The UK’s first national citizens’ assembly on climate change is moving online to complete its work after it was interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Climate Assembly UK was commissioned by six parliamentary select committees and asked to examine how the country meets its legal target to cut greenhouse gases to zero overall by mid-century.
Some 110 people met in Birmingham over three weekends in February and March to learn from experts about climate change, and discuss and make informed decisions on options for meeting the net-zero goal.
The assembly members had been due to meet for a fourth and final weekend on March 20-21 but it was postponed due to restrictions introduced to deal with the Covid-19 outbreak.
Now, 107 members of the assembly are due to participate in a series of three online weekends running from mid-April to late May, after participants showed “sustained interest” in completing their work, organisers said.
Sarah Allan, from Involve, the charity commissioned by Parliament to facilitate the assembly, said members had been very sad when the final meeting was postponed, though they understood the move.
Participants expressed an “overwhelming feeling” that they wanted to carry on the work of the assembly, she said.
It is hoped that recommendations made by the assembly will be published in a report in the summer and will help inform Parliament and Government on policies to reach net zero.
All but three of the original members are due to participate in the weekends virtually, with two currently unable to take part due to coronavirus and one for other health reasons.
Each weekend will involve a few hours of presentations and then discussion in smaller groups on Saturday and Sunday, to fit around assembly members’ other commitments and to ensure they do not have to spend too much time on video conferences.
This weekend, the assembly will hear from a range of speakers on the topic of where the UK sources its electricity from, before discussing and voting on their preferences for power generation in the shift to net-zero emissions.
It will then meet online across a further two weekends, the first of which will consider removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, through technologies and measures such as tree-planting.
The last weekend will finalise results on travel, homes, consumer purchases, food, farming and land use, and there will be an opportunity to discuss anything people wish to add to the report in light of the pandemic.
Members of the assembly have been drawn from more than 1,800 people who responded to 30,000 invitations sent out to UK households selected at random.
They are representative of the UK population in age, gender, ethnicity, education and where they live, as well as their prior views on climate change.
One of the assembly members, Sharon, from Yorkshire, said: “It was disappointing that weekend four didn’t go ahead, but obviously we have to protect everybody’s health, so it was the right thing to do.
“I am glad that it is going forward in some capacity and I think that doing it virtually is the best way to do this.
“I’m happy that we’re not going to leave the assembly hanging and that we are going to finish the job, and I hope that the results are then taken seriously by the Government.”