Climate activists from Extinction Rebellion, which has voiced scepticism about the assembly’s impact, © Mark Kerrison/In Pictures/Getty Images

The UK’s first citizens’ climate assembly has called on the government to avoid party politics and put policies such as taxes on frequent flying and increased investment in wind and solar energy at the forefront of its green recovery.

The assembly, commissioned by six parliamentary select committees last autumn in response to demands from climate campaign group Extinction Rebellion, has in its final report made a series of recommendations spanning transport, housebuilding and energy to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

“This is not the time nor the issue for scoring party political points,” the report said. “Achieving net zero will require a joined-up approach across society — all of us will have to play our part. Our recommendations take account of this reality.”

The assembly suggested different approaches on how to decarbonise the heavily polluting transport sector, which is responsible for nearly a third of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. Members proposed controlling growth in air passenger numbers, and the vast majority agreed that the tax system should penalise frequent flyers and longer journeys made by air. 

Proponents hold the assembly up as an exemplar of how to bring the general public into the process of crafting environmental policy as the UK looks to take a leading role in global climate initiatives in the run-up to next year’s UN climate talks in Glasgow, known as COP26.

But Extinction Rebellion has voiced scepticism about its impact, noting that it does not commit the government to any legally binding goals and does not challenge the 2050 target for net zero greenhouse gas emissions.

The key question the assembly was asked to consider was ‘How should the UK meet its target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050?’

Assembly members strongly pushed for investment in new technologies to help decarbonise the sector. However, experts warn that aviation is particularly difficult to decarbonise and that the global industry is on course to miss its pledge to cut emissions by 50 per cent on 2005 levels by 2050.

But participants were wary of putting restrictions on travel and lifestyle choices, and did not suggest a large reduction in car use. Instead, they proposed a ban on the sale of new petrol, diesel and hybrid cars by between 2030 and 2035, broadly in line with government policy, and cheaper and greener buses and trains.

Three-quarters said public transport should be brought under government control to drive the decarbonisation push. 

With regard to the UK’s housing stock, considered by MPs to be among the most energy inefficient in Europe, a significant majority of assembly participants agreed that hydrogen, heat pumps and heat networks should form a much greater part of the energy path to net zero emissions. Most also agreed there should be a ban on the sale of new gas boilers by 2030 or 2035.

On food and land use, most participants felt the public should be educated to reduce their meat consumption by 20-40 per cent, and that there should be a “managed diversity” of land use, including steps to restore woodlands, peatlands and gorselands. 

“The most interesting thing is that there’s nothing too radical or alarming coming out of this report,” said Chris Stark, chief executive of the Committee on Climate Change, which advises the UK government. “Overall if you were a minister this would be a sensible package.”

The report is the culmination of six weekends of assembly sessions attended by 108 members of the public in 2020. Since the group was chosen to be representative of the public, it included 19 people who identified as “not at all concerned” or “not very concerned” about climate change.

The government said: “We share the public’s passion for an inclusive approach to tackling climate change and will study the citizen assembly’s report carefully as we push for greater climate action both at home and abroad ahead of crucial COP26 talks next year.”

Get alerts on Climate change when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2020. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window)

Follow the topics in this article