The first UK-wide citizens’ assembly on climate change, Climate Assembly UK, publishes its final report today,1 setting out a clear, internally consistent and timely path for how the UK can reach its legally binding target of net zero emissions by 2050.
Six Select Committees of the House of Commons commissioned the citizens’ assembly to understand public preferences on how the UK should tackle climate change because of the impact these decisions will have on people’s lives. Today Climate Assembly UK hands its work back to the committees with their final report, The path to net zero, issuing strong calls to Parliament and the Government to rise to the challenge of achieving the net zero target in a clear, accountable way.
In a statement opening the report, Assembly members said that it is “imperative that there is strong and clear leadership from Government” that should “forge a cross-party consensus that allows for certainty, long-term planning and a phased transition” and stress that “now is not the time for scoring party political points.” One assembly member commented: “It is the ambition of every government to remain in power. This ambition has, in the past, limited government’s appetite to take bold and decisive action on policies which might prove too hard or unpopular with the electorate. This can no longer be the case.”
Welcoming the publication of the report, Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee, Darren Jones MP, said:
“This is an extremely important contribution to the debate on how the UK reaches our net zero target and I hope it gives impetus to policy makers to take bold action to reduce our emissions. The range of voices within these pages reflect our population. The fact that assembly members have been able to arrive at clear recommendations whilst respecting each others' values and experiences sets an example for us all. Participants speak of their learning, how they clarified their views and their respect for each other’s perspectives, even when they didn’t agree. Their voices are front and centre, just as they should be.
“It is vital that Parliament and Government examine and use the recommendations which the Assembly sets out today. Assembly members agree that the task of reaching net zero is a responsibility shared by all generations and we thank them for doing just that, giving up their time to listen, understand, debate and propose solutions which are underpinned by a desire to be fair to everyone in our society, and to retain freedom and choice for individuals and local areas wherever possible.”
In response to calls for strong government leadership and cross-party cooperation, the Chairs of the six commissioning Select Committees have written a letter to the Prime Minister, urging him to ensure that the Government acts on the recommendations of Climate Assembly UK by “showing leadership at the very highest level of government” ahead of the UK hosting COP26 in November 2021. They have also written to the leaders of the other parties represented at Westminster, highlighting the role opposition party leaders have to play in delivering cross-party consensus on reaching net zero.
The work of Climate Assembly UK is designed to strengthen and support the UK’s parliamentary democracy by ensuring politicians and policymakers have the best possible evidence available to them about public preferences on reaching the net zero target. Parliament will use the report to support its work on scrutinising the Government’s climate change policy and progress on the target.
Climate Assembly UK’s report shows how a representative sample of the population believe the UK should meet its net zero emissions commitment with detailed recommendations across ten areas including: how we travel; what we eat and how we use the land; what we buy; heat and energy use in the home; how we generate our electricity; and greenhouse gas removals.
Each chapter of the report details assembly members’ views on the advantages and disadvantages - including the trade-offs and co-benefits - of different ways of reaching net zero, and the results of the votes by secret ballot that followed. The Executive Summary provides an overview of the key considerations and conditions agreed by Assembly members as well as the balance of support for each recommendation. Examples of the assembly’s recommendations on each topic include:
On surface transport, the Assembly aims to minimise restrictions on travel recommending an early shift to electric vehicles and improvement of public transport to make it cheaper, reliable and more accessible. They also backed more local services, amenities and transport links.
For air travel, the Assembly aims to balance protection of travel and lifestyles with a limit to how much air passenger numbers can grow. Its recommendations include taxes that increase as people fly more often and as they fly further, as well as investment in new, cleaner technologies.
On heat and energy use in the home, the assembly looked at areas including retrofits and zero carbon heating. Its recommendations include solutions tailored to local areas and households, greater choice for householders including through steps to increase competition, and reliable and clear information for the public.
On the topic of what we eat and how we use the land, the Assembly stressed the importance of support for farmers during the net zero transition and recommended greater reliance on local produce and local food production, a voluntary change in diet to reduce meat and dairy consumption supported by education and incentives and a “managed diversity” of land use.
When considering what we buy, Assembly members strongly supported a future in which businesses make products using less energy and materials, and low(er) carbon energy and materials, as well as the idea of individuals repairing and sharing more. They also backed better information to promote informed choice, including product labelling and steps to increase recycling.
Large majorities of assembly members agreed that three ways of generating electricity should be a key part of how the UK gets to net zero: offshore wind, onshore wind and solar power.
Large majorities of assembly members backed three ways of removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere: forests and forest management; restoring and managing peatlands and wetlands; and using wood in construction.
The report includes the assembly’s recommendations on Covid-19 recovery and the path to net zero, the key elements of which were originally published in June to help inform the Government's response to the Covid-19 crisis. In total, the report contains over 50 recommendations for policy measures designed to meet the net zero target by 2050.
The report also conveys Assembly members’ agreement on themes that recurred throughout their discussions, on the need for:
improved information and education for all on climate change;
fairness, including across sectors, geographies, incomes and health;
freedom and choice for individuals and local areas; and
strong leadership from government.
It also stresses the assembly’s support for protecting and restoring nature, and the value of ‘co-benefits’ to tackling climate change, such as improved health, advantages for local communities, high streets and the economy, including by the promotion of innovation in technology. It calls on policymakers to make use of the report as an “invaluable resource” for decision making.
Chris Stark, Chief Executive of the Committee on Climate Change and one of the Assembly’s Expert Leads said:
“Climate Assembly UK has shown there is broad support for climate action in the UK, and we strongly welcome its findings. Where possible, we will draw on the Assembly’s views in our forthcoming advice to government on the Sixth Carbon Budget. The views of the Assembly are useful in two ways. They help inform the scenarios we are developing to demonstrate how the UK can reach Net Zero emissions, and they are particularly useful in considering the policies that will help achieve the goal. It’s a real step forward to have this new insight.”
Commenting, Assembly Member Sue, 56, from Bath said:
“I feel really lucky to have had the opportunity to take part; to listen and learn about climate change, and explore ways of cutting the UK’s carbon emissions to net zero over the next three decades. Even in a year like this, with the country and economy still reeling from the coronavirus pandemic, it’s clear that the majority of us feel prioritising Net Zero policy is not only important but achievable, too. Our report takes into account the wide range of views in the UK and represents a realistic and fair path to net zero.”
The report is the culmination of more than 6000 hours of Assembly sessions (just under 60 hours per member) across six weekends in 2020 - as well as a memorable address from Sir David Attenborough at the Assembly’s first gathering in Birmingham in January. A total of 47 speakers from academia, industry and policy faced challenging and insightful questions from assembly members, with live-streams, recordings and transcripts of their presentations available online. When the Assembly’s final weekend in Birmingham (due to take place 20th - 22nd March) was cancelled due to the Covid-19 outbreak, the assembly was taken online across a further three weekends, with Assembly members’ support, to ensure they could complete their work.
The preferences of the 108 Assembly members, selected to represent the UK’s population in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, educational level, where in the UK they live and whether they live in an urban or rural area, and level of concern about climate change, offer a significant perspective on how the UK should address climate change. From the outset of the process, the Assembly welcomed the engagement of a number of high profile individuals from prominent business, faith and civil society leaders from across UK society.