How To Bring The Wisdom Of The Public To Bear On The Climate Emergency

How To Bring The Wisdom Of The Public To Bear On The Climate Emergency Holli/Shutterstock

A new form of politics is gaining steam as a solution to the climate crisis. Six parliamentary committees in the UK are to commission a citizens’ assembly, in which randomly selected citizens will consider how to combat climate breakdown and achieve the pathway to net zero emissions.

This unexpected move complements increasing experimentation with assemblies across the world. Having struggled to realise necessary action on climate breakdown through traditional routes, citizen assemblies could well help governments kick-start the tough but urgently needed steps to safeguard a healthy and stable world.

In a nutshell, these assemblies bring together 50 or more citizens over a number of days or weeks to learn about a particular policy challenge, deliberate together and recommend how to deal with it. Citizens are selected to reflect the demographic diversity of the population. The process is typically facilitated by an independent and apolitical organisation, which brings in experts across a wide range of disciplines, as well as competing interest groups and the voices of those personally affected by the issue in question.

A growing evidence base suggests that this form of participatory politics works. The balanced and structured process of deliberation results in more informed preferences. A requirement to justify opinions, for example, counteracts the bias of prior beliefs. Opinions tend to be neither polarised nor uniform, with participants developing increased respect and understanding for opposing viewpoints.

Such a respectful and deliberative context gives rise to considered judgements that can cut through political deadlock on even the most complex and contentious issues. Most famously, Ireland used such an assembly to decide on the constitutional status of abortion. Bridging charged emotions on both sides, the assembly confidently recommended liberalisation, which was backed by a national referendum and enshrined into law.

Evidence from citizens’ assemblies and similar deliberative processes suggests that the broader public have confidence in the judgements of such bodies, especially when compared to traditional political institutions. This is true even of populist-minded voters, who appreciate that decisions are being made by citizens like themselves.

Fixing the climate crisis

As a particularly politically divisive issue, citizens’ assemblies could be vital in uniting populations around the challenges of responding to the climate breakdown – but the devil is in the detail. Past assemblies offer valuable lessons in how they can most effectively address the climate emergency.

Ireland is the only country to have already run a national citizens’ assembly that addressed climate breakdown. The assembly considered a wide and diverse range of issues from transport to peat extraction – but only had two weekends to do so. This was not enough time to consider these challenges in depth, and made it easier for the government to drop more controversial proposals, such as the significant reduction of agricultural emissions.

Given the diverse areas of policy that the climate crisis cuts across, it would be a herculean task for a single assembly to deal with. The amount of time it would take to consider issues in enough depth would place excessive demands on the selected citizens.

Aspects of the climate crisis can be treated individually, as successful citizen assemblies and other similar deliberative models in the US, Australia, Canada, and the Polish city of Gdansk have shown.

An alternative would be to run separate assemblies in parallel, each considering a digestible chunk of the agenda, with time set aside for assemblies to coordinate with each other when cross-cutting issues emerge. This has never been done before, but nor have humans ever encountered a problem of the scale of climate breakdown.

Empowering citizens

More radically, citizens’ assemblies on the climate emergency may need to be empowered to make binding decisions, not just advisory recommendations. Politicians are in a bind: they know that they need to act, but are constrained by their concerns over a public backlash and vested social and economic interests that profit from the status quo. Radical policy suggestions emerging from these assemblies are likely to be watered down – as may have been the case in Ireland, whose strong agricultural lobby cannot be ignored.

Empowering assemblies could break political deadlocks on climate. In Poland for example, activist Marcin Gerwin successfully persuaded city mayors to implement any decision supported by 80% of an assembly, with the mayor having discretion when support is below that threshold. Resulting changes have for instance helped the city respond faster to severe flooding.

Social movement Extinction Rebellion has been quick to criticise the proposed assembly in the UK for lacking such power. As it stands, the plans fall short of the direct action movement’s demand for a citizens’ assembly to have authority to tackle both the climate and biodiversity emergencies.

But the UK citizens’ assembly on climate breakdown can be seen as a positive development. The details of how focused the task will be, including whether the assembly will be empowered to consider a more demanding transition than the government’s current 2050 target, are yet to be made public. Nor do we know how much time the assembly will have to deliberate.

