The first UK-wide citizens’ assembly on climate change, Climate Assembly UK, publishes its final report today (Thursday 10 September), setting out a clear, consistent and timely path for how the UK can reach its legally binding target of net zero emissions by 2050.
In June 2019 six House of Commons Select Committees 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 will hand 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.
Professor, Lorraine Whitmarsh, Director of the Centre for Climate Change and Social Transformations (CAST) and the University of Bath’s Department of Psychology was one of four lead experts who supported its design and delivery.
She explained: “This report gives a clear mandate to policy-makers for bold action to tackle climate change. For the first time, we have a much clearer idea of what is important to the public when it comes to reaching net zero and this includes the importance of public education, fairness for the most vulnerable, government leadership, protecting the natural world, urgent and long-term action, and community engagement.”
Professor Whitmarsh led on two topics at the Assembly related to food, farming and land use, and what we buy.
In the statement opening the report, Assembly members said 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.’
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 policy makers 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.
Examples of the recommendations from the 108-strong Assembly 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 information choice, including product labelling and steps to increase recycling.
- Large majorities of assembly members agreed that three ways of generating electricity should be 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 policy makers to make use of the report as an ‘invaluable resource’ for decision making.