A new citizens’ assembly seems to be announced on a daily basis at the moment, but today’s was a particularly significant one. Six select committees of the UK Parliament have announced plans to hold a citizens’ assembly on “combating climate change and achieving the pathway to net zero carbon emissions”.

This is an important step both for combating climate change and renewing our democracy.

Citizens’ assemblies put the trade-offs faced by decision-makers in front of citizens and ask them to arrive at workable recommendations. There are few more pressing trade-offs to be made and decisions to be reached than those that face us on climate change. The citizens’ assembly will consider how the UK can achieve the commitment, made by the Prime Minister last week, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.

The pathway to net zero will likely require significant changes in the way we live our lives. Its implications will be far-reaching and the decisions to get us there will be difficult. This is exactly the type of complex and politically challenging issue that citizens’ assemblies can help us to address. It is no doubt why Extinction Rebellion’s third demand has been for the government to establish a citizens’ assembly on “climate and ecological justice”.

“The Citizens Assembly announced by six Select Committees today will give an opportunity for public input into the climate change debate. It will also help to provide committees with a clearer insight into the public’s views on the fair sharing of the potential costs of different policy choices and how we can best meet them. It’s clear that meeting the net-zero target will involve all parts of our economy, from, for example, heating our homes, electric vehicles and decarbonising transport, to energy infrastructure, green finance, and low-carbon goods and services. I hope the Citizens Assembly will demonstrate that, when all is considered, there is strong public support – even demand -  for the Government to take the action necessary to deliver the benefits of net zero by 2050.”

Rachel Reeves MP

Beyond climate change, today’s announcement is also an important step towards embedding more participation and deliberation at the heart of our democracy. Over the past few years, we've been working with Parliament to deepen the role of citizens in the work of select committees. Back in 2017, we developed guidance on Innovations for Select Committee Engagement. And last year, we set up and ran the first ever citizens’ assembly commissioned by the UK Parliament. The Citizens’ Assembly on Social Care brought together 48 citizens from across England to make recommendations on how social care should be funded. It was jointly commissioned by the Health and Social Care and Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committees, and their inquiry report strongly reflected the assembly’s recommendations.

“Having access to the considered views of the assembly was vital. And listening to the views of a representative group gave us a reliable insight into the solutions that could command broad consensus. [….] With the assembly showing the way in what could be achieved, the members of our committees, from different political parties and representing different parts of the country, were able to agree a unanimous report.”

Sarah Wollaston MP and Clive Betts MP

The decision of six select committees (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy; Environmental Audit; Housing, Communities and Local Government; Science and Technology; Transport; and Treasury) to jointly commission this citizens’ assembly not only reflects the complexity of climate change but also the growing enthusiasm for participation and deliberation in Parliament.

This citizens’ assembly is likely to be Parliament’s most ambitious to-date. There could be a lot riding on it, both for our democracy and our climate. Let's make sure it delivers for both.