Skip to main content

Climate Assembly UK comes to Westminster to repeat its call for greater ‘fairness and public engagement’ in COP26 countdown

Sir David Attenborough hails ‘remarkable’ Climate Assembly UK; calls on political leaders to give people confidence that changes needed to deliver net zero are desirable and possible for all, on one year anniversary.

50 days ahead of the UN climate summit in Glasgow (COP26), Parliament is marking the one year anniversary of the first ever UK-wide Climate Assembly by bringing many of those members of the UK public who took part to Westminster to meet Parliamentarians for the first time as the original publication plans were disrupted by the pandemic. Ahead of the reception, Sir David Attenborough sat down with four assembly members in the Speaker’s apartments in Westminster for a conversation about the Assembly and progress to date.

Sir David Attenborough meets Climate Assembly members

18 minute video, sept 2021

A year ago, Climate Assembly UK told MPs that they supported climate action but want to see leadership from government to ensure fairness and public engagement and to forge a cross-party consensus and a joined-up approach across society. A recent UN report warns that humans have had an ‘unequivocal’ impact on global warming and that human-induced climate change is already affecting weather extremes in every region of the world.

In July, a House of Commons Committee published its report into the action government has taken since being sent the recommendations in Climate Assembly UK’s landmark report. The BEIS Committee report found that the government had failed to adequately engage the public with any of the major changes to their daily lives expected over the coming years as the net zero transition gathers pace, presenting a risk to current high levels of support for decarbonisation in the UK. The Committee will publish the Government’s response under embargo today.

Sir David Attenborough, People's Advocate for COP26 says, "The world's scientists have been very clear on what's at stake for mankind if we don't act on climate change. Our political leaders now need to lead and give people confidence that all the changes needed to deliver net zero are desirable and possible for all of us. Parliament's Climate Assembly has done a truly remarkable job of highlighting the high levels of public support for climate action up and down this country and given government and MPs an invaluable roadmap of how it can be done. We owe the members of the UK public who took part in it a huge debt of gratitude. Above all, the Assembly has been abundantly clear that greater public participation and fairness is needed at the heart of all climate action and this is therefore a message I hope this government has heard loud and clear and certainly one I plan to share with all world leaders at COP26 in Glasgow.”

Sue Peachey, from Bath, an Assembly Member who starred in the recent BBC iplayer documentary on the Assembly says, “After several months of us all listening to advocates and experts, we reached the conclusion that change is imperative and set out our practical recommendations to make that change happen in a way we hope most people would find acceptable and achievable. The six committee chairs sent our report to Boris Johnson exactly a year ago so that it would highlight and hasten the public debate on net zero. I hope the Prime Minister will listen to people’s ideas and priorities and give the public a bigger role in delivering the UK’s net zero mission. If he takes time to inform and work with people who have legitimate concerns, we have shown he should be pushing at an open door.”

Darren Jones MP, Chair of Parliament’s BEIS committee – one of six select committees which commissioned Climate Assembly UK – said, “Climate Assembly UK has done the Prime Minister’s homework for him by agreeing the best ways to achieve our net zero target through incremental changes to the way we heat our homes, travel and live. But the Prime Minister and Chancellor have so far seemed too scared to be upfront with people about the small changes that we will all need to make in the near future. The Government must build on the climate assembly’s work and urgently bring the public into the debate about what tackling climate change really means, explaining not just why it’s necessary but how it’ll have a positive effect on people’s lives.” 

Chris Stark, Chief Executive of the Climate Change Committee and one of the Assembly’s Expert Leads said: “The remarkable public response to the pandemic shows the importance of clear and timely government communication. There are lessons for the UK’s climate response, chief among them the importance of engaging people on the options and ensuring they have the opportunity to contribute to decisions about their own future. There’s a huge difference between focus groups and participative methods like citizen assemblies. The government can help clear the path to Net Zero UK by putting public engagement more clearly at the heart of their new Net Zero strategy.”

A new report from the Institute of Government and Involve highlights the lack of preparedness in government to engage the public in policy design around net zero, warning there is limited government capability and expertise on public engagement and little coordination of activities across government. 

Hannah White, Deputy Director, Institute for Government says, “Finding ways to involve the public in decision making is going to be critical to meeting the task of transitioning the whole economy to net zero. But the government has failed to build on Climate Assembly UK, held a year ago, and departments still lack the capability and expertise to do public engagement well. We need to see a different approach in forthcoming strategies if the public are to be at the heart of the net zero transition.”

Sarah Allan, Director of Capacity Building and Standards at Involve, the organisation which ran Climate Assembly UK said, "The Prime Minister has said the path to net zero is about coal, cars, cash and trees - but unless it's about people too, we don't reach net zero. For the first time, Parliament's Climate Assembly UK has put the voices of members of the public from across the UK at the heart of solving one of the biggest challenges our country faces. This trust in the public has been rewarded with a clear roadmap for policy-makers. Whatever is agreed at COP26 can only be implemented fairly and effectively if people across the country understand what needs to be done, consent to it and act on it at a local level. That is why the Government must embrace the Assembly's report and ensure a greater role for public awareness and participation to achieve Net Zero.”

In 2020, for the first time in its history, Parliament decided to put the question of how we reach our national climate targets to the people in the first UK-wide climate assembly. 108 members of the UK public took part and their recommendations made back to MPs could have a big impact on the way we all live our lives over the next few decades. The Assembly’s ground-breaking report - ‘The Path to Net Zero’ – was published on 10 September 2020 and called on government to put fairness and greater public awareness at the heart of its plans to deliver Net Zero UK to secure public buy-in for future net zero policies. 

After weeks of deliberation, and undeterred by lockdowns, assembly members sent a clear message back to Parliament that they supported bold climate action to deliver Net Zero by 2050 but they called for net zero policies to be fair and backed by better public awareness, choice and clear government leadership. Their final report represents a unique, timely and valuable body of evidence for MPs to scrutinise government climate policy. The Assembly’s report was forwarded to No10 and welcomed by government ministers. It was also used as evidence by the Climate Change Committee for their Sixth Carbon Budget which, in turn, has informed the government’s recent pledge to cut national carbon emissions by 78% by 2035.