Promising results from a citizens’ climate convention

Has a sensational ‘next big thing’ for the climate emergency movement just emerged? And if the answer is yes, will communicators and story tellers in Australia recognise this and then take up the new task to quickly get that message out in our communities – just in time for the approaching local government elections?

Citizens’ Climate Conventions – also known as citizens’ assemblies on climate – are based on a principle of sortition: random selection of a group of citizens, who are then given the task to make decisions on behalf of their community. It is emerging as the new norm for legitimate and quality decision-making in many democratic forums around the world.

Is the climate movement paying attention to the kind of impact this can potentially have on the way our society makes decisions about how we can act on the climate emergency before it is too late?

From Paris, Ireland, United Kingdom and via Denmark, below are some of the latest news and stories about the 150 random French citizens who have been advising their entire country on how it must act on the climate emergency.

To see recordings of the French Citizens’ Climate Conventions, check the videos on Youtube and Facebook

Picture of a new pathway:
The world’s first major citizens’ climate assembly

The Citizen’s Convention on Climate in France is described as “an unprecedented democratic experiment”, which “aims to give citizens a voice to accelerate the fight against climate change. Its mandate is to define a series of measures that will allow achieving a reduction of at least 40 per cent in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 (compared to 1990) in a spirit of social justice.”

Could citizens’ assemblies be “the next big thing”? …that big change-inducing vision that finally gets the global and national climate action balls rolling at a scale and speed that is required, following in the slipstream of the successful Climate Emergency Declaration movement, which has seen over 1,700 councils declare that they understand the danger and now will begin planning how to take action accordingly.

What if the latest development in France became a beacon that guided climate activists around the planet to join forces around a new collective campaign pushing for local governments to organise Citizens’ Climate Conventions? If the national government won’t do it, local governments can do it for a start.

For instance, in Victoria: Can this be put into motion already before the local elections which are rolled out around the country in October 2020? Could we see several conventions and assemblies being organised as exemplars at a ‘test level’ in key electorates even beforehand?

Could climate action campaigners be asking council candidates to commit to, if elected, engaging their municipalities much deeper in this style of decision-making process, which isn’t corrupted by Big Money and where decisions are made in everyone’s interest?

The Extinction Rebellion movement, which has groups and supporters all over the world, has been advocating for citizens’ assemblies since its inception in October 2018 as the movement’s so-called Third Demand: “Government must create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice.”

In Victoria, it might help if we refer them to the new Local Government Act, which has a paragraph which specifically requests councils to be engaged in ‘deliberative democracy’.

More broadly and as a bigger vision: Could we call for an overall change in the way our society runs where governments implement a four-day work week with the fifth day allocated to public citizens’ assembly-related work, as well as carbon drawdown community projects and transition- and permaculture-inspired activities?

These were some of the questions and topics we explored in The Sustainable Hour no 320 together with Sonia Randhawa from Sortition Foundation. Have a listen. And see more links and information below.

Sonia Randhawa

Interview about a citizens’ climate assembly vision

Interview with Sonia Randhawa from Sortition Foundation

Sonia Randhawa from the Sortition Foundation and Coalition of Everyone worked for many years as a journalist, both in Malaysia and in Australia. She has done a lot of work on how to implement Citizens’ Assemblies in Australia. The germ of an idea of having one in Geelong before the local government elections in October has life breathed into it during our interview with Sonia.

. . .

→ Crikey – 14 July 2020:
Ordinary Australians deserve a say in the big decisions to come
“Our leaders have been somewhat effective at practically addressing the coronavirus pandemic so far. But the authoritative, top-down approach developed for our initial mobilisation is quickly losing its utility.”

The French Citizens’ Convention for the Climate

“France’s Citizens’ Climate Convention shows that when citizens are given responsibility, they take it upon themselves.”
~ Jørgen Steen Nielsen, Danish journalist

Jørgen Steen Nielsen wrote:

“The French Citizens’ Assembly for the Climate – or Citizens’ Climate Convention, in French: Convention Citoyenne pour le Climate – has presented 149 proposals, which, taken together, are an appeal to an entirely new green economy and thus a bit of a sensation. And the president is in on it.

It looks like a paradox: The French Citizens’ Climate Convention, which has just delivered a catalogue of startling radical climate proposals to President Emmanuel Macron, is the direct consequence of the 2018 Yellow West uprising in protest of the president’s attempt at just one climate measure: the introduction of a climate-related tax increase on diesel.

