Rapid expansion of renewable energy, localised food production and taxes on frequent flyers are among the recommendations to government put forward by Climate Assembly UK to guide the UK’s path to net-zero.
The final report from the first UK-wide citizens’ assembly was published yesterday (10 September) with detailed climate policy goals 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.
It involved 108 citizens who were selected to represent the UK’s population in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, educational level, where in the UK they live and whether they live in an urban or rural area, and level of concern about climate change, offer a significant perspective on how the UK should address climate change.
The policy recommendations were achieved with strong consensus on many issues, and campaigners will be pleased at the progressive nature of many of the policy aims outlined by the report.
Participants in the Climate Assembly UK were strongly for investing in low carbon buses and trains (91 per cent), adding new bus routes and more frequent services (86 per cent) and making public transport cheaper (83 per cent), as well as supporting frequent flyer taxes on air travel, with rates increasing as people fly further and more often (80 per cent).
In terms of heat and energy, Assembly members recognised that different solutions should be offered in different parts of the country to achieve zero carbon heating (94 per cent), though there was more reticence regarding home retrofits – a key tranche of the UK’s climate policy – with 55 per cent saying homes should be upgraded in one go and 44 per cent saying they should be upgraded gradually. Smaller energy companies were supported by 94 per cent, while 86 per cent supported more competition in the energy market to break the monopoly of the Big Six.
A significant majority of Assembly members wanted to know the emissions and carbon footprint of their food and drinks products, supporting labelling displaying this information (94 per cent), while 89 per cent supported low carbon farming regulations that would ensure farms operated on a low carbon and basis, supporting biodiversity. The Assembly also supported changing planning rules to allow food to be produced in a wider range of areas (83 per cent).
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.
‘A real step forward’
Chris Stark, Chief Executive of the Committee on Climate Change and one of the Assembly’s Expert Leads, said: “Climate Assembly UK has shown there is broad support for climate action in the UK, and we strongly welcome its findings. Where possible, we will draw on the Assembly’s views in our forthcoming advice to government on the Sixth Carbon Budget. The views of the Assembly are useful in two ways. They help inform the scenarios we are developing to demonstrate how the UK can reach Net Zero emissions, and they are particularly useful in considering the policies that will help achieve the goal. It’s a real step forward to have this new insight.”
The role of citizen assemblies is a key Green Party policy, with the party believing they represent a more participatory and direct form of democracy. Responding to the findings of the report, Green peer Natalie Bennett said: "The results of the Climate Assembly are inspiring and exciting. As was shown in Ireland on the issues of equal marriage and abortion, the people can lead where most politicians fear to tread.
"A representative group of the public gave their time, attention and considerable effort, even during the disruption of Covid-19, to serious consideration of the climate emergency and called for urgent climate action.
"It is a reminder that making the UK a democracy, as it is not now, and including elements of direct participatory democracy in that, is an urgent, existential, issue for us all."
The report also 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. Assembly members wanted to see the government continue to pursue net-zero goals, despite the pandemic.
Commenting, Assembly Member Sue, 56, from Bath said: “I feel really lucky to have had the opportunity to take part; to listen and learn about climate change, and explore ways of cutting the UK’s carbon emissions to net zero over the next three decades. Even in a year like this, with the country and economy still reeling from the coronavirus pandemic, it’s clear that the majority of us feel prioritising net zero policy is not only important but achievable, too. Our report takes into account the wide range of views in the UK and represents a realistic and fair path to net zero.”
You can view the Climate Assembly UK report and more on the Assembly on its dedicated website.