© Dominic Lipinski/PA

The UK’s first citizens’ climate assembly is urging the government to use economic recovery measures to achieve climate goals, joining a growing chorus of voices calling for green stimulus programs.

The citizens’ assembly, which was commissioned by six parliamentary select committees last autumn in response to demands from Extinction Rebellion, the climate campaigning group, has asked the government to promote low-carbon lifestyle choices such as cycling and working from home, as lockdown restrictions are eased.

“Despite the very tragic circumstances [of coronavirus], it does provide a unique opportunity for the UK government to think about how they could restart the economy with a stronger emphasis on producing less carbon,” said Adrian, a Belfast-based lawyer who, like all those who attended the assembly, gave only his first name.

The heads of the six select committees also urged prime minister Boris Johnson to heed the advice of the assembly.

“It is vital that achieving the UK’s net zero target, which has unanimous cross-party support, is a joint endeavour between the government, parliament and the public,” they wrote in a letter to Downing Street. “In recent months, the UK public has demonstrated its capacity to respond positively and responsibly . . . [to] an invisible threat that demands collective action.”

Many of the UK’s climate efforts have been delayed due to the pandemic, including the UN climate talks in Glasgow, known as COP26, which have been pushed back to next year.

However the lockdown measures have also pushed emissions in the UK down by as much as a third and a growing number of sectors are calling for green recovery measures as the government considers how to boost the economy.

UK businesses have urged the government to link future corporate bailouts to climate goals, and use the recovery to “accelerate” the transition to net zero emissions. 

The UK has legally committed to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, which means cutting emissions as near to zero as possible, then mopping up the remaining emissions with offsetting measures such as tree planting. However the government has not yet outlined how it will achieve the 2050 net zero target.

The statement from the citizens’ assembly comes just days ahead of a crucial progress report on the UK’s 2020 emissions from the Committee on Climate Change, which will outline how the UK is progressing toward its climate goals so far.

Members of the citizens’ assembly on climate change on their first weekend of discussions in Birmingham © Fabio De Paola/PA

The assembly, which will issue its full report in September, is comprised of 108 members who were randomly selected to reflect the UK population in general, and includes climate change sceptics as well as others who support action to reduce emissions.

Environmental groups welcomed the news. “The government must listen to the Climate Assembly’s overwhelming support for a green recovery plan, which poll after poll has echoed,” said Muna Suleiman, a campaigner at the charity Friends of the Earth.

“It’s time to push the reset button on our carbon-guzzling and dysfunctional economic system and prioritise the health and wellbeing of our planet and its people,” she added.

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