Oxford City Council has announced it will establish a citizens’ assembly to consider the climate emergency, the first of its kind in the UK.
The assembly, which will meet for the first time in September, will involve a randomly-selected representative sample of Oxford citizens. It will help consider new carbon targets and additional measures to reduce emissions.
Its recommendations will help the council decide their policies on the adoption of carbon targets. The assembly will look at the results of research the Council will commission on developing options and timescales for carbon reduction across the city, including ways to improve housing and transport sustainability.
The move is part of a broader effort by the Council to improve sustainability in Oxford. Since voting to declare a climate emergency in January, it has announced over £80 million in initiatives to help reduce carbon emissions in the city.
The money will go towards projects such as improving electric vehicle charging facilities and upgrading public transport, as well as supporting bringing zero-emission taxis to Oxford.
The council is collaborating with many other organisations, including Oxford University. It is also a member of Low Carbon Oxford, a network of 40 organisations which is seeking to reduce citywide emissions by 40% of 2005 levels by 2020.
Gordon Mitchell, Oxford City Council’s Chief Executive, said: “The urgency in the need to act on Oxford’s carbon emissions was underlined by the City Council’s unanimous vote this year which declared a climate emergency and called for the setting up of a citizens’ assembly to help us consider additional measures and make recommendations for our city. Taking this forward is one of the Council’s key priorities for 2019.”
Writing in the Oxford Mail, Labour Councillor Tom Hayes, Board Member for Safer, Greener, Environment, explained why he believes the assembly is so important. He said: “Some may ask why Oxford needs a Citizens Assembly. We already have one in the form of the council itself. But, for the city and your council to become Zero Carbon while struggling under austerity and cuts, councillors will have to make hard and divisive choices, so I want to ensure a real representation of viewpoints gets heard, not just the usual green viewpoint.
“I want to ensure we don’t create greater inequality or poverty in Oxford. Left in the hands of others who won’t factor in such risks because they don’t listen to a broad range of viewpoints, environmental policies, done badly, may worsen inequality.”
Hayes, who proposed the citizens’ assembly, continued: “The city council is responsible for just one per cent of Oxford’s carbon emissions. That’s why it’s crucial that the Citizens’ Assembly makes proposals for the whole city. Our partners are taking action with us and under their own steam, and Oxford’s Citizens Assembly will galvanise them to do even more even faster.
“Throughout all of this, we will continue to loudly voice concerns to Government. We need more funding and, like other cities and councils, Oxford can only truly become Zero Carbon if and when the Government ensures the electricity in the grid is 100 per cent clean, and we will go on making that case.
“Anyone looking at politics now can see new thinking is needed. We need deep constitutional reform nationally, but, in the interim, our country’s well-run cities can try out new forms of engagement. Setting up a Citizens’ Assembly could be the path to consensus on climate change here and, crucially, a much-needed model for doing politics better everywhere else.”
A spokesperson for Oxford Climate Society said: “We’re very pleased to hear the council has decided to take further its commitment to climate change action and hope councils across the country will follow their lead. Whilst the announcement gives us reason to be optimistic, we hope it only represents the first step towards a similar approach on a national scale.”
A step in this direction was taken when Anneliese Dodds, MP for Oxford East, raised the citizens’ assembly in Parliament on Tuesday. She asked that Claire Perry, Minister of State for Energy and Clean Growth in the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, visit Oxford to see the city’s approach to environmental issues.
Julia Peck, from the Oxford Climate Justice Campaign, said: “OCJC heartily welcomes this move by the Oxford City Council to establish the first Citizens’ Assembly in the UK on climate and a just transition, with the hope that it will result in a radical Green New Deal for our city – and pressure for the Oxfordshire County Council to finally divest the county pension fund from fossil fuels.
“The City Council has spoken truth to power on the issue of climate justice before, voting in a landslide to support the divestment of the county’s pension fund in October and declaring climate emergency in January.
“Yet again, Oxford city has established itself as leagues ahead of University of Oxford, which won’t even budge its oily, gassy endowment from climate-destructive industries.
“The University implemented a symbolic blacklist on direct investments in coal and tar sands in 2015, moving £0 and ignoring the rest, and washed its hands of the is- sue. This is an ugly separation of town and University, where an elite institution clings to profit while the residents around it are doing the work to imagine a new, fossil-free world.”
Oxford University has been contacted for comment.