David Attenborough warns 'moment of crisis has come' with climate change

Climate crisis: Citizens’ assembly to decide tough measures to achieve net zero emissions commitment

A 110-strong cross-section of the public will make ground-breaking recommendations in April – before the government's long-awaited strategy

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Wednesday 22 January 2020 08:10

A citizens’ assembly will decide the tough measures required for the UK to achieve ‘net zerocarbon emissions, amid criticism of ministers for dragging their heels.

A 110-strong gathering will start work this weekend and make ground-breaking recommendations in April – before the government’s own full strategy is finally revealed.

Crucially, the assembly will not be deterred by the price-tag for any measure, which could include taking petrol and diesel cars off the road, stripping out millions of gas boilers, or transforming agriculture.

“We are not putting any prior limits on it – in the end it’s for the assembly to decide what they want to propose to reduce emissions,” Jim Watson, a professor of energy policy and an assembly adviser, told The Independent.

The £520,000 idea is the brainchild of six different House of Commons committees, which are determined to ensure the public influences how the target of achieving net zero emissions by 2050 is met.

At present, that task is shrouded in mystery in the absence of a government action plan – despite it being seven months since it was made a legal commitment.

Last week, the independent committee on climate change urged Boris Johnson to stop delaying action and instead deliver a ‘climate change Budget’ in March.

The climate crisis was barely mentioned during the election campaign, when the prime minister boycotted the Channel 4 debate on the issue – and he has barely mentioned it since.

Now the citizens’ assembly will meet in Birmingham this weekend, the first of four sessions with experts to decide how – not whether – the 2050 commitment is achieved.

Its membership has been drawn – from 30,000 letters of invitation, which triggered around 1,800 expressions of interests – to match the make-up of the population on age, home location, gender, ethnicity and attitudes to climate change.

There are 18 members from an ethnic minority, 22 from rural areas, 25 aged between 16 and 29 and 41 educated to no more than GCSE level.

The determination to match the nation’s opinions extends to having three members who are ‘not at all concerned about climate change’, with a further 16 ‘not very concerned’.

Each member will receive £600 if they attend all four weekend sessions until March, plus expenses, to ensure the less well-off can afford to take part. They will not be identified – unless they choose to identify themselves.

However, one taking part, Marc, 46, from Newcastle, said: “I felt like I’d won the lottery when I got the letter. I’d be daft not to do it – it’s amazing to get the chance to have a say and influence what may happen in the future.”

Andrea Leadsom, the business secretary, gave a cautious commitment to examine “what conclusions the assembly reaches”.

“Having committed to end our contribution to climate change entirely by 2050 we will need input from all across the UK,” she said.

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