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The United Nations’ Global Goal 13 calls for action on climate change, including switching to low-carbon economies. Citizen’s Assemblies are an inclusive way to hit those targets by getting the public’s insight into how we go about making big changes. Now we just need political leaders to listen. To find out more about climate justice and take action to tackle climate change, join us here.

A panel of everyday citizens taking part in the UK’s first ever “citizens’ climate jury” have put forward their recommendations for climate action, including higher taxes for big polluters and scholarships to encourage young people into green jobs. 

The group of 23 people hailing from the north-east of England were participating in the “Tees Valley and County Durham Climate and Fairness Panel”, the first of four climate juries that will occur in different parts of the UK. 

Set up by the economics think-tank the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), the citizens’ juries are intended to “put people and fairness at the heart of the response to the climate and nature crises.” 

The diverse group of people from different occupations and ages — the youngest participant was 16 and the eldest 75 — got together to hear from climate experts, trade unionists, nature groups, and politicians to share their thoughts on which policies would work best for their region. 

After discussing their ideas for 20 hours in total over a series of virtual meetings during the second part of 2020, they put forward 32 recommendations.

The group also issued a joint statement underlining the need for local solutions to tackling global warming, and for decision-making around green policies to be inclusive of everyone in society. 

“No one can be left out. A fair response to the climate and nature emergencies needs to increase equality in society. Local people need to be empowered to act,” they said. “Every area is unique and a ‘one size fits all’ approach isn’t going to work.”

“The cost of acting now is much less than the cost of inaction, both in the UK and worldwide,” the statement concluded. 

Among their recommendations, they suggested that the biggest carbon emitters should be taxed to help cover the costs of the climate and nature crises. 

“Carbon taxation should be introduced but it should be incremental and targeted at those with the worst environmental impacts, such as the biggest carbon emitters,” the group said. “This money should go exclusively towards tackling the climate and nature crises.”

Another interesting proposal included the idea of an “Attenborough Award”, named after documentarian Sir David Attenborough, to encourage children to become interested in nature — similar to the Duke of Edinburgh Award that UK school children can participate in currently, which involves a hiking trip and volunteering. 

Similarly they suggested a “national nature service” that would provide volunteering and work opportunities in the environmental sector, and scholarships that could help young people gain access to new jobs in low carbon or renewable industries. 

On the topic of reducing waste, recycling, and generally lowering the carbon impact of our consumption, the group argued that new initiatives should be inclusive of everyone, including people with long-term health issues, older people, and people with disabilities. 

They suggested that local farming and food networks were strengthened, making it easier for people to access local, sustainable products that reduce food miles — suggesting that financial incentives and skills training in sustainable farming available to local farmers would help. They also suggested that alternatives to meat, and plant-based foods, become cheaper. 

On recycling, the group said policy decision makers should, “create stricter rules on use and disposal of materials. Ban single-use materials, things should be designed so they don’t become waste, but used for something more productive.”

The panel was part of IPPR’s Environmental Justice Commission which is being co-chaired by three MPs from different political parties: the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas, Hilary Benn of the Labour Party, and Laura Sandys from the Conservatives. 

The next three panels will be held in south Wales; Thurrock in Essex; and Aberdeenshire in Scotland. The recommendations from all the panels will be relayed back to the commission. 

“Sometimes ministers give the impression that they don’t believe the public will accept bold policies in response to the climate emergency, but these proposals from people from all walks of life show this couldn’t be further from the truth,” Lucas told the Independent. 

“There’s a real appetite for an ambitious approach to addressing the climate and nature crises, provided that those policies also increase equality, improve well-being, and put local communities in the driving seat," she added. "Co-producing plans with local people isn’t an optional ‘nice to have’ – it’s critical to a successful outcome.”

While the Tees Valley and County Durham Climate and Fairness Panel was the first of this initiative there have been other efforts to include people from outside the worlds of politics and climate science in the process of designing policies for a net zero emissions future. 

The Environmental Justice Commission follows on from the UK’s first climate assembly called in 2019 by cross-party groups of politicians from six different parliamentary select committees. 

The people who took part were from different professions and with different opinions, making up a representative sample of society, but they were united in trying to identify the best ways for the UK to reach its legally-binding target of being net zero by 2050. 

After they had concluded their meetings, it was reported that nearly 80% of the 108 Climate Assembly UK members agreed in a secret ballot that government steps to boost the economy should be designed to help achieve net zero emissions by 2050. 

Citizens’ Assemblies were also one of the demands put forward by climate direct action group Extinction Rebellion. “A Citizens’ Assembly provides us, the people, with a way to decide what’s best for our future, even if that requires radical changes in the present,” Extinction Rebellion explained.


Defend the Planet

‘Tax Big Polluters and Protect Green Spaces’ Says First-Ever UK Citizens’ Climate Jury

By Helen Lock