In reality, it is very logical: the Yellow West was not against climate policy, it was against politics that increased social and economic inequality, as the diesel proposal would have done. The rebels demanded a direct influence on the policies pursued, and the hard-pressed president chose to accommodate them – initially with his Grand Débat National launch in January 2019, which, however, failed to cushion the protests.

Instead, a coalition of Yellow West, environmental activists and democracy advocates proposed a climate change-focused citizens’ assembly, and that idea caught on with the president.”

Photo: Members of the French Citizens’ Climate Convention met on 29 June 2020 with President Macron to present their many proposals.

The convention members were divided into working groups to tackle a range of social and economic issues and worked closely with climatologists and economists, as well as economic and social organisations.

The French Citizens’ Climate Convention has now submitted 149 proposals to Macron, including: measures addressing transport, energy, agriculture, and construction; constitutional amendments to prioritise biodiversity; the creation of a new body responsible for enforcing planetary limits; and a strong call to make ecocide a crime by national referendum.

Organisers from the Stop Ecocide campaign praised the outcome as phenomenal news. Extinction Rebellion called the development ‘hugely exciting’.

→ The Age – 8 July 2020:
Can we follow the French out of gridlock on climate?

→ France Inter – 18 June 2020: [Article in French language]
Les 150 propositions de la Convention citoyenne sur le climat
“La Convention citoyenne pour le climat dévoile ce jeudi ses 150 propositions pour répondre à l’urgence climatique. Logement, consommation, institutions, agriculture, numérique, les 150 membres de la Convention proposent des changements à tous les niveaux.”

→ Information – 3 July 2020: [Article in Danish language behind paywall]
Frankrigs klimaborgerting viser, at når borgerne gives ansvar, tager de det på sig

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
~ Richard Buckminster Fuller, American author (1895-1983)

How it started in France

“While individuals are picked at random, the convention is intended overall as a sample of the French population: people from all parts of the country, of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds.

“One day last summer, I received a phone call from a lady saying I had been randomly chosen. I didn’t believe it then, and I still don’t believe it today. Just look where we are,” says chef Mohamed Muftah from southern France, gazing at the Élysée Palace.

The idea of a ‘convention’ on climate emerged during the “Grand Debat National” [national consultation] initiated by Macron in 2019 as a way to defuse anti-government protests.

The so-called ‘Yellow Vest’ protests had emerged the year before, triggered by the government’s eco-tax on fuel – perceived as a way to “greenwash” austerity measures targeting rural France.

In January 2019 the groups Gilets Citoyens [Citizen Vests] and Democratie Ouverte [Open Democracy] – individuals and organisations from the field of participative democracy, researchers, and famous names such as actress Marion Cotillard and the architect of the Paris Agreement on climate change, Laurence Tubianamet – met with Macron to suggest a citizens’ assembly. He said yes.”

Excerpt of an article by Emma Sofia Dedorson, a Paris-based journalist, in EU Observer:

. . .

→ EU Observer – 1 July 2020:
The 150 random French citizens advising Macron
‘I was not much of an ‘eco-type’ before, but what I learned was like a slap in the face,” Jean-Paul Moreau, from Brittany, said.

The French climate convention in six points

→ Convention Citoyenne pour le Climate:

Learn more about citizens’ climate conventions:

→ IDDRI – 5 November 2019:
The Citizens’ Climate Convention: an encouraging start
“Are we entering a new age of politics? The question will certainly be asked in the coming weeks by the specialists of democracy. However, if the draw for citizens in the framework of the Citizens’ Climate Convention also aims to respond to the crisis of confidence in democratic institutions, the participation of citizens in the definition of transition policies is not a new idea, as illustrated by the activities of the National Commission for Public Debate in France, but also the organisation in Ireland in 2016 of a citizens’ convention on topics such as the rules of democratic representation or abortion rights.”

→ RFI – 19 June 2020:
Referendum in sight as citizens’ climate assembly seeks to upend French society
“A lottery of French citizens chosen to debate and respond to the climate challenges facing society have begun voting on ambitious proposals to hand to the government – in a move that could send France to its first referendum in 15 years.”

→ Teller Report – 22 June 2020:
Citizens’ climate convention: for Macron, the temptation of a referendum
“Now that he has the proposals of the Citizen Climate Convention in his hands, Emmanuel Macron will have to decide. The head of state could opt for a referendum, but it still remains to find a formulation which does not make it a vote for or against his policy.”

