Beyond Politics

Demand #3

Government must create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice.

What is a Citizens’ Assembly?

Citizens’ Assemblies are innovative processes that can empower people, communities and entire countries to make important decisions in a way that is fair and deeply democratic. 

The Citizens’ Assembly on Climate and Ecological Justice will bring together ordinary people to investigate, discuss and make recommendations on how to respond to the climate emergency. Similar to jury service, members will be randomly selected from across the country. The process will be designed to ensure that the Assembly reflects the whole country in terms of characteristics such as gender, age, ethnicity, education level and geography. Assembly members will hear balanced information from experts and those most affected by the emergency. Members will speak openly and honestly in small groups with the aid of professional facilitators. Together they will work through their differences and draft and vote on recommendations.

The Citizens’ Assembly will be run by non-governmental organisations under independent oversight. This is the fairest and most powerful way to cut through party politics. It will empower citizens to actually work together and take responsibility for our climate and ecological emergency.

This isn’t pie in the sky – it’s proven practice. Citizens’ Assemblies around the world have shown that ordinary people can understand complex information, weigh the options, and make informed choices. Examples include Ireland, Canada, Australia, Belgium and Poland.

Citizens’ Assemblies are used to address important issues that electoral politics can’t fix on its own. In recent years, Ireland’s Citizens’ Assembly broke the deadlock on two controversial issues: same-sex marriage and abortion. The recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly informed public debate and provided politicians cover to make the necessary changes. A subsequent Citizens’ Assembly on Climate Change produced a series of recommendations that were incorporated into the Irish government’s action plan.

Why does extinction rebellion demand a Citizens’ Assembly on Climate and Ecological Justice?

This is an emergency. The challenges are big, wide-ranging and complex. And solutions are needed urgently.

Extinction Rebellion believes that part of the problem is the way electoral politics works:

  • Political power is in the hands of a few elected politicians. Over the last 40 years, this system has proved incapable of making the long-term decisions needed to deal with the climate and ecological emergency. Politicians simply can’t see past the next election.
  • Members of parliament are lobbied by powerful corporations, seek sympathetic media coverage, and calculate their policies based on potential public reactions and opinion polls. This leaves many of them either unable or unwilling to make the bold changes necessary to address the emergency.
  • Opinion polls often gather knee-jerk reactions to loaded questions. They do not allow respondents to become informed or engage with others with different perspectives. For an issue as complex as the climate and ecological emergency, opinion polling won’t cut it.

Here is how a Citizens’ Assembly on Climate and Ecological Justice can break the deadlock:

  • A Citizens’ Assembly on Climate and Ecological Justice will empower citizens to take the lead and politicians to follow with less fear of political backlash.
  • Citizens’ Assemblies are fair and transparent. Assembly members have an equal chance of being heard. Briefing materials, experts, and other presenters are vetted by diverse stakeholders and shared publicly. This produces informed democratic decisions.
  • Citizens’ Assemblies are especially useful when difficult trade-offs are necessary. For example, experts might propose policies for how to meet a 2025 target for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions and the Assembly could decide which they prefer. They would also consider how to mitigate the impacts of changes on the most vulnerable people.

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