The COP26 United Nations climate talks may have been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the climate crisis has not taken a breather.
This year, California experienced its biggest wildfire season in modern history, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef suffered from its most widespread bleaching event ever, and the Atlantic hurricane season spawned a record-breaking number of storms.
In hopes of influencing policymakers at the rescheduled COP26 next November, the Global Assembly will be inviting 1,000 citizens from around the world to take part in a virtual convention to address the climate crisis and generate ambitious proposals.
The group will be representative of the global population, including young people, refugees and migrants, and people across all socioeconomic levels.
“We take inclusion really seriously,” Claire Mellier, one of the event organizers, told Global Citizen. “In the current model of policy development or decision-making, you tend to hear the loud voices, but what you rarely hear is the voice of your ordinary citizen. We want to make sure that people who are selected are not the usual highly-educated people who would engage in these kinds of forums.”
Similar citizen assemblies in France and the United Kingdom have proven to be effective in pushing politicians to act on more progressive targets, Mellier said. The goal of the Global Assembly on the climate crisis is to do the same. What’s different about this assembly, however, is that it isn’t initiated by a national or international governing body, but rather from the bottom-up through social and climate movements over the past few years.
The 1,000 participants of the Global Assembly will be chosen by lottery from around the world, and will reflect the diversity of the world's population by gender, age, economic background, and geography. There will also be “distributed events” held in local communities around the world that can be run by anyone.
“Our intention is to have the conversation happen at your local village, community, church — wherever you want to organize it,” Mellier said. “We want to engage the currently disengaged groups.”
Organizers of the assembly are also enlisting celebrities, from Senegalese rappers to British rock stars, to help raise awareness and funding for the event, according to Reuters. One of the celebrities is Oscar-winning actor Mark Rylance, who provided a voiceover for the Global Assembly’s crowdfunder film.
“Our leaders’ hands are tied by a system built for an earlier age,” Rylance said in the film. “Right now we, the people, are ahead of the politicians. Across the world, citizens’ assemblies are creating policies far more ambitious than anything politicians have come up with on their own.”
He notes that the UN climate talks have been taking place for the past 25 years, yet the world is still getting hotter and countries continue to release greenhouse gas emissions.
As a result, millions of people are threatened by rising sea levels, extreme heat, wildfires, and more, while numerous species of animals and plants suffer from destroyed habitats and the risk of extinction.
“Politicians have to play the political game,” Rylance said. “We don’t. We’re free to understand the truth of what’s really happening, listen to each other, and follow our conscience.”
Last month, youth activists from 142 countries held a mock COP26 summit with the same objective — to urge world leaders to respond to the climate crisis with the level of urgency that it deserves. The representatives spent two weeks considering potential climate solutions and writing up a legal treaty for world leaders to consider prior to the real COP26 in 2021.
The Global Assembly planned for next year will build on the efforts of the mock COP26 by including young people aged 15 to 18 in the event.
“Young people are not just frustrated by rising temperatures and declining ecosystems,” Susan Nakyung Lee, a 19-year-old South Korean student who is one of the event organizers, said in a video. “We're also frustrated by the constant recycling of outdated political solutions.”
Inspired by the international climate protests over the past few years, the event was conceived by 200 people from countries including Ghana, Brazil, Nigeria, West Papua, Mongolia, Philippines, and many more.
Although the details of the event are not yet set in stone, there are opportunities to get involved at this early stage. The organizers are seeking funders, organizations, artists, and individuals who want to help make the assembly happen.