm, which will equate to a total of 17.5 days of attendance at the Convention (and extra time for travel).

However, the Convention members see their involvement as an ongoing process over several months, with work done between each session. This work can take many forms depending on each citizen. Some take part in themed webinars, others initiate meetings with local elected representatives (e.g. their town mayors, their MPs, their local councillors) and with other citizens or community groups. Some also respond to media requests. Overall, this means that each individual has the power to do as much or as little as they want in terms of research and outreach between each session.

Budget

A total budget of €4m has been allocated to the Conseil Economique Social et Environemental (CESE) to run the Convention. This budget covers: logistical costs (transport, accommodation and catering for all 150 citizens), financial compensation for the citizen’s commitment to the process, sortition, process design and delivery, experts' input.

Citizens are compensated for their time. The compensation is based on the jury service standards (i.e. €86.04 per day). There is also a contribution towards the loss of earnings for people working at weekends (i.e. €10.03 per hour). The costs of childcare are also covered in order to allow single parents to take part in the Convention (i.e. €18 per hour).

Process

The diagram below summarises the process of the Convention:

Outline timeline for the french citizens' assembly

It follows a well-established Citizens Assembly structure which includes time for learning (sessions 1, 2 and 3), deliberation (sessions 4, 5 and 6) and decision-making (session 7).

Aim

There is a clear question for the Convention to address: “How to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in France by at least 40% (in relations to 1990’s levels) by 2030, in the spirit of social justice?”

The framing of the question is interesting. By using the term ‘at least’ the Convention is giving the opportunity to the 150 citizens to go further than 40% reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Will citizens decide to go further than 40%? If so, how much more?

Few questions have been raised so far about this target. Who defined it and how? How does it relate to the 2050 objective of carbon neutrality? How are the so-called “imported” emissions (those associated with consuming products and services from abroad) accounted for?

Themes and group work

Alongside plenary discussions where all 150 citizens stay together, the Convention members are also working in groups.

The 150 citizens have been split into five groups of 30 people covering five themes: ‘Se deplacer’ transport, ‘Se nourir’ food, ‘Consommer’ consumption, ‘Travailler et produire’ work and production, ‘Se loger’ housing. The selection of the citizens in each group was done by lot in order to prevent people from choosing their preferred subjects and this introducing an element of bias into the process.

A cross-cutting group, called ‘escouade’ was created after the second session in November 2019, at the request of the citizens, in order to look at overarching topics relevant to all five themes such as: the financing of measures, communication, engagement, education and training, constitutional reform, energy production and consumption, protection of the natural environment and biodiversity. An overview of the transverse topics can be found in the summary of session 3. However, it emerged that this cross-cutting group, based on the self-selection principle (rather than selection by lot) presented issues of legitimacy and had process implications, as it did run in parallel with the other five groups, and in effect was preventing people from being fully engaged with their original topic. Also, due to the subjects covered in the escouade (i.e. constitutional reform, finances etc.), it created tensions around the perceived more strategic nature of that group. As a result, the Governance Committee decided to suspend the escouade. Going forward, the topics from the escouade will be dealt with via different mechanisms as announced by Thierry Pech, Co-chair of the Convention, at the end of Session 4.

Lead facilitators and Moderators

Two consultancy firms, Missions Publiques and Res Publica Conseil are in charge of designing and moderating the process. The plenary discussions are hosted by four co-lead facilitators rotating over the course of each weekend.

When it comes to table conversations, people are left to their own devices to explore the tasks and come up with outputs. No conversations guidelines or ground rules have been suggested in order to help citizens have meaningful discussions.

The conversations happening between six people in average are self-facilitated and self-recorded.

The decision to not have table facilitators seems to be a deliberate methodology choice, but the rationale hasn’t been explained so far. This is something which will be worth exploring further to understand the impact this has on the quality of the conversations between citizens and on the deliberations.

Online platforms

An online internal platform called 'J’enparle' was set up for the members of the Convention. It is managed by Res Publica Conseil. Its purpose is to allow information sharing (s’informer) and collaboration (participer) between citizens and between the organisers and the citizens, throughout the duration of the Convention.

An online external platform 'Contribuez' was set up to gather the contributions from the public and from stakeholder organisations. It is managed by Open Source Politics and it uses an open source software called Decidim. It can be accessed by anyone and only requires an email address to register. Three contributions summaries will be produced by Open Source Politics during the Convention. These summaries are reviewed and validated by the Governance Committee, and are accessible to anyone online.

Support Group, Experts, Public Law Committee and Fact Checkers

A multitude of experts are involved in supporting the citizens in their learning and deliberative journey:

  • A support group of 14 people called groupe d’appui was formed by the Governance Commitee to advise the Convention members in the exploration of areas of work and the elaboration of measures.
  • A wide range of experts were selected by the Governance Committee to present at Session 1. The citizens were invited to suggest other experts they wanted to hear from during the subsequent sessions. The list of the experts who gave evidence during session 1 is provided below. The presentations from all the experts heard during session 2 and session 3 is available online.
  • A Public Law Committee ‘Comité légistique’ is formed of two Public Law experts who will guide the citizens at the deliberation stage when the measures will need to be turned into texts fit for referendum, legislative or regulatory purpose.
  • Fact Checkers from various research organisations are available during the sessions to answer any questions that require clarifications.

