Climate Assembly UK moves online

The Climate Assembly UK, made up of 107 citizens from across the UK, will move to online video conferencing this weekend to continue its work set by Parliament on assessing options for reaching net zero emissions by 2050.

Crowd of people at a protest
Crowd of people at a protest
Olivia Rutherford

The Climate Assembly UK will take place via online video conferencing this weekend to continue its discussions on how the UK can reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. 

The assembly, which was commissioned by six House of Commons Select Committees, aims to explore public preferences by consulting with 107 citizens from across the UK. Participants were selected through a process of random stratified sampling to ensure they came from all walks of life. 

The Assembly had met in Birmingham between January and March, however, it was no longer possible to hold the remaining sessions in person due to the coronavirus lockdown measures.

Nevertheless, due to the members’ willingness to continue their discussions, the final session will be conducted via online video conferencing. This final session, which was originally scheduled for last month, will be divided into three further online sessions in April and May. 

This weekend the Assembly will hear from a diverse range of speakers considering the topic of where our electricity comes from. These speakers include: Mike Hemsley (Committee on Climate Change), Professor Patricia Thornley (Director, Energy and Bioproducts Research Institute and Supergen Bioenergy Hub, Aston University), and Professor Jim Watson (University College London Institute of Sustainable Resources and one of the Assembly’s Expert Leads). 

After hearing from these speakers, there will be a Q&A session after which the Assembly will assess the strengths and weaknesses of various options in smaller groups, before voting on their preferences. 

Whilst the speakers’ presentation videos will be live streamed to the Climate Assembly UK website (from 11am on Saturday), the Q&A sessions will not be to allow for open discussions to take place between assembly members. 

One assembly member, Adrian, from Northern Ireland said: “The use of video conference can impact some non-verbal communication, but the work done in the first three weekends will compensate for this. 

“The drop in air and land travel due to coronavirus will also provide further scientific evidence on the impact our way of life is having on the environment and could strengthen the proposals that we put forward to Parliament and the government. It may also allow people to rethink their lifestyles, including about how much they need to travel and where they source their food from.”

Sharon, from Yorkshire, said: “It was disappointing that weekend four didn’t go ahead, but obviously we have to protect everybody’s health, so it was the right thing to do. I am glad that it is going forward in some capacity and I think that doing it virtually is the best way to do this.

“I’m happy that we’re not going to leave the assembly hanging and that we are going to finish the job, and I hope that the results are then taken seriously by the government.” 

Writing in support of the Assembly, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office, Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, said: “In order to achieve our ambitious plan for net zero emissions, coordinated action is necessary, not just between governments but also with businesses, specialist bodies and citizens. Climate Assembly UK plays such an essential role in championing collaboration of this kind and I would like to commend everyone involved for this.”

Following from this weekend, there will be a further two online weekends covering the topic of removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere as well as revisiting earlier topics concerning how we travel, what we buy, food, farming and land use.

The Assembly members will be able to reflect on any further topics of discussion in light of the current pandemic.

A report will be formed and presented to Parliament in the summer, considering the voting results of the secret ballot by the Climate Assembly UK and a qualitative analysis of the Assembly’s preferences on how to reach net zero by 2050.