• UK’s Citizens Climate Assembly releases final report in an experiment for democratic way through climate change issues

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      Patrick Lavery

      Combustion Industry News Editor

While not tightly linked to the combustion industry in a technical way, the recently published recommendations of a ‘citizens assembly’ on climate change in the UK is of interest in a wider sense of how democracies might attempt to find ways through politically challenging policy choices as they attempt to reach net-zero economies. The assembly was formed of 108 citizens chosen to reflect the spectrum of UK society, such that it included 19 people not very, or not at all concerned about the issue, the majority being concerned to different extents. As a body, they met over six weekends beginning in January this year, and were informed by a range of speakers selected by four ‘expert leads’ responsible for making sure that information was “balanced, accurate and comprehensive”. Briefings included material on “where our energy comes from”, “greenhouse gas removals”, and “why tackling climate change has proved difficult”, with group discussions following, some of which culminated in voting. Conducted online for the second half, after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the assembly completed its work by issuing its final report on 10 September. Its recommendations were guided by a prioritised list of 25 principles (top being education, second being fairness, achievability being 17th), and ranged across the ten topics covered. Of particular note were the following recommendations and results:

  • For land transport, an emphasis on a future that “minimises restrictions on travel and lifestyles”, instead relying on the decarbonization of transport and better public transport provision.
  • For aviation, “a solution to air travel emissions that allows people to continue to fly”, but higher taxes on frequent flyers and long-distance travellers.
  • More energy efficient homes, especially through the use of hydrogen, heat pumps and heat networks.
  • Paying farmers for carbon absorption practices.
  • Businesses making less carbon-intensive products, ushered in via resource efficiency targets and standards, and governments awarding contracts favouring low-carbon products.
  • Of renewable energies, offshore wind had the highest level of support (at 95%), over solar power (81%), onshore wind (78%), and bioenergy (40%), while fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage had only 22% support (others being either unsure (22%) or against (56%)).
  • There was broad support for restoring forests, peatlands, wetlands and soils to store carbon, and also for the use of wood in construction, but there was not majority support for bioenergy with carbon capture and storage or direct air capture of carbon dioxide (both having 42% support).
  • There was strong support for using the COVID-19 pandemic as a meaningful pivot in the transition to net-zero by 2050.

Overall, the findings are perhaps not surprising – people generally wish to live their lives without too many restrictions and prefer technical solutions where possible, but want to curb what might be termed carbon-excessive lifestyles. Renewables, hydrogen and nature-enhancing solutions are highly favoured, with fossil fuels not having a great deal of support. One might suspect, however, that some proportion of low-carbon fossil fuel use might find general acceptance if it underpinned renewables and hydrogen, particularly if grids become less stable with higher levels of renewables. The Assembly’s work is for the consideration of legislators, rather than being strictly actionable.