→ AFP:
One minute video footage from the opening of the French Citizens’ Climate Convention

“The climate and ecological crisis cannot be solved within today’s political and economic systems. That isn’t an opinion. That’s a fact.”
~ Greta Thunberg, Swedish climate activist

“Citizens assemblies have received increasing attention from politicians faced by paralysing divisions about vital questions now facing their societies (even if they have themselves often stoked and exploited those divisions). Such initiatives are clearly not a panacea to all our weaknesses: treated as modern democracy’s equivalent of show trials they can descend into distracting political theatre. But the example of Ireland shows their potential for thoughtfulness, reason and reconciliation. Done well, and with the commitment of elected politicians, deliberative assemblies can ask questions and reach conclusions that elude those most closely involved.”
~ Francois Matarasso

→ New Scientist – 23 June 2020:

UK citizens’ assembly shows big support for green covid-19 recovery

Around four-fifths of a citizens’ assembly on climate change in the UK wants the government’s coronavirus economic recovery measures to also help the country meet its target of slashing carbon emissions to net zero.

A British Citizens Assembly overwhelmingly supports accelerating the green transition. UK business too will make climate a turning point in the impending recovery following COVID-19, reported several news outlets.

In January 2020, the United Kingdom set up a so-called ‘Climate Citizens Assembly’ consisting of 108 representative citizens. Over three weekends they discussed the implications of climate change on society and how UK lawmakers should deal with them now and in the future. 

It was intended that the assembly should also have met a fourth weekend, but here the COVID-19 and the accompanying lockdown came in the way. Instead, in April and May, three online meetings were held for members of the assembly. Previously, the British Parliament had decided that the assembly should also consider the impact of the corona crisis on society’s ability to fight global warming.

A citizens’ assembly works by asking participants to thoroughly familiarise themselves with the problem by reading it. At the meeting itself, experts with divergent positions talk, and then discuss the members of the assembly. 

The outcome of the debate is taken to the minutes and collected in an advisory report. It will not be released until September 2020, but the assembly has already delivered a provisional conclusion to the Westminster Parliament.

→

When citizens assemble: a breakthrough moment

“Ireland’s efforts to break a political deadlock over its de facto ban on abortion inspired a bold response – the creation of a Citizens’ Assembly to tackle on the issue. During five weekends spread over five months, a random selection of Irish people deliberated on the highly divisive and controversial issue. Their conclusion, in April 2017, recommended a radical liberalisation of existing laws, including a change to the Constitution. Their work helped prompt Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to pledge a national referendum on abortion in 2018, when Irish voters will have a chance to make new laws.

The Assembly represents a breakthrough moment not just for Ireland but also for ways of doing politics in the rest of the world. By using random selection and deliberation to seek solutions to a highly contentious issue, rather than leaving it to elected politicians, Ireland has gifted us all a real-life lesson in doing democracy differently. At a time of deep dysfunction in our electorally driven political models – what issue wouldn’t lend itself to a citizens’ assembly approach? When Citizens Assemble is the first in a global, nine-film series on the state of democracy and efforts to radically improve the way it works.”
~ Patrick Chalmers

→ Shared Future – 14 February 2019:
Citizens Assemblies, Citizens’ Juries and Climate Change
“Citizens Assemblies have gone mainstream, no longer are they the preserve of those democracy geeks who have the Oxford Handbook of Deliberative Democracy on their bedside tables. Climate activists, politicians and health professionals are excited by their potential.”

If you ever wondered how come our political leaders have failed to take any meaningful action on something as devastaingly dangerous as the climate emergency over the last 50 years where they have known about the problem – this graph tells the story and it explains who has a vested interest in protecting status quo, even though they know the long term consequences.

Watch ‘The Deliberate Rebellion’ for an introduction to why Extinction Rebellion is asking for a Citizens’ Assembly on Climate

→ XR’s Demand for a Citizens’ Assembly
“Resources for Extinction Rebellion’s Third Demand”

Bringing the choices directly to the people

“This is a massive step in the right direction for those of us fighting for the future of humanity and the planet. Citizens’ Assemblies are a fair and sustainable way to find solutions to the climate and ecological crisis. They focus on bringing the choices directly to the people – without lobbying of fossil fuel firms and interference of party politics.”
~ Extinction Rebellion

In order to understand the nuance and importance of citizens’ assemblies, XR has put together a selection of articles in their must reads section on

→ Take action to promote sortition – via UK:

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