The UK's first Citizens' Assembly on Climate Change will take place in Oxford across two weekends in September (28th-29th) and October (19th-20th). The organisation of the Assembly follows on from a decision by Oxford City Council to unanimously declare a state of Climate Emergency. This is a significant landmark for Oxford and it is sure to be an engaging and productive discussion about the city's approach to the climate emergency - read on to find out more about what's in store.
The Assembly will bring together 50 Oxford citizens, selected through a randomised, jury service-style process, who will be addressed by 7 introductory speakers providing an overview of the issue. One of these speakers will be Oxford Spires Academy sixth former Linnet Drury. Inspired by the example of teenage activist Greta Thunberg, and like many others of her generation, Drury attended the school climate strikes in Oxford in March, and is also a dedicated campaigner as part of the Extinction Rebellion movement. Having also addressed attendees of Oxford Green Week in June, Drury's speech will tackle the question "Why is climate change important?".
Another of the introductory speakers is Professor Myles Allen from the University of Oxford's Environmental Change Institute, who will discuss ‘What are the impacts of climate change?’. A fellow of Linacre College, Professor Allen is one of the leading specialists on climate change detection and modelling, and he was awarded the 2010 Appleton Medal and Prize from the Institute of Physics for his research. He has also been involved on more than one occasion with the authorship of special reports for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
It falls to Barbara Hammond to explain ‘Oxford’s response to climate change so far’. While working for the central government Hammond was involved in tabling the UK's £350m renewable energy programme as well as in the delivery of the UK's first off-shore wind farm. For 9 years she has been Chief Executive of Low Carbon Oxford, a social enterprise that aims to foment county-wide collaboration between citizens and organisations in a bid to slash carbon emissions in the area by 80% by 2050. She has also worked extensively with local renewable energy projects such as West Oxford Community Renewables Limited Ltd and Osney Lock Hydro Ltd, and received an MBE for her contribution to the field of community energy in 2015. After the introductory speakers, the Assembly will go on to discuss the central topic:
The UK Government has legislation to reach ‘net zero’ carbon by 2050. Should Oxford be more proactive and seek to achieve ’net zero’ sooner than 2050 and what trade-offs are we prepared to make?
Over 30 expert speakers and panellists will offer comments on specific issues and contribute to the wider debate. There will be representatives from the Environmental Change Institute, Oxford City Council, Oxford Brookes University, Oxford Bus Company, and Friends of the Earth amongst many others. Expert speakers will be present to help examine the pros and cons of different options for carbon reduction, and explain the challenges Oxford faces with regard to offsetting, building and transport efficiency, renewable energy generation, maintenance of biodiversity, and waste management. Assembly members will be asked to consider and evaluate different options and produce a full report of the discussion, providing recommendations for council's Sustainability Strategy.
What people are saying about the Citizens' Assembly:
Councillor Tom Hayes, Cabinet Member for Zero Carbon Oxford, said: “We are concerned about climate breakdown because it affects the people and places we care about. There is much we can do and the sooner we respond, the better off we will be. I’m excited by the huge possibilities of our Citizens Assembly, a mini Oxford in its own right, especially for tackling head-on the problem of how to make our buildings fit for purpose, how to clean our energy, and how to get around in zero carbon way. What this Council does has to be practical and effective and the Citizens’ Assembly is crucial for determining our plan of action.”
Nick Eyre, Professor of Energy and Climate Policy, University of Oxford, said: “Local authorities have a key role in addressing climate change. So it excellent the City Council is taking this initiative to ensure action that will deliver what people in Oxford want”.
Mark Gregory, Bid Manager, Beard Construction, said: “This is a radical innovation in democracy and an exceptional opportunity for the people of Oxford to have their say in such an important matter. There is a real need to focus on areas where we can make a difference here in Oxford, and Oxford City Council have provided the perfect platform to do so”.
Yasmin Sidhwa, Artistic Director, Mandala Theatre Company, said: “Oxford has the opportunity to be heard, and to be one of the first cities in the UK to take positive action on tackling the climate breakdown.”
Zuhura Plummer, Extinction Rebellion Oxford, said: “Extinction Rebellion Oxford welcomes a Citizens’ Assembly which adequately communicates the risks we are all taking by not responding appropriately to the climate and ecological emergency. We believe that with good information and adequate time to deliberate, participants will make decisions which address this emergency, and are just and fair for the many residents of Oxford.”
Richard Pantlin, Convenor, Oxford Citizens Assembly Network, said: “Many people outside Oxford around England and beyond are watching our experience. We must make it a success for the future of democracy itself.