Experts who gave evidence during session one included:

  • Valérie Masson-Delmotte, Paleo-climatologist
  • Daniel Verger, Secours Catholique (Social Justice Christian NGO)
  • Benoit Leguet, CEO of I4CE (Institute for climate economics)
  • Michel Badré, Environment Engineer & Vice-Président of CESE
  • Patrick Criqui, Research Director at CNRS (Economy expert)
  • Delphine Hédary, Conseillère d’Etat (State Councillor)
  • Marine Fleury, Public Law Expert
  • Laurent Berger, General Secretary of the CFDT (Trade Union)
  • Élisabeth Borne, Minister for the Ecological and Inclusive Transition
  • Anne Bringault, Energy transition expert for the NGO Réseau Action Climat
  • Augustin de Romanet, CEO of ADP (Paris Airport).

Media strategy and outreach

There is a clear intention from the Governance Committee to invite the media to the Convention. The different media outlets have access to both the plenary and group sessions. A specific section on the Convention’s website is dedicated to the press.

The hope is to take the conversation about the climate crisis beyond the walls of the Palais d’Iena, where the Convention is taking place. 

The interest by the media for the Convention shifted noticeably during the third session in November 2019, when Nicolas Hulot, Former Minister for the Ecological and Inclusive Transition attended the Convention following his invitation by the 150 citizens. On Friday 10th January, the Questions and Answers session between President Macron and the 150 citizens led to a large increase in media coverage.

 

Who is involved in running the Convention?

The organiser: Conseil Economique Social et Environnemental (the CESE)

In July 2019, the Prime Minister Edouard Philippe nominated the Conseil Economique Social et Environnemental to organise the Convention. The CESE represents civic society in the third Assembly of the Republic, alongside the National Assembly and the Senate. It is a Consultative Assembly which advises the Executive on legislation. Its members include organisations such as NGOs, Trade Unions, Private Sector members and Students.

By handing over the organisation of the Convention to the CESE, the executive wants to ensure the Convention is independent and free to make its own decisions.

The Governance committee

A Governance Committee has been established in order to oversee the design and running of the Convention and to ensure its independence. The Governance Committee is formed of 17 people: 15 members from different sectors with specific competences and two citizens from the Convention, rotating after each session.

Co-Chairs

  • Laurence Tubiana, CEO of the European Climate Foundation, key architect of the Paris Agreement on climate
  • Thierry Pech, CEO of Terra Nova

Rapporteur

  • Julien Blanchet, vice-chair of the CESE

Climate experts

  • Jean Jouzel, climatologist, member of the French Academy of Sciences and advisor of the CESE
  • Anne-Marie Ducroux, Chair of the environmental section of the CESE
  • Michel Colombier, Co-founder and scientific director of the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI)

Participative Democracy Experts

  • Mathilde Imer, co-chair of Démocratie Ouverte, founding member of Gilets Citoyens
  • Loic Blondiaux, professor of political science and Chair of the CNRS scientific interest group ‘Participation, decision, participative democracy’
  • Jean-Michel Fourniau, director of the scientific interest group ‘Participation, decision, participative democracy’

Social and Economic sectors experts

  • Jean Grosset, Quaestor of the CESE and Director of the Observatory of social dialogue at the Jean Jaurès Foundation
  • Dominique Gillier, vice-chair of the CESE and Head of Prospect for the CFDT (Trade Union)
  • Marie-Claire Martel, Chair of the Coordination of federations and associations of culture (COFAC) and advisor of the CESE
  • Catherine Tissot-Colle, Communication and sustainable development director of ERAMET (global mining and metallurgy group) and advisor of the CESE

Climate and Participation Experts nominated by the Ecological and Inclusive Transition Minister

  • Léo Cohen, former Adviser in the Ministry for the Ecological and Inclusive Transition in charge of the preparatory work for the launch of the Convention.
  • Ophélie Risler, Head of department at the Energy and Climate Directorate at the Ministry for the Ecological and Inclusive Transition

Guarantors

There are also three guarantors (garants) acting as independent overseers, ensuring the compliance of the process with the rules of independence and deontology. Each guarantor has been nominated by a different organisation.

  • Cyril Dion, co-founder of the Colibris movement and co-director of the documentary "Demain", nominated by the President of the CESE
  • Anne Frago, Director of Cultural and Social services at the National Assembly, nominated by the president of the National Assembly
  • Michèle Khadi, Honorary Director at the Senate, nominated by the President of the Senate.

The delivery partners

  • Two consultancy firms, Missions Publiques and Res Publica Conseil, are in charge of designing and moderating the process.
  • The polling company Harris Interactive is in charge of the sortition process
  • Open Source Politics manages the online consultation platform.

 

 

About Claire Mellier-Wilson

Claire is a participation practitioner working in the field of systems change. She has designed and facilitated many engagement processes on environmental issues. In 2019, with Involve, she facilitated Citizens Assemblies on the climate crisis and air quality in Camden and Kingston. She is part of a group of accredited researchers observing the French Climate Change Convention.  

Claire’s interest for participative democracy and environmental issues took her from France to the UK in 2004. At the time, she felt France was behind with regards to deliberative processes on sustainability topics. Sixteen years later, France is definitely leading the way with the Convention Citoyenne pour le Climat. Expectations are high, there is a lot at stake and we can learn from it.

Over the coming months Claire will be exploring various aspects of the Convention on her blog. You can also follow her on Twitter.