UK Climate Assembly: what is citizens’ assembly on climate change, and what does their Net Zero report say?

BBC 2 documentary The people vs Climate Change explores the changes we need to make to our everyday lives, according to the members of the first citizens’ assembly on climate change

In the past few months, Climate Change has been one of the biggest topics of conversation across the world.

COP26, hosted in Glasgow during the first fortnight of November, led to international negotiations and agreements about how to tackle the global issue on a local and larger scale.

However, two years ago, the UK government commissioned a citizens’ assembly on climate change to understand better how members of the public felt the issue of climate change should be addressed.

In BBC Two documentary, The people vs Climate Change, the UK Climate Assembly share how they discussed climate change priorities and developed their report, The Path to Net Zero.

So, what is the UK’s Climate Assembly, what do they do and what does the report say? This is what you need to know.

What is the UK Climate Assembly?

The assembly was created after six select committees in the House of Commons called for a citizens’ assembly to allow politicians to understand public preference when it comes to tackling climate change.

A Select Committee is a group of MPs from different political parties who examine policy issues and hold the Government to account on issues which affect people in the UK.

They often vote among themselves on recommendations which are often proposed as new or amendments to laws.

The assembly was created to inform the government and shadow ministers about how the public feel climate change should be tacked (Picture: Getty Images)
The assembly was created to inform the government and shadow ministers about how the public feel climate change should be tacked (Picture: Getty Images)
The assembly was created to inform the government and shadow ministers about how the public feel climate change should be tacked (Picture: Getty Images)

In 2019, the committees brought together over 100 individuals from across the country to form a group that would make suggestions on how the country could be made carbon neutral via feasible, actionable change.

The House of Commons contracted three organisations to run Climate Assembly UK on its behalf – The Involve Foundation (‘Involve’), Sortition Foundation, and mySociety.

Across six weekends in 2020, the 108 members met to discuss their thoughts, opinions and recommendations.

During the meetings, the members heard balanced evidence brought forward by experts, discussed potential actions and made recommendations about what the UK should do to reach its Net Zero target by 2050.

Their final report was published on Thursday 10 September 2020, titled ‘The Path to Net Zero’.

How were the members chosen?

In order for the committee to be made up of a broad spectrum of opinions and background from across the UK, the people chosen represented different ethnic, class, gender, age and professional backgrounds.

It’s important that select committees reflect how the vast majority of UK residents feel about climate action, and how different actions may benefit or hinder specific groups of people.

What does ‘The Path to Net Zero’ report recommend?

The full report is available for anyone to read, though at 554 pages long, it’s a lot to take in.

The foreword from experts who lead the committee explains that immediate action can be taken to tackle daily behaviours which impact the environment.

It says: “[Net Zero] will not only be achieved through ramping up investment in technologies such as electric cars, offshore wind farms and home insulation.

“Citizens also have a crucial role to play. The way we live our lives, what we buy, how we travel and what we eat will all have an influence. So it is essential to work with citizens to make sure their views are heard, and develop strategies that fit with people’s lives and aspirations.”

The report ultimately recommends three themes which climate action can be divided into:

  • Education and Information: the need to inform  everyone – individuals, businesses, government and others – about climate change and the steps needed to tackle it.
  • Fairness: while solutions are rarely easy nor free, they do need to be fair. Fair to people with jobs in different sectors. Fair to people with different incomes, travel preferences and housing arrangements. Fair to people who live in different parts of the UK.
  • Freedom and choice: there has to be a choice of actions and the right for people and communities to make those choices. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.
  • Co-benefits: changing behaviours to a more sustainable approach could benefit local communities, high streets and local businesses. It could boost the economy and promote innovation, including in technology. And it could improve our health and reduce pollution.
  • Nature: While the resources used to tackle climate change are often natural, it is important to use and access these in  a sustainable and ethical way. It is fundamental to consider the impact on biodiversity and wildlife.

The recommendations made by the assembly included but were not limited to:

  • Removing Greenhouse gas emissions by restoring forests and better forest management, as well as restoring and managing peatlands and wetlands and using wood in construction
  • Introducing a ban on the sale of new petrol, diesel and hybrid cars by 2030–2035,  a reduction in the amount we use cars by an average of 2–5% per decade and improving public transport.
  • Allowing local authorities to manage how home waste is recycled, how often it is collected and how best to inform communities about the best ways to reduce home emissions. The assembly also noted a localised approach would reduce imposing generic rules which may not work in every house type.
  • Changes to how we source and eat included the Government providing support to farmers,
  • Ensuring land is used efficiently and enforcing rules for large retailers and supermarkets, as well as helping communities source more local and seasonal food.

The full list of recommendations can be accessed on the UK Climate Assembly website. 

When is ‘The People vs Climate Change’ on BBC Two?

The documentary airs on BBC Two at 8pm on Tuesday 16 November.

It will also be available to watch on BBC iPlayer.