Independent documentary on Climate Assembly UK released on BBC iplayer
Is a lack of national ‘climate consciousness’ the biggest threat to the PM’s COP26 ambition and Net Zero UK? A new documentary explores current public awareness of climate change and their appetite to tackle it.
An independent ‘behind the scenes’ documentary on the first UK-wide citizens’ assembly on climate change, Climate Assembly UK, airs on BBC iPlayer today (The People vs Climate Change, 13 May 2021). Narrated by BBC weather presenter Carol Kirkwood, the documentary follows members of the British public who volunteered to grapple with the complex choices we face as a society on the path to 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.
Sir David Attenborough, appointed this week as ‘People’s Advocate’ to the UN climate summit in Glasgow (COP26) to lead collective action, explains in the film why the public and politicians must listen carefully to what they have to say: “The fact that you have given up time to come here and take this seriously is of the greatest importance, and the rest of the people in this country ought to be extremely grateful to you. As, indeed, am I.”
The BBC documentary follows a handful of climate assembly members demographically and attitudinally chosen to represent the country as a whole, from all walks of life and from all corners of the UK. Most began their climate assembly experience knowing or caring very little about climate change, or how to tackle it. The film tracks their individual journeys into greater climate consciousness and their influential collective recommendations to MPs on how best to deliver the government’s ambitious national and international climate commitments:
Richard (75) from Kent a retired engineer was reluctant to spend less time with his three-litre motor-home was concerned that job losses and the costs required to deliver net zero could outweigh the benefits for global Britain and limit personal freedom. He said he hoped nature will take care of itself and felt government would struggle to make the public case for net zero, “I think Brexit has really shown that you can’t push the British public around. When it comes to it, they are bloody-minded and…if you can’t persuade people on climate change then you won’t get it.” As the assembly moved online, tragically Richard was diagnosed with lung cancer and his health and lockdown experience caused him to re-evaluate his views particularly on pollution and the benefits of cleaner air.
Sue Peachey (56) from Bath, a manager of retirement apartments in Bristol, said that before taking part in the assembly she had never been ‘eco-friendly’ or questioned why storms were now causing more local flooding. She feels privileged to have had the opportunity to learn about climate change and thinks everyone – especially her generation – will benefit from being more informed on the issue. As the assembly is forced to move online due to the pandemic, she says: “I’ve never done anything like it…I’ve never been sort of eco-friendly... It’s got my brain going again ‘cos I didn’t know nothing. So now everybody needs to learn what I’ve learned.” Sue has since joined her local parish council to share her new knowledge and bought a second-hand electric car to continue to do her bit for the planet: “It’s a bit like a massive mobile phone but instead of making calls, it takes you places…I love it!”
Charley (25) from Northamptonshire found air travel one of the trickiest issues to discuss. She loves holidays and, before having a baby, was regularly taking four or five overseas holidays a year, and sometimes as many as nine. She lives at home with her father who says cheap flights have now made it normal for people to expect a holiday of a lifetime three times a year. She concludes that if a frequent flyer levy is put in place then “I will be made to make changes and, maybe, that’s for the better. Something has to be done; I don’t think there is any other option.”
Marc Robson (46) from Newcastle works for British Gas fitting smart meters. As a proud ex-Marine from a coal-mining family, he accepts change is coming to the fossil fuel industry but has real concerns about job losses and wants big companies and government to manage the transition properly so that, instead of burying its head in the sand, the UK becomes a world leader in new low carbon jobs. At the launch of the report, he told Parliament, “Be bold…people are willing to change if educated properly and given the facts”. He is optimistic that the UK can rise to the net zero challenge saying, “There are still going to be jobs out there…they are just going to be new jobs and, the more I’ve looked into it, I think it’s going to be a good thing.”
Former banker and university lecturer in business studies, Folajimi (43) from Coventry, understands climate change is man-made but says he is not going to panic and is optimistic about mankind’s ability to innovate. Having grown up in Nigeria, he views the global climate change problem as a problem for wealthy developed countries to solve: “For me, the UK should be leading… It’s a business opportunity and an opportunity for the UK to innovate.”
Postal worker Amy (27) from Scarborough initially struggled to grasp some of the net zero terminology but learning more about low carbon home heating led her to question whether the coal fire in her rented home was impacting her son’s health: “If it is the coal that is causing his asthma, then I want it gone…I would prefer having a heat pump or solar panels but are we going to get help buying them? It’s all good ideas but you’re looking at thousands of pounds.”
After weeks of deliberation, and undeterred by lockdowns, assembly members sent a clear message back to Parliament that they supported bold climate action, saying that Net Zero by 2050 was possible if the net zero policies were fair and supported by better public awareness, choice and cross-party 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.
Welcoming the documentary, Darren Jones MP, Chair of Parliament’s BEIS committee – one of six select committee’s which commissioned Climate Assembly UK – said, “The documentary is a fitting tribute to all 108 assembly members who gave up six weekends to take part and advise Parliament on the UK’s path to net zero. In particular, I wish to join others in thanking Richard who sadly passed away earlier this year. We know he was supportive of the film and proud to have taken part in the assembly and we send our deepest condolences to his family.
Much has happened since Climate Assembly UK concluded: the UK government has legislated for 78% emissions reductions by 2035. To deliver this, net zero policies will begin to impact people’s everyday lives, from what we buy, to how we heat our homes, and how we travel.
The assembly and documentary show just how far the UK public are ahead of UK policymakers on climate change and their openness to more mindful consumption when presented with the facts. They told us very clearly that fairness, education, cross-party leadership and a joined-up approach across society are essential pre-conditions for widespread public acceptance of UK climate policy. As UK net zero policy begins to 'knock on people's doors' bringing changes to the way we all live, travel and heat our homes, the PM and the government must listen to, educate and involve people in the decision-making process or risk undermining vital public support needed to hit their own ambitious domestic and international climate targets.”
In April, Parliament launched a new inquiry into the action government has taken since being made aware of the recommendations from Climate Assembly UK’s landmark report.
Chris Stark, Chief Executive of the Climate Change Committee and one of the Assembly’s Expert Leads said: “Climate Assembly UK demonstrates there is growing support for climate action and behaviour change in the UK, and the film shows how engaged people can become once they are made aware of the science and the options. We drew on some of the Assembly’s unique insights in our recent advice to government on the Sixth Carbon Budget to help inform some of the boldest climate targets in the world. What we need next are the strategies and policies to get us there. The government would do well to recognise the importance of this process, and look to integrate it further into policy development.”
Sarah Allan, Director, Capacity Building and Standards at Involve who ran Climate Assembly UK said, “Ahead of COP26, we have seen strong international interest from several countries wishing to follow the UK’s democratic innovation and climate leadership. The documentary shows why methods like citizens’ assemblies can be a useful tool for policymakers needing to understand what the public really think. More MPs now see deliberation and public engagement as supporting – not supplanting – the democratic Parliamentary process in balancing what is best for individuals and for society at large in our fast changing world.”
Film-maker Steve Smith, Picture Zero Productions, said, “When Picture Zero Productions heard a UK climate assembly had been commissioned, we knew this was a film we wanted to make. The stakes couldn’t be higher. Delivering change on the scale required to get the UK to net zero is unprecedented and requires buy-in from the public. Beyond the environmental challenge, at the heart of this film is an examination of the way we make decisions. The People vs Climate Change reveals how far normal Brits are prepared to go to take the tough decisions required to radically transform society and deliver a new mandate for action. We hope this film will shine a light on this amazing process and amplify the voices of our fellow citizens to ensure they echo beyond our borders.”