24 February 2020
Green Party councillors on Norwich City Council are proposing setting up a “citizens’ assembly” to devise a plan for tackling the environmental crisis locally – that is, a delegation of between 60 and 160 ordinary people chosen independently and at random from all of Norwich’s demographic groups.
The idea of assembling randomly-chosen citizens to make democratic decisions goes back to ancient times, but has most recently been used successfully to solve politically-difficult issues such as abortion reform in Ireland. The UK Parliament has convened a citizens’ assembly to discuss climate issues, and other councils including Lambeth, Oxford and Leeds have set up their own local versions.
The people chosen – who could be anyone, with any political views or none – would be brought together for a number of weekends and would hear evidence about the climate and environmental crisis from climate experts, trade unions, business representatives, community groups and others. Supported by the city council, they would then debate and form a consensus plan on what to do, locally. The estimated cost would be £70,000, which Greens say is low when the benefits for democracy and climate planning are considered.
Green Party councillor Jamie Osborn said, “Our current political system tends to alienate and divide people, but a climate citizens’ assembly would bring people together on the biggest challenge we all face. There is a wealth of experience from ordinary people in our city who, when brought together, can produce really good and progressive ideas. This has been proven in other cities and now Norwich can take a lead on the idea in our region.”
Councillor Osborn added, “The respected Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research says that Norwich needs to cut its carbon emissions by a minimum of 13% year on year to meet climate targets, but the city council currently has no specific plan that shows how we would do that. It’s time the council got its act together, and harnessing the ideas of its citizens is the way forward we need.”
(1) Information on the UK Parliament Climate Assembly website is here: https://www.climateassembly.uk/, Lambeth here: https://www.lambeth.gov.uk/better-fairer-lambeth/project/lambeth-citizens-assembly-on-climate-change, Oxford here: https://www.oxford.gov.uk/citizensassembly and Leeds here: https://www.leedsclimate.org.uk/leeds-climate-change-citizens-jury
(2) Norwich City Council’s Draft Environmental Strategy can be found here: https://www.norwich.gov.uk/downloads/file/5584/draft_environmental_strategy_2020-25