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Citizens Assembly urges action on climate change

Last weekend saw the second meeting of the Oxford Citizens Assembly on Climate Change at the Said Business School.

The Citizens Assembly, a group of 50 Oxford residents chosen through a stratified random process, discussed the statement: “The UK Government has legislation to reach ‘net zero’ carbon by 2050. Should Oxford be more proactive and seek to achieve ’net zero’ sooner than 2050 and what trade-offs are we prepared to make?”

The term ‘net zero’ refers to the idea that any greenhouse gas emissions are balanced by schemes to offset an equivalent amount of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

72 per cent of the participants agreed that Oxford should indeed strive to achieve net zero sooner than the national government target of 2050.

While the first weekend, which took place at the end of September, consisted of the participants hearing evidence from experts on various aspects of the climate crisis and the concept of net zero, the second weekend saw the 50 residents considering each subject area and deliberating specific questions around particular trade-offs.

The three themes that the Citizens Assembly was asked to consider were: how Oxford could use less energy, how the city could produce more renewable energy, and lastly, how the environmental quality of the area could be improved on the journey to net zero.

Richard Pantlin, Convenor of the Oxford Citizens Assembly Network and member of the Council’s advi- sory group on the Assembly, told Cherwell that it is now “critical” that the recommendations which resulted from the Assembly are, “seen to be acted upon.”

Pantlin said: “The most important thing to come out of the whole process was to see the Citizens Assembly really working as it should in practice.

“There is scope under the leadership of the City Council to run another event in a years’ time,” in which other institutions such as Oxford University might be involved.

The Assembly comes after a report found that, at 8% of all CO2 emissions, the University of Oxford is the single biggest contributor to the city’s carbon footprint.

On Sunday, the second decision-making day of the weekend, one of the participants read out her letter written in the future as if Oxford had become net zero.

She described Oxford as being a, “small piece of paradise; what we gained far outweