In the UK, Extinction Rebellion’s third demand is that government must create and be led by the decisions of a citizens’ assembly on climate and ecological justice.
Decades of corporate lobbying and party politics have led to a climate and ecological emergency that poses an unprecedented existential threat to humanity and all life on Earth — “politics as usual” is no longer an option.
A Citizens’ Assembly provides us, the people, with a way to decide what’s best for our future, even if that requires radical changes in the present. Moreover, because they are informed and democratic, the Citizens’ Assembly’s decisions will provide political cover and public pressure for politicians to set aside the usual politicking and do the right thing.
Guide to Citizens’ Assemblies
This is our guide on citizens’ assemblies — what they look like, key examples from around the world and why we are confident that a citizens’ assembly would be a game-changer for the climate and ecological emergency.Download The Extinction Rebellion Guide to Citizens’ Assemblies
Citizens’ Assembly Talk
This 30-minute talk is a great introduction to Citizens’ Assemblies and XR’s third demand. Watch it online, see the talk live in your area, or learn to give it yourself and help spread the message.Watch the Citizens’ Assembly Talk online Find a talk near you Book the talk in your area (UK only)
Request training on how to give the talk from firstname.lastname@example.org
Short film about Citizens’ Assemblies
In “The Deliberate Rebellion” by All Hands On, we explain why we need a Citizens’ Assembly on Climate and Ecological Justice.Watch “The Deliberate Rebellion” online
Citizens’ Assembly FlyerDownload the flyer
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- What is a citizens’ assembly?
Citizens’ Assemblies are innovative processes that can empower people, communities and entire countries to make important decisions in a way that is fair and deeply democratic.
The Citizens’ Assembly on Climate and Ecological Justice will bring together ordinary people to investigate, discuss and make recommendations on how to respond to the climate emergency. Similar to jury service, members will be randomly selected from across the country. The process will be designed to ensure that the Assembly reflects the whole country in terms of characteristics such as gender, age, ethnicity, education level and geography. Assembly members will hear balanced information from experts and those most affected by the emergency. Members will speak openly and honestly in small groups with the aid of professional facilitators. Together they will work through their differences and draft and vote on recommendations.
The Citizens’ Assembly will be run by non-governmental organisations under independent oversight. This is the fairest and most powerful way to cut through party politics. It will empower citizens to actually work together and take responsibility for our climate and ecological emergency.
This isn’t pie in the sky – it’s proven practice. Citizens’ Assemblies around the world have shown that ordinary people can understand complex information, weigh the options, and make informed choices. Examples include Ireland, Canada, Australia, Belgium and Poland.
Citizens’ Assemblies are used to address important issues that electoral politics can’t fix on its own. In recent years, Ireland’s Citizens’ Assembly broke the deadlock on two controversial issues: same-sex marriage and abortion. The recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly informed public debate and provided politicians cover to make the necessary changes. A subsequent Citizens’ Assembly on Climate Change produced a series of recommendations that were incorporated into the Irish government’s action plan.
Even the UK Parliament has experimented with Citizens’ Assemblies. For example, the Citizens’ Assembly on Social Care worked with House of Commons Select Committees, and three similar projects are currently running as part of the Innovation in Democracy initiative.
- Why is Extinction Rebellion demanding a citizens’ assembly on climate and ecological justice?
This is an emergency. The challenges are big, wide-ranging and complex. And solutions are needed urgently.
Extinction Rebellion believes that part of the problem is the way electoral politics works:
- Political power in the UK is in the hands of a few elected politicians. Over the last 40 years, this system has proved incapable of making the long-term decisions needed to deal with the climate and ecological emergency. Politicians simply can’t see past the next election.
- Members of parliament are lobbied by powerful corporations, seek sympathetic media coverage, and calculate their policies based on potential public reactions and opinion polls. This leaves many of them either unable or unwilling to make the bold changes necessary to address the emergency.
