A Citizens' assembly will de-polarise and de-carbonise
By Stephanie Holmes.
The Climate and Ecology (CEE) Bill, proposed by Liberal Democrat Lord Redesdale, is at the forefront of supporting citizen involvement. Section three of the bill states:
“The Secretary of State must, within three months of the passing of this Act, procure, by open tender, an expert independent body to establish a Climate and Nature Assembly (‘the Assembly’) comprising a representative sample of the United Kingdom population.”
Centralised biodiversity policies often fail to take regional differences into account. Soil types, plant species and inhabitant animals are incredibly diverse. Climate policy must therefore be decentralised to take into account differences. The power dynamic must be put back under the control of the people.
Public participation maintains accountability, and given the high court ruling that the government's net zero strategy was unlawful under the Climate Change Act (2008), the need for checks and balances in nature policy is urgent.
120 MPs support the bill currently. This not only shows much needed support for environmental concerns, but also a desire for greater public involvement.
Sarah Olney MP, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Energy and Climate Change, commented on Twitter:
“We see too much stovepiping between govt depts on both the climate & the environment, and so to bring it all together as a clear set of objectives is a real strength, and why @LibDems are in favour of it.”
The same “stovepiping” blocks citizens from having their say. At present, the proposal of the CEE Bill for a Climate and Nature Assembly is the most achievable plan to promote the democratic nature of environmental decision-making.
In other policy realms, devolved assemblies consistently provide better opportunities for citizen involvement than in Westminster. It is why we have local government.
Although the proposed assembly remains national, its body is a representative sample of the UK. This commendable composition should inevitably account for local concern by calling out UK wide blanket policies that fail to provide adequate targets. Our climate is far from homogeneous, and our policy must reflect that.
If 66% of the Assembly agree, Section 3 (5) of the bill requires the Secretary of State to include all recommendations in their strategy, once the Climate Change Committee (CCC) jointly proposes them with the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC).
The latter two ensure that the recommendations of the Assembly are in line with scientific advice to ensure the most effective policy.
The non-partisan citizen body will crucially not seek electoral gains on the basis of political proposals - unlike sitting parties. By influencing policy in this way, there is potential to de-polarise climate politics and reach a sensible consensus on sustainable practice.
The essence of social liberalism tells us to bring citizens to the heart of climate policy. We should be excited about the precedent that the Assembly can set.
Want to find out more? Read the full bill here.
Stephanie Holmes is the editor of the Bullet Blog and Chair of LSE SU Liberal Democrats.