Assembly convened by Parliament of more than 100 members of the public call for urgency, fairness, and leadership to be at the heart of the net zero transition
The UK should end sales of fossil fuel cars within 15 years, rapidly scale up wind and solar power capacity, curb growth in air passenger numbers, use carbon labelling on consumer products, and encourage people to eat less meat and dairy in order to achieve its 2050 net zero emissions goal.
Those are among 50 recommendations for delivering on the UK's 2050 net zero target put to the government by British citizens today through the citizens assembly appointed last year by a group of Parliamentary select committees, marking the culmination of a landmark exercise in direct, democratic policy making.
Published today, the report follows 60 hours of discussion and deliberation within Climate Assembly UK, an initiative which saw 108 members of the public from all walks of life selected from 30,000 invites in order to provide a representative sample of the country's population.
Assembly members took part in a series of sessions over several weekends from January to March this year covering topics such as electricity, heat, buildings, agriculture, transport, and greenhouse gas removal technologies in order to draw insights on public support for various decarbonisation measures.
After Covid-19 lockdown restrictions were implemented in March, the final weekend meeting was postponed and later took place online over three weekends in April and May, before the Committee published an interim report in June revealing strong backing for using Covid-19 recovery efforts to support the UK's net zero ambitions, as well as a "remarkable consensus" favouring green lifestyle changes.
Today's report further cements that consensus, with strong support for better educating and informing the wider public on the opportunities and challenges associated with the net zero transition, as well as calls for more long-term planning and greater urgency from political leaders in support of decarbonising the economy.
"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," said one Assembly member, named by organisers as 56-year-old Sue from Bath. "Our report takes into account the wide range of views in the UK and represents a realistic and fair path to net zero."
Touching on various aspects of transport, heating, land use, electricity, and myriad clean technology and nature-based solutions, the Assembly's recommendations are wide-ranging, yet several clear themes emerge throughout. It emphasises the need for "strong and clear leadership" from government to set the framework for both business and consumer action to tackle the climate crisis, backed by cross-party consensus in order to avoid politicians "scoring party political points".
There is also a strong emphasis on ensuring the path to net zero is both fair and equitable for all members of society, particularly those most vulnerable to the impacts of the changes ahead, such as those working in high carbon industries, so that no one is left behind as the economy decarbonises.
And, crucially, the report calls for greater urgency in shifting towards net zero emissions, as well as an emphasis on freedom for individuals and local areas to choose the green solutions they feel work best for them.
On specific policy actions, meanwhile, some of the Assembly's recommendations do not stray too far from existing UK ambitions. Participants favour a ban on sales of petrol and diesel cars between 2030-2035, much the same as the government's existing aim for a phase out by 2035 or even earlier if possible, as well as far more investment in public transport and cycling.
There was also very strong support for renewables - particularly offshore wind power - as well as for deposit return schemes to boost recycling, and projects to restore forests and peatland to help drive down emissions, all of which feature to some extent in the government's existing policy plans.
In other areas, however, support was somewhat lower, with Assembly members expressing doubts over the costs and benefits of nuclear and bioenergy, for example, as well as advocating for a conservative approach to some cutting edge clean technologies, such as carbon capture and storage (CCS) and direct air capture (DAC) systems.
And elsewhere, the report urges the government to go much further and faster in cutting its emissions than current plans, such as by implementing a so-called 'frequent flier levy' that would charge higher taxes on plane tickets for people who fly more often, or by encouraging people to reduce their meat and dairy consumption by between 20-40 per cent. More than 75 per cent of members also supported bringing back public transport under government control in order to spur decarbonisation.
Chris Stark, chief executive of the Committee on Climate Change, who acted as one of the expert advisors during the Climate Assembly process, said the results showed more than anything there was "broad support for climate action in the UK".
"The views of the Assembly are useful in two ways," he said. "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."
Stark said the CCC would draw on the findings of the Assembly's report in its forthcoming advice to the government on delivering the so-called sixth carbon budget, which will lay the foundations for UK decarbonisation in the 2030s.
Organisers behind Climate Assembly UK said they now planned to embark on an "extensive programme of stakeholder briefings" with MPs, with select committees expected to take forward their findings to shape further inquiries into UK climate action.
It remains to be seen how the government will respond to the Climate Assembly's recommendations, although in a statement today it promised to consider the report's findings, while also emphasising its success to date in decarbonising the UK economy.
"Climate change is a challenge affecting us all and so we must hear diverse voices on this crucial matter," the government's statement said. "We share the public's passion for an inclusive approach to tackling climate change and will study the Citizen Assembly's report carefully as we push for greater climate action both at home and abroad ahead of crucial COP26 talks next year."
Following the report's publication today, Business Secretary and COP26 President Alok Sharma is expected to speak at its launch event later this morning, before also appearing in front of MPs at the BEIS select committee's inquiry on the Assembly's findings.
Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) select committee, Labour MP Darren Jones, described the Citizens Assembly's report as "an extremely important contribution to the debate" which he hoped would give "impetus to policy makers to take bold action to reduce our emissions".
"It is vital that Parliament and government examine and use the recommendations which the Assembly sets out today," he said. "Assembly members agree that the task of reaching net zero is a responsibility shared by all generations and we thank them for doing just that, giving up their time to listen, understand, debate and propose solutions which are underpinned by a desire to be fair to everyone in our society, and to retain freedom and choice for individuals and local areas wherever possible."
Meanwhile, the Climate Assembly's recommendations also garnered strong support from across the green economy. Nick Molho, executive director of the Aldersgate Group of businesses, said the report showed strong alignment and support for more ambitious net zero policy across both business and civil society.
"Despite the hardship brought about by the Covid-19 crisis, the government benefits from a unique context whereby both the public and the business community desire clear leadership and policy interventions to put the UK on a credible pathway to net zero emissions," he said."Through a combination of clear regulations - such as energy and resource efficiency standards - greater devolution of political and financial autonomy to local bodies, and support measures for the most vulnerable in society, government action could play a significant role in putting the UK on a credible path towards a just and timely transition to net zero emissions."
The report further adds to calls for the government to deliver on its promises of a "green recovery" and urgently advance a raft of net zero policy measures this autumn through the upcoming Budget and Spending Review and long awaited Energy White Paper, Green Heating Strategy, and various other policy decisions that remain in the pipeline.
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