And while it is primarily structured to inform parliamentary committees, its high profile means it could make a real difference to climate policy. If successful, it may well give rise to the type of empowered citizens’ assemblies that bring the wisdom of citizens fully to bear on the climate and ecological emergency.

About The Author

Graham Smith, Professor of Politics, University of Westminster

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Related Books

Climate Leviathan: A Political Theory of Our Planetary Future

by Joel Wainwright and Geoff Mann
1786634295How climate change will affect our political theory—for better and worse. Despite the science and the summits, leading capitalist states have not achieved anything close to an adequate level of carbon mitigation. There is now simply no way to prevent the planet breaching the threshold of two degrees Celsius set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. What are the likely political and economic outcomes of this? Where is the overheating world heading? Available On Amazon

Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis

by Jared Diamond
0316409138Adding a psychological dimension to the in-depth history, geography, biology, and anthropology that mark all of Diamond's books, Upheaval reveals factors influencing how both whole nations and individual people can respond to big challenges. The result is a book epic in scope, but also his most personal book yet. Available On Amazon

Global Commons, Domestic Decisions: The Comparative Politics of Climate Change

by Kathryn Harrison et al
0262514311Comparative case studies and analyses of the influence of domestic politics on countries' climate change policies and Kyoto ratification decisions. Climate change represents a “tragedy of the commons” on a global scale, requiring the cooperation of nations that do not necessarily put the Earth's well-being above their own national interests. And yet international efforts to address global warming have met with some success; the Kyoto Protocol, in which industrialized countries committed to reducing their collective emissions, took effect in 2005 (although without the participation of the United States). Available On Amazon

enafarzh-CNzh-TWnltlfrdehiiditjakomsfaptruesswsvthtrurvi

POLITICS

What Does The Dutch Court Ruling On Climate Targets Mean For Australia?
What Does The Dutch Court Ruling On Climate Targets Mean For Australia?
by Katherine Lake
In a landmark ruling, The Hague District Court has ordered the Netherlands government to take more action to reduce its…
How Students Grow Their Community Roots And Critical Consciousness
How Students Grow Their Community Roots And Critical Consciousness
by Jennifer D. Adams and Pieranna Pieroni
Iris, a high school student in New York City, took a course aimed at preparing public school students for college.
7,000+ Colleges and Universities Declare Climate Emergency and Unveil Three-Point Plan to Combat It
7,000+ Colleges and Universities Declare Climate Emergency and Unveil Three-Point Plan to Combat It
by Jessica Corbett
We all need to work together to nurture a habitable planet for future generations and to play our part in building a…
Half-Submerged Trump Head, Says Artist, Designed to Silence Destructive Words and Deeds of US President
Half-Submerged Trump Head, Says Artist, Designed to Silence Destructive Words and Deeds of US President
by Eoin Higgins
"The idea was to gag Trump, to silence him, but he continues to speak."
'The Climate Crisis Doesn't Go on Summer Holiday, And Neither Will We,' Says Greta Thunberg as #FridaysForFuture Returns to the Streets
The Climate Crisis Doesn't Go on Summer Holiday, And Neither Will We, Says Greta Thunberg as #FridaysForFuture Returns to the Streets
by Jessica Corbett
A campaigner in Nigeria adds, "It doesn't matter the course you study nor your age, we need you to join climate…
Amazon Deforestation
by BBC News
Brazilian officials have told the BBC that there's been an aggressive increase in deforestation since the election of…
Energy Commons: From Energy Transition To Climate Justice
Energy Commons: From Energy Transition To Climate Justice
by Cécile Blanchet
In 2019, only oil lobbyists and shabby orange politicians persist in denying the influence of human activities on the…
'Straight Out of Orwell': While Slashing Climate Regulations, Trump Plans Speech Touting His 'Environmental Leadership'
'Straight Out of Orwell': While Slashing Climate Regulations, Trump Plans Speech Touting His 'Environmental Leadership'
by Jake Johnson
Trump "plans to go on the offensive against criticism of his industry-friendly rollbacks of environment protections" in…

