As the country gears up for the first session of Climate Assembly UK in Birmingham this weekend, climate change is the topic on everyone’s lips. A fraught World Economic Forum in Davos just finished, set against a backdrop of Australia being pelted with fire, and ice, and fire.

This weekend’s session follows a groundswell in both climate change awareness and activism, and the popularity in citizens’ assemblies (or CAs, hereafter) as a whole.

By and large, we think that methods of democracy that draw on the wisdom of citizens are basically a good thing, but the somewhat feverish craze surrounding citizens’ assemblies/juries/etc at the moment raises some concerns. Is it being run with the sole intention of getting on the bandwagon? Is there a plan for how to implement the findings after it ends?

Trendy or transformational?

That’s the bit that concerns me most – realistically, running a CA implies the means and willingness to implement practical changes based on public opinion. When I see an organisation that has a poor track record of responding to citizen concerns announcing that it’s starting a citizen panel, I worry it’s just a matter of keeping up appearances. But there are some that are going about it in the right way – Camden is one of those.

They ran the UK’s first climate CA back in August, which produced report with a list of concrete, actionable items that had support by a majority of participants. Some of the suggestions included increasing green spaces, all new homes to be carbon-neutral, and for developers to fund energy-efficient building retrofits.

All good stuff – but what’s notable is that now Camden is consulting on its Climate Action Plan (via their Citizen Space site), which incorporates the results of the citizens’ assembly as well as other engagement exercises it’s run on the subject.

Not that I thought Camden was a bandwagon-jumper, but running a formal consultation on the back of citizen-deliberated findings is a clear-cut indication that said findings are to be incorporated into policy. It also gives the wider public a say on the measures. What’s clear from the content of the consultation, as well as a dedicated section on Camden Council’s website, is that the Citizen’s Assembly was part of a robust wider initiative that’s been ongoing.

The consultation itself is well-presented, with plenty of information in plain English and a clear, easy-to-follow format. Citizen Space’s accessibility and data security lend themselves to high-impact subject matter such as this: the climate emergency affects literally everyone, so in order to consult effectively authorities need a platform that can be accessed by everyone.

Camden is a great example of how valuable citizens’ assemblies can be: they generate clear, distinct actions for an organisation that is committed to implementing them. And that, I think, is the key: it must be said that the assembly this weekend is being run independently, and the government has absolutely no obligation whatsoever to act on any of the findings. I wish them well, but I’ll be reserving judgement until we find out what actions will be taken as a result.

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