- Opinion polls often gather knee-jerk reactions to loaded questions. They do not allow respondents to become informed or engage with others with different perspectives. For an issue as complex as the climate and ecological emergency, opinion polling won’t cut it.
Here is how a Citizens’ Assembly on Climate and Ecological Justice can break the deadlock:
- A Citizens’ Assembly on Climate and Ecological Justice will empower citizens to take the lead and politicians to follow with less fear of political backlash.
- Citizens’ Assemblies are fair and transparent. Assembly members have an equal chance of being heard. Briefing materials, experts, and other presenters are vetted by diverse stakeholders and shared publicly. This produces informed democratic decisions.
- Citizens’ Assemblies are especially useful when difficult trade-offs are necessary. For example, experts might propose policies for how to meet a 2025 target for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions and the Assembly could decide which they prefer. They would also consider how to mitigate the impacts of changes on the most vulnerable people.
- Is there public support for a citizens’ assembly on climate and ecological justice?
Of a representative sample of 850 members of the British public, 48% believe that a citizens’ assembly would do a better job at tackling climate change and ecological breakdown than UK governments have. This poll was conducted via DeltaPoll before Extinction Rebellion’s April Rebellion. 9% disagreed and 43% were unsure, meaning there was five times more support for this statement than opposition.
In a second sample of approximately 1,500 participants, the idea that a citizens’ assembly would do better than UK governments was supported by 61% and opposed by 19%. This research was conducted after the April Rebellion began (participants were given information about the Rebellion as part of the survey) via a sampling platform called Prolific.
A YouGov poll found that a quarter (27%) of Britons see the environment as a top policy priority. The issue is even more of a concern for 18-24 year olds, with 45% saying environmental issues is the UK’s most pressing concern after Brexit (57%).
- WHAT ABOUT LOCAL ASSEMBLIES?
Extinction Rebellion’s demand is for a Citizens’ Assembly on Climate and Ecological Justice at the national level. To address the emergency, we need to make changes that affect our whole society.
Meanwhile, there’s been an explosion of interest in local Citizens’ Assemblies. Ordinary people from all walks of life are coming together to discuss how their communities are run. And councils across the UK are embracing this idea. This is great news. While only the national government has the power and resources to implement many of the large-scale changes needed, local assemblies can give residents a direct say on local policy. These minimum standards set out what councils should consider when running a Citizens’ Assembly. To help people involved with local democratic projects, we have set up an online forum to share ideas and experiences.
- WHY RANDOMLY SELECT CITIZENS FOR THE CITIZENS’ ASSEMBLY?
Members of Citizens’ Assemblies should be randomly selected from the general public for 3 main reasons:
- Random selection treats everyone equally. All citizens are threatened by the emergency. This process gives all citizens an equal chance to help make the big decisions as we try to address the crisis.
- It’s fair. The random selection is done in a way that ensures the Citizens’ Assembly reflects our whole country in terms of characteristics like gender, age, income, and ethnicity. And random selection means no particular group and no particular view is overrepresented or able to dominate the assembly.
- It allows for honest conversation. Unlike elected politicians, ordinary citizens who are randomly selected have no political debts and don’t have to worry about pleasing a party or getting reelected. So they can speak honestly, listen to others and decide based on what they truly believe is best for the country.
It was first used by the Ancient Athenians, who believed that the principle of appointment by lot was integral to fair and impartial decision-making. And it is still applied in our modern legal system, where people are chosen at random for jury duty. Random selection enables people from more diverse backgrounds to contribute to decision-making.
For more detailed information on the selection process, check out our Citizens’ Assembly Guide!
- How do citizens’ assemblies differ from people’s assemblies?
Extinction Rebellion’s third demand is for the UK Government to create and be led by the decisions of a national Citizens’ Assembly on Climate and Ecological Justice. We use other democratic processes, such as People’s Assemblies, in order to generate ideas, gather feedback and make decisions. When it comes to real democracy, Extinction Rebellion walks the walk.
