Choice and information: UK citizens’ assembly outlines policy and lifestyle overhauls for net-zero transition

The report specifically calls for an overhaul on how the public engages with land and air transport

Against a backdrop of Extinction Rebellion protests calling on MPs agree to back the Climate and Ecological Emergency (CEE) Bill, the UK’s first Citizens’ Assembly has outlined more than 50 policy recommendations that have been sent to Government to shape the net-zero commitment for 2050.

The report outlines how UK citizens believe travel, diets, land use, consumerism, home heating and energy use, electricity generation and greenhouse gas removals should be changed to spur progress towards the net-zero emissions target that has been enshrined into UK law.

The assembly was set up in January 2020 and was designed to bring together a group of people that reflected the wider UK population to discuss and explore how the net-zero target could be met.

The 110 assembly members have spent the last six months discussing potential recommendations alongside six of the House of Commons’ select committees overseeing the Assembly.

The assembly has today (10 September) published its final recommendations report, listing 50 considerations for MPs.

The report specifically calls for an overhaul on how the public engages with land and air transport, while encouraging them to eat healthier diets and gain access to more technologies to reduce household emissions.

Specifically, the report calls on MPs to incentivise the shift to electric vehicles (EVs) through time-based policies, while also reducing the costs of public transport and improving UK transport links.

For air travel, which accounts for 10% of total carbon emissions (compared to 2% of global emissions) of the UK’s emissions, the citizens believe that taxes should be placed based on the frequency that individuals fly, and how far they fly. The taxes should be coupled with investment into cleaner technologies to reduce emissions associated with flying.

The UK Government has been urged to implement a Home Improvement Plan to facilitate more than £5bn in annual spending to improve the energy efficiency of the UK’s housing stock to contribute to the net-zero target for 2050.

The assembly report echoes these sentiments, calling for a greater choice in ways to reduce emissions through technological advances and better housebuilding standards. The report demands that the public is given access to more reliable and succinct messaging on the option available to them.

A change in diet to reduce meat and dairy consumption by between 20% and 40% was also discussed, but the members of the assembly stressed that these changes “should be voluntary rather than compulsory”.

On land use, assembly members want the government to prioritise local produce and production – a move that could reduce the UK’s carbon footprint when accounting for imports, and could become more likely as Brexit negotiations continue to rumble on. Land use should also be managed better to improve land diversity and biodiversity.

The report also outlines the role that businesses can play in assisting the net-zero target from a consumer preference.

The report calls on businesses to make products using less energy and natural resources, as well as equipping consumers with the means to repair or recycle products. The assembly also called for more accessible data to make informed shopping choices, which could include product labelling and advice on recycling.

The assembly members remain adamant that offshore, onshore and solar should be the predominant sources of power to generate electricity in the UK. Recent figures show that renewable energy production rose by 4.9% in 2019 in the UK and “a record high level” of wind and solar capacity delivering an 11% growth.

The Committee on Climate Change notes that the net-zero target will not be met “by simply adding mass removal of CO2 onto existing plans”, but the assembly was asked to list preferences for solutions that could offset hard-to-abate emissions. The report lists forests and forest management; restoring and managing peatlands and wetlands; and using wood in construction as desired methods.

The six commissioning Select Committees have written a letter to the Prime Minister, urging him to ensure that the Government acts on the recommendations of Climate Assembly UK.

Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee, Darren Jones MP, said:   “This is an extremely important contribution to the debate on how the UK reaches our net-zero target and I hope it gives impetus to policymakers to take bold action to reduce our emissions. The range of voices within these pages reflect our population.

“The fact that assembly members have been able to arrive at clear recommendations whilst respecting each others’ values and experiences sets an example for us all. Participants speak of their learning, how they clarified their views and their respect for each other’s perspectives, even when they didn’t agree. Their voices are front and centre, just as they should be.”

Emergency Bill

The recommendations arrive as the Extinction Rebellion protests continue to shine a light on a perceived failure from Government to act on the climate and ecological crises. The protesters have said that they will only stop congregating and blocking roads surrounding these locations if MPs agree to back the Climate and Ecological Emergency (CEE) Bill.

Spearheaded in Parliament by Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, the Bill would see the UK go beyond its 2050 net-zero target by accounting for its entire carbon footprint – domestically and overseas. At present, international shipping and aviation is excluded from calculations, for example. The Bill would also bind policymakers to prioritise existing climate solutions over emerging technologies, as recommended by Project Drawdown and Chatham House, and to give greater powers to the citizens’ assembly on climate change.

Commenting on the assembly report, Luke Murphy, head of IPPR’s Environmental Justice Commission and member of the advisory panel to the Climate Assembly, said: “This is an important contribution to the debate on how the UK should reach net zero. Making over 50 recommendations across a whole range of policy areas from transport to farming, it is vital that the government examine them and take them forward.

“As well as a raft of recommendations, the Assembly members’ have called for strong leadership from national government, for the ability of local areas to develop plans that best suit their needs and crucially, to put fairness at the very heart of the transition. The Climate Assembly UK has been an exemplar of how citizens from across the country can come together, debate the huge issues facing us and develop well thought out solutions. It is a process that deserves to be far more widely used within policymaking, which why it is at the heart of IPPR’s Environmental Justice Commission.”

Matt Mace

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