50 days ahead of the UN climate summit in Glasgow (COP26), Parliament has marked the one year anniversary of the first-ever UK-wide Climate Assembly by bringing together members of the UK public who took part with Parliamentarians.

Professor Lorraine Whitmarsh, Director of the Centre for Climate Change and Social Transformations (CAST) and psychologist at the University of Bath was one of the expert leads for Climate Assembly UK (CAUK), which was recently the subject of a captivating BBC documentary ‘The People vs Climate Change’.

Forging consensus on climate change

A year ago, CAUK told MPs that they supported climate action but wanted to see leadership from government to ensure fairness and public engagement to forge a cross-party consensus and a joined-up approach. The most 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 CAUK’s landmark report. The BEIS Committee 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 net zero transition gathers pace, presenting a risk to current high levels of support for decarbonisation in the UK.

Sir David Attenborough, People's Advocate for COP26 who also took part in CAUK discussions explained: "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.”

A mandate for urgent action

Professor Lorraine Whitmarsh, leading environmental psychologist based in the University of Bath's Department of Psychology, added: “With just a few weeks to go before the UK hosts the critical international climate talks, all eyes are on our country to demonstrate leadership on climate action - and the Climate Assembly recommendations show the public wants this, too. Politicians have the mandate to urgently put in place fair measures to significantly cut emissions that also improve people’s lives.”

CAUK Assembly Member from Bath, Sue Peachey added: “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.”

This month 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.

More about CAUK

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.