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Yes we can: change through citizens’ assemblies

Sunday 21 June marked a milestone in the history of France with a citizen participation process leading to the preparation of a law [1]. Over nine months, 150 randomly selected citizens debated on the climate emergency, received input from experts, and drafted 149 legislative proposals, of which three will be submitted to a referendum [2]. The proposed measures relate to a wide range of key sectors [3] and aim to achieve a reduction of at least 40% of France’s GHG emissions by 2030 [4]. In a context of nation-wide lockdown and having made final amendments through video calls, the Citizens’ Convention on Climate is proving to be an example for involving citizens in managing the climate crisis.

Citizens’ conventions are not a new participatory decision-making tool. The world’s first People’s Climate Parliament (Klimatriksdagen) was held in 2014 in Norrköping, Sweden. Led by environmentalists and citizens concerned about climate change, this bottom-up initiative gathered 600 delegates to discuss, sharpen proposals and vote. In Ireland,  citizens’ assemblies established in 2016 have led to several referendums resulting in changes to the Constitution, notably on marriage equality and abortion. And the Parliament of the German speaking Community of Belgium set up a structure to include citizens’ assemblies in its decision-making on a permanent basis.

Behind the widespread enthusiasm, however, lies a more complicated story that suggests citizens’ assemblies are not a simple process, but a complex and limited democratic tool that can be used well — or badly [5]. “Participants need to know what they are being asked to do, and in what ways their proposals will be integrated into the political process” [6].

At Three o’clock we strongly believe that building a sense of co-ownership leads to a more sustainable action. With citizens’ assemblies currently popping up at all scales in Europe [7], it’s a perfect time to draw the lessons learnt to make these processes truly representative and ensure that their conclusions have a real impact on our lives.

  1. Citizens’ Convention on Climate:
  2. All other proposals will be voted on in the Parliament.
  3. Housing, transportation, consumption, production and work and the food sector
  4. based on the levels of 1990
  7. Climate Assembly UK; Citizens’ assembly for Scotland; Observatorio Participación de Madrid