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Citizens Assembly lets public consider how UK should meet climate change goals

Emma Gatten
The panel was asked to consider the trade-offs between planting trees and growing food - ©National Trust Images/John Mill

More than 100 citizens from across the country were asked to consider who should bear the costs of climate change at the first citizens assembly to tackle how we should reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions.

A representative sample of 110 members of the public gathered in a 16th floor hotel conference room in Birmingham on Saturday in the first of four weekends before they give their thoughts on how the government should meet its legally binding target by 2050.

The first weekend was designed to introduce the members to the background of climate change by a panel of experts, and the ethical considerations that should inform their decision-making.

Later weekends will look at more practical questions, such as whether to impose flight taxes, how much meat we should be eating and how we should be heating our homes.

Chris Stark, the chief executive of the government advisory body the Committee on Climate Change, told the assembly they should think about how the burden of climate change should be shared and how much government intervention should be acceptable.

"The people who are most vulnerable to the global effects are often the least able to change the course of climate change," he said.

Members of the public asked how electric cars could be made more affordable

Asked how the government could make sure the costs don't impact poor people disproportionately he said it was "very important" that the Treasury answer that question.  

Among the other speakers was Tony Juniper, the head of Natural England, who warned of the "tearing apart of the web of life" from the loss of biodiversity and destruction to the environment. 

"Bear in mind that all our citizens and economies are suspended in this web of life."

The group was last due to hear from Sir David Attenborough on Saturday evening, to thank them for their participation.

Invitation letters were sent randomly to 30,000 people asking them to take part in the assembly, for which they will be paid £600 in total.

From the 2,000 who replied to express interest, the group was chosen by an algorithm to reflect the demographics of the UK, including age, gender and ethnic makeup.

Participants were not asked whether or not they believe in the science behind climate change, but were asked to rank how important they think the issue is. The sample was picked to match the answer to the same question in a survey by Ipsos Mori.

The results of the discussions will eventually go to six parliamentary cross-party committees that commissioned the assembly, including the Treasury and the Department for Transport, to provide non-binding advice.

The process will cost £520,000, of which £120,000 will be paid by the parliamentary committees and the rest by charities the European Climate Foundation and the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation