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Climate crisis Oxford Citizens’ Assembly meets for first time

Last weekend saw the first meeting of the new Oxford Citizens’ Assembly on Climate Change.

The first of its kind in the country, the assembly discussed Oxford’s part in the fight against climate change.

The four-day assembly, split over two weekends, aims to consider new carbon targets and additional measures to reduce emissions. The 50 citizens taking part are being presented with evidence from climate experts.

The assembly comes after Oxford City Council unanimously declared a climate emergency in January.

Although the assembly was by invitation only, members of the public were invited to observe. The 50 members of the assembly are being paid £300 for volunteering their time.

Among those who spoke at the assembly’s first sitting was climate campaigner Linnet Drury, a teenager at Oxford Spires Academy.

The secondary school student told the assembly on Saturday: “Climate change is like a train crash going to happen and all young people know that they’re on that train… but you have the power in your hands to divert the tracks.”

Drury was among the many speakers to give evidence to the group. Dozens of speakers covered topics including buildings, sustainable transport, energy, biodiversity and waste reduction.

Big issues discussed included aviation and agricultural emissions.

Jenny Hill, who is part of the government advisory group Committee on Climate Change, told the assembly: “We can’t go on using natural gases in our homes and using petrol and diesel cars.”

Speaking about potential solutions to move towards net zero, Hill discussed plans to plant trees to absorb carbon emissions. Such plans could see an increase in forest cover in the UK from 13 per cent to up to 19 per cent.

The assembly also heard further evidence about government legislation to create a “net zero” status by 2050.

“Net zero” status means that any carbon emissions, such as fumes from a car, are balanced out by absorbing the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

According to recent statistics, 81 per cent of Oxford’s emissions are from buildings. Residential buildings contributed 21 per cent, followed by institutional buildings.

Oxford University, the highest single contributor, is responsible for eight per cent of the city’s total emissions.

Barbara Hammond, a member of the community action group Low Carbon Hub, began her speech by setting a challenge.

Calling on residents to think about solutions that could get every single person involved, she said: “The best way going forward in Oxford is to build on the fantastic stuff we are already doing in the city.

“We need to build on what we’ve been doing for a long time, which is to get people involved. We don’t get to zero carbon unless we include everybody in making changes.”

Hammond recognised the importance of the universities in contributing experts in the field who can help Oxford to combat climate change.

She said: “We have an amazing resource in the heart of this city, people at the pinnacle of cutting edge research. If we can get them working together with us then this could really go somewhere.”

The ultimate aim of the citizens assembly is to compile a number of recommendations for Oxford City Council to take forward and put to full council in January 2020. The final meeting will take place during the weekend of 19-20 October.

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