LATEST VIDEOS

5 Ways To Be A Responsible Wildlife Tourist
5 Ways To Be A Responsible Wildlife Tourist
by Tracie McKinney
Imagine walking through a lush tropical forest. You hear a rustle overhead, and a half-eaten fruit plops onto the…
Climate Change Is Affecting Crop Yields And Reducing Global Food Supplies
Climate Change Is Affecting Crop Yields And Reducing Global Food Supplies
by Deepak Ray
Farmers are used to dealing with weather, but climate change is making it harder by altering temperature and rainfall…
The Arctic Paradox
by Tobias Thorleifsson
Explore Ellesmere Island with Tobias in this talk, as he urges us to protect this arctic environment from the hands of…
Increased Drought Amid Climate Change & Warming
by Kate Marvel, Radio Ecoshock
Columbia/NASA scientist Kate Marvel explains “hyroclimate” as rains and droughts go extreme. When it comes to your…
7 Surprising Results From The Reduction Of Arctic Sea Ice Cover
by David Barber
It is now well known that sea ice in the Arctic has changed in both extent and thickness over the past several decades.
Half-Submerged Trump Head, Says Artist, Designed to Silence Destructive Words and Deeds of US President
Half-Submerged Trump Head, Says Artist, Designed to Silence Destructive Words and Deeds of US President
by Eoin Higgins
"The idea was to gag Trump, to silence him, but he continues to speak."
'The Climate Crisis Doesn't Go on Summer Holiday, And Neither Will We,' Says Greta Thunberg as #FridaysForFuture Returns to the Streets
The Climate Crisis Doesn't Go on Summer Holiday, And Neither Will We, Says Greta Thunberg as #FridaysForFuture Returns to the Streets
by Jessica Corbett
A campaigner in Nigeria adds, "It doesn't matter the course you study nor your age, we need you to join climate…
Anchorage Hits 90 Degrees for First Time in Recorded History
Anchorage Hits 90 Degrees for First Time in Recorded History
by Jake Johnson
"This is unprecedented. I tease people that Anchorage is the coolest city in the country—and climatically that is…

LATEST ARTICLES

It's Time To Wake Up To The Devastating Impact Flying Has On The Environment
It's Time To Wake Up To The Devastating Impact Flying Has On The Environment
by Roger Tyers
While in many countries new cars, domestic appliances, and even houses now have mandatory energy efficiency…
5 Ways To Be A Responsible Wildlife Tourist
5 Ways To Be A Responsible Wildlife Tourist
by Tracie McKinney
Imagine walking through a lush tropical forest. You hear a rustle overhead, and a half-eaten fruit plops onto the…
What Does The Dutch Court Ruling On Climate Targets Mean For Australia?
What Does The Dutch Court Ruling On Climate Targets Mean For Australia?
by Katherine Lake
In a landmark ruling, The Hague District Court has ordered the Netherlands government to take more action to reduce its…
How Solar Heat Drives Rapid Melting Of Parts Of Antarctica's Largest Ice Shelf
How Solar Heat Drives Rapid Melting Of Parts Of Antarctica's Largest Ice Shelf
by Craig Stewart
The ocean that surrounds Antarctica plays a crucial role in regulating the mass balance of the continent’s ice cover.
How China’s Sponge Cities Aim To Re-use 70% Of Rainwater
How China’s Sponge Cities Aim To Re-use 70% Of Rainwater
by Asit K. Biswas and Kris Hartley
Asian cities are struggling to accommodate rapid urban migration, and development is encroaching on flood-prone areas.
Aviation Emissions Are Rising – And Industry Solutions Are Just Technological Myths
by Paul Peeters, et al
Imagine you are the government’s Minister for Transport: the economy is prospering, global oil prices are falling, and…
With Climate Change Likely To Sharpen Conflict, NZ Balances Pacifist Traditions With Defence Spending
by David Belgrave
In most countries, the question of whether to produce guns or butter is a metaphor for whether a country should put its…
Climate Change Is Putting Even Resilient And Adaptable Animals Like Baboons At Risk
by Isabelle Catherine Winder
Baboons are large, smart, ground-dwelling monkeys. They are found across sub-Saharan Africa in various habitats and eat…