Both Citizens’ Assemblies and People’s Assemblies give ordinary people the opportunity to discuss and reflect on important issues. Professional facilitators provide structure to the discussion and ensure no one dominates. However the purpose and structure of Citizens’ and People’s Assemblies is very different.
Citizens’ Assemblies are made up of ordinary people who are randomly selected from the population, similar to jury service. The selection is done in a way that ensures that Assembly members accurately reflect the whole population in terms of key characteristics such as gender, age, ethnicity, education level and geography. This means they will better reflect and represent the interests of the entire population. They also have a structured learning phase in which members hear from experts and different groups affected by the issue. Citizens’ Assemblies are usually focused on informing policy and are particularly useful on issues that are too controversial or long-term for politicians to deal with by themselves. It is a formal process that takes months to plan, and a Citizens’ Assembly can last from a few months to over a year.
In contrast, People’s Assemblies are organised discussion forums open to anyone who would like to attend (i.e. self-selected). A People’s Assembly is a way to structure meetings with a large number of people and can be used to generate ideas, discuss issues and make decisions. People’s Assemblies can last between one and four hours and can take place anywhere — such as in occupied spaces such as roads and city squares. They have often been used in revolutionary movements, for example, Occupy, the Arab Spring, and the Gilets Jaunes. People’s Assemblies were used throughout XR’s April Rebellion to discuss a wide range of issues, from democracy and inclusivity to how to end the April Rebellion.
- Democratic Innovations by Professor Graham Smith
- The Citizens’ Assembly on Social Care by Involve
- The Citizens’ Assembly on Brexit by the Electoral Reform Society
- Rebooting Democracy: A Citizen’s Guide to Reinventing Politics by Manuel Arriaga (freely available online)
- The End of Politicians: Time for a Real Democracy by Brett Hennig (available to order)
- Democratic Innovations: Designing Institutions for Citizen Participation by Graham Smith (available to download)
- When citizens decide: Lessons from citizen assemblies on electoral reform by Patrick Fournier, Henk Van Der Kolk, R. Kenneth Carty, André Blais, Jonathan Rose (available to download)
- A citizens’ assembly on climate change: how would it work? by Sarah Allan
- Beyond the ballot: How citizens can lead the climate change conversation by Pete Bryant and Dr Rebecca Willis
- Citizens’ Assemblies, Citizens’ Juries and Climate Change by Pete Bryant
- Citizens’ Assemblies: Guide to Democracy that Works by Marcin Gerwin
- Evidence vs Democracy: How ‘mini-publics’ can traverse the gap between citizens, experts, and evidence by Jonathan Breckon, Anna Hopkins, Ben Rickey (Alliance for Useful Evidence)
- Democracy Matters: Lessons from the 2015 Citizens’ Assemblies on English Devolution by Matthew Flinders, Katie Ghose, Will Jennings, Edward Molloy, Brenton Prosser, Alan Renwick, Graham Smith, Paolo Spada
- Democracy Through Multi-Body Sortition: Athenian Lessons for the Modern Day by Terrill G. Bouricius
- Democracy R&D
- The Democracy Society
- People’s Knowledge
- Citizens Juries
- Shared Future
- Citizens’ assembly webinar by Extinction Rebellion
- Can a citizens’ assembly tackle the climate emergency? By ResPossCast
- Citizens’ assembly podcast by Extinction Rebellion
- Designing & delivering deliberative mini-publics in the United Kingdom with Professor Graham Smith from Westminster University by Real Democracy Now!
- Legislature by Lots with John Gastil by Real Democracy Now!
- We need to talk about climate with Caroline Lucas and David Runciman by RSA
- Interviews of members of a citizens’ assembly in Ireland by We The Citizens
- Democracy is like a garden, you need to always tend it, it is never done by Tend it like a Garden
- The Irish Citizens’ Assembly on Climate Change by RTÉ
- Lecture by Justice Mary Laffoy, Chair of The Citizens’ Assembly by RTÉ