Initial thoughts about Climate Assembly UK - Extinction Rebellion UK
Climate Assembly UK 1st Weekend 24-26 Jan 2020

Initial thoughts about Climate Assembly UK

This briefing is brought to you by the Citizens’ Assembly Working Group (CAWG) of XR UK. If you would like any further information or have questions, please contact us on – we are happy to help!


Climate Assembly UK is a citizens’ assembly commissioned by six Parliamentary Select Committees to consider how the UK should meet its target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The assembly took place in central Birmingham and online from 24 January 2020. It ran over three long weekends in person (24-26 January, 7-9 February, 28 February-1 March) and the last sessions were held online due to COVID-19 restriction (18–19 April and 2–3 May). For the full schedule of speakers and themes with links to the recordings of the evidence, go to CAWG’s Climate Assembly UK Schedule

Who were the six Parliamentary Committees that commissioned Climate Assembly UK?

The six Select Committees involved were Business Energy and Industrial Strategy; Environmental AuditHousing, Communities and Local Government, Science and Technology; Transport; and the Treasury.

The Assembly had 110 participants, who are representative of the UK population in terms of age, gender, educational qualification, ethnicity, where in the UK they live, whether they live in an urban or rural area, and their attitudes to climate change. At the outset of Climate Assembly UK the results were to be published at the end of April 2020. However, due to the delay in light of the pandemic the report will now be released on 10 September 2020. 

An interim briefing was published by Climate Assembly UK, Covid-19, recovery and the path to net zero, to address how the Government and Parliament should plan for recovery from the pandemic.

The organisers hope that the six Parliamentary Select Committees will launch inquiries based on the Assembly’s recommendations. 

The organisers of Climate Assembly UK are independent companies who are experienced in delivering deliberative processes such as citizens’ assmblies. They include: Involve, Sortition Foundation, and My Society.

All presentations to the Assembly were live streamed and can still be watched now – this way you know exactly what information the Assembly members were presented with.


Top line criticism

This does not meet our third demand. The assembly is hamstrung by the Government’s inadequate 2050 target which we know is far too late if we are to have any chance of staying below a 1.5C or even a 2C temperature increase. 

It does not address the element of justice for people within the UK as well as the Global South as stipulated in our Third Demand. 

Other planetary threats
Climate Assembly UK’s focus is limited to greenhouse gas emissions, not giving equal weight to other planetary threats such as ecological destruction, soil erosion, ocean acidification and so on. We know that further damage can be done to our planet if we do not consider all these threats together when looking at solutions.

No teeth
What’s more, it is not commissioned by the Government but by backbenchers from the previous Parliament, so the Government can completely ignore its outcomes. One way around this would have been to ensure great media interest in this assembly to create public support, but this has not happened.

Top line support

This could be a small step in the right direction for a deliberative, citizen-led democracy to address the emergency. However, this assembly is working under considerable constraints. The Government must now step up to the plate and commission its own assembly; one that empowers participants to decide on how to address the climate and ecological emergency.

Be respectful for the participants of Climate Assembly UK
We thank the 110 people who spent time and effort taking part in Climate Assembly UK. We acknowledge this was not an easy task, and we thank them for their commitment and determination. Any criticism at Climate Assembly UK is in no way aimed at the assembly members.

Members of Climate Assembly UK during one of the deliberation sessions during the second weekend, 7 – 9 February 2020. At the second weekend they explored energy supply and how it is used, including ‘how we travel’, ‘in the home’, ‘what we buy’ and ‘food, farming and land use’. Photo from Climate Assembly UK’s news page.

Showcasing citizens’ assemblies
This is an opportunity to showcase the citizens’ assembly process and so XR will not disrupt the proceedings. XR believes that the citizens’ assembly as per our Third Demand – a Citizens’ Assembly for Climate and Ecological Justice – could actually build on the work done by Climate Assembly UK, it could serve as a template in terms of process and there are many lessions learned which can be used for valuable improvement. 

Robust process
Examples include

  • Good sortition process, included attitude to climate change as one of the stratifying criteria
  • The difference between the Informant and Advocates roles was really clear, it was explained clearly about their biases and positions. 
  • The Informants emphasised on several occasions that they were there to present the consensus view on the topic, not their own opinion. 
  • Many speakers acknowledged openly to the assembly members that CAUK was commissioned by Parliament, therefore the report was going to Parliament, but that the changes had to be made at Government level (which in a way brings us back to the criticism about the Government so far not having acknowledges Climate Assembly UK, but this may change after the report is published)

Detailed critiques

  • The assembly worked on the basis of the UK Government’s 2050 net zero target, with no scope for members to adjust it. That target is based on emissions produced on UK soil (production emissions), i.e. it does not take into account those from trade (consumption emissions). (See Extra Reading section below for reasons why a 2050 target is not in line with the science and so is too late)
  • Participants did not address species extinction or climate change adaptation, and there was little mention of global equity or global social justice. (See Extra Reading section below for more information about extinctions, adaptation and global justice/equity)
  • The overall focus of the assembly is on changes at individual level. The organisers have said that participants will consider how these translate into societal change. But we’re concerned that the assembly won’t adequately address top level policies, for example regulations for industry, infrastructure, international supply chains and so on. Focusing on individual behaviour change can distract us from the system changes so urgently needed. 

Criticism that may change depending on what happens after the release of the report:

  • The Government has not bought into or even made a statement on Climate Assembly UK. In addition, the six Select Committees themselves are composed of different MPs following the general election. This means the committees that commissioned the assembly aren’t the ones that will be expected to consider its results. In other words, there’s no guarantee that the results will be taken on board by the Select Committees, let alone the Government.

Positive aspects and how to respond

  • While this does not meet our Third Demand, we need to keep in mind that this assembly itself is not the problem. The problem is the constraints it has to work within. 
  • We don’t want to scupper a well-run deliberative process that has the potential to act as a pilot and demonstrate to the public and politicians alike how citizens’ assemblies work, even if this has been set up in such a way that it cannot adequately address the severe crises we are facing now. It must be clear that this CA is in no way connected to XR. We are not opposing it but nor are we supporting it.
  • We also do not want to dismiss the assembly wholesale. We are supportive of the process of the assembly, which – based on information available before its launch – appears to be robust:
    • Participants have been selected randomly across a range of criteria, they are given an honorarium, and their travel, accommodation and childcare expenses are covered.
    • The advisory and academic panels overseeing the assembly’s design and process contain a broad range of stakeholders from across the political spectrum.
    • In addition, the assembly was live-streamed and all materials are available online.

Related topics

citizens' assembly climate assembly UK deliberative democracy Third Demand

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