Apply a tax to those who travel by plane often, ban the sale of urban SUVs (SUVs), but above all, explain to people what climate change is. These are some of the proposals that a group of 108 British citizens, of all classes and social groups, consider that they should be taken to curb greenhouse gas emissions after listening for six months to almost 50 experts from various sectors.
The UK’s first climate citizens’ assembly, which was set up at the request of six House of Commons committees and formed in January 2020 through a lottery of residents from all regions, was aimed at finding solutions to achieve the commitment to zero emissions by 2050. The idea was that people of all opinions and with different situations would inform themselves, discuss and finally reach an agreement on what should be done.RELATED
This week a report with its main conclusions.
“It was an opportunity for the participants to learn from the experts,” explains Rebecca Willis, professor at the Lancaster University Environmental Center and lead coordinator of the assembly, “but adding their experiences, opinions and, through round tables, the experiences and opinions of others ”.
Among the general basic principles that have been agreed upon, education and information to the public has been the one that has been considered most necessary. “The media have to play their role, and schools too,” explained Ibrahim, a doctor from the town of Surrey. “You can’t ask someone to change their heater for a hydrogen one because it produces less CO2 when they don’t even know what it is. In order to support you, you must first know these issues. “
The report points out that another of the great concerns of the citizen group was the feeling that many could be left out in the transition. Support for sectors such as cattle ranchers or those that could not afford new technologies such as electric cars was of great importance in the greater or lesser popularity of certain proposals.
Marc, a Newcastle boiler technician who comes from a family of miners, explained in a video of the assembly that one of the principles that was established was that no one be left behind. “When the mines were closed, many jobs were destroyed and there were no others to replace them,” he explains in a video of the assembly, “Now we will have to change the industry again. Will we learn from our mistakes?
“One of the problems of governments is that they have not involved citizens in the dialogue of the changes necessary to face climate change,” explains Willis; “That has left people either disengaged with this issue or overwhelmed with a feeling of helplessness in the face of the situation.”
Finally, a large majority noted the importance of government leadership and the need for cross-party consensus to be established. “Most recognized that this is a problem that will persist for decades,” according to Chris Stark, executive director of the Committee on Climate Change, “and that it will involve different governments.”
In the concrete measures, the assembly supported both drastic proposals as well as other more cautious ones. For example, the group of citizens indicates in their report that the sale of all gasoline, diesel or hybrid vehicles from 10 to 15 years should be prohibited, discourage the use of the plane with rates for the most frequent users, improve public transportation up to making the alternatives with less emissions cheaper or stimulating a more respectful agriculture with the biodiversity. However, the majority rejected sanctions to reduce meat intake and did not support taking tax measures to reduce the consumption of goods and services. In this case, they prefer that the consumer is informed and that each one decides.
“The Government cannot legislate so that meat is not eaten”, one of the citizens of the assembly told the BBC, “but with education, information campaigns and labeling, I believe that we can change our habits; just like we have done with tobacco ”.
For some organizations like Extintion Rebellion the assembly’s conclusions are not ambitious enough and do not conform to the cuts necessary to avoid exceeding 1.5C for global warming. Citizens considered that the zero emissions target should not be advanced before 2050, something that activists point out does not correspond to what science recommends.
However, for the members of Parliament who constituted the assembly, the document “provides a unique view of the reasoning of an informed public about the resignations and reforms necessary to achieve what has been agreed.”
Some experts have pointed out that the assembly’s task was too ambitious and that citizens cannot be asked to produce effective and new solutions after studying such a complex issue as climate change for several weekends. But, for Rebecca Willis, the information was enough to have a global opinion and offer some general principles.
“The big question now,” he continues, “is how the government will use this. “I hope he doesn’t stick with what he likes and ignores the rest. I hope you are able to see the recommendations as a whole. That’s what it should do ”.