Oxford’s citizens’ assembly on climate change

Councillor Susan Brown, Leader of Oxford City Council, spoke to LGiU’s Ingrid Koehler recently for the LGiU Fortnightly episode on climate emergency in local government. To provide a little bit more information about the citizens’ assembly, Oxford City Council has provided a FAQ:

When did Oxford declare a Climate Emergency?

In January, Oxford City Council members unanimously declared a climate emergency and agreed to create a Citizens Assembly in Oxford to set out recommendations for how to move the city towards net zero carbon emissions.

How has declaring a climate emergency influenced the City Council’s action?

In addition to our plans for the Oxford Citizens Assembly on Climate Change, the council is assessing its priorities across all areas, with all areas identifying action that will directly or indirectly support work on addressing the climate emergency. Every part of the council is identifying action that directly or indirectly supports work on climate change.

In April, the City Council announced initiatives totalling over £80m to support the council on its goal to support reducing carbon emissions. This includes installing one of the world’s largest batteries to support electric vehicle charging and low-carbon heat networking, and creating a new ‘smart grid’ to allow individuals and communities to become active participants in the energy systems of the future.

When will the Oxford Citizens Assembly on Climate Change take place?

The Assembly will be held over two full weekends (28-29 September 2019 and 19- 20 October 2019) at the Said Business School in Oxford City Centre.

Who is facilitating the Citizens Assembly?

Ipsos MORI has been appointed to undertake the recruitment of participants and provide overall facilitation for the Citizens Assembly.

What will be the topic of the Citizens Assembly?

During the Assembly participants will learn about climate change and explore different options to cut carbon emissions through a combination of presentations from experts and facilitated workshops.

As the evidence around man-made climate change is clear and overwhelming, it will be treated as a ‘given’ and the Assembly will not be asked to consider whether or not it is a reality.

The Oxford Citizens Assembly on Climate Change will consider: How proactive should Oxford be in seeking to achieve net zero carbon sooner than 2050 and what trade-offs are we prepared to make?

The Assembly will gauge how ambitious residents want Oxford to be to reach net zero earlier than 2050, and examine how the City Council can drive that change using its levers of direct control, its partnerships with other bodies, and its wider influence. Areas entirely outwith the Council’s control or influence, such as emissions from aviation or international shipping, will not be considered.

What will the Citizens Assembly address?

The Citizens Assembly will address three themes, divided into five separate areas of content. These were selected following work undertaken for the City Council by Anthesis, an Oxford-based environmental consultancy that provided quantitative evidence of where the Council can help deliver the most significant emissions reductions:

How do we use less energy?

  • Buildings – how do we ensure our buildings are fit for the future?
  • Transport – how do we develop a sustainable zero-carbon transport system?

How do we make more energy?

  • How do we transform our energy system to ensure it comes from renewable sources?
  • How do we improve environmental quality on the journey to net zero?

Waste – How do we reduce our waste to deliver net zero?

  • Offsetting – How could Oxford offset the emissions it can’t reduce?

The issue of biodiversity will be considered within each of these subject areas.

How will the Citizens Assembly be structured?

The first weekend will start with a series of speakers providing scene-setting overview of the issue, what happens if we don’t act, and what it takes to get to net zero emissions. Each theme and subject area will also be examined with discussion around the key challenges and trade off.

In the second weekend participants will deliberate the subjects and discuss specific questions around trade-offs. Participants will be asked to vote on each question. The outcomes of the questions will help guide the City Council in its own policy making, and how we can use its influence.

How will the Oxford Citizens Assembly on Climate Change be governed?

Oxford City Council has established an independent advisory group to provide governance and oversight of the citizens assembly.  The advisory group includes a councillor from each the main political parties on the City Council, as well as a representative of the Conservative Party, together with Oxford-based environment and democracy experts and representatives from local industry.

The advisory group provides governance and oversight for the creation, structure and operation of the citizens assembly.

City Council Leader, Councillor Susan Brown provides leadership around the group’s guidance in a non-party political role.

As the recipient of recommendations from the citizens assembly, Councillor Tom Hayes, Cabinet Member for Zero Carbon Oxford is not a member of the Advisory Group meetings, but will attend meetings.

How many participants will be involved in the Assembly?

50 Oxford city residents will be selected. The size of the Assembly will enable citizens with diverse backgrounds and perspectives to come together in detailed discussion on a common issue.

How will participants in the Assembly be selected?

Residents will be selected through a stratified random process, creating a ‘mini-public’ broadly representative of the demographics of the population. Residents cannot apply to become an Assembly member but all local residents have the potential to be invited to participate.

Will participants in the Assembly be paid?

In line with good practice in encouraging full participation, participants will each be paid a £300 honorarium, recognising the time they are giving up to take part and ensuring that a diverse range of people – including those on low-incomes or with caring responsibilities etc. can take part.

Will there be observers?

The City Council will be enabling a limited number of members of the public to attend as observers on both weekends. This will help to ensure transparency around the proceedings.

In order to ensure that participants feel free to ask questions and express their views within a safe space, observers will be unable to join tables to listen into discussion and deliberation as this can change how participants engage with the process.

It is important that the selection process for observers is inclusive and objective in order to ensure transparency.

At the beginning of September, the City Council will be inviting members of the public to register their interest to attend, and the observers will be randomly selected from those who register.

What will be the outcomes of the Assembly?

A final report on the findings of the Oxford Citizens Assembly on Climate Change will be produced by Ipsos MORI, the independent body appointed to facilitate proceedings, published within three weeks of the end the Assembly. The report will be formally presented to Oxford City Council with recommendations to be considered for adoption and it will inform a new City Council’s Sustainability Strategy, which will reflect new measures and carbon emissions reduction targets.

How much has been budgeted for the Citizens Assembly/Climate Emergency?

£200,000 has been budgeted for establishing the Oxford Citizens Assembly on Climate Change together with associated staffing costs for reporting and research.

You can find out more about the Oxford Citizens Assembly on Climate Change at the links below:

Oxford City Council to establish UK’s first citizens’ assembly to address climate emergency

Oxford City Council to establish independent advisory group for citizens’ assembly on climate change

City Council sets out arrangement for Oxford’s citizens’ assembly on climate change 

Topic and scope agreed for Oxford citizens’ assembly on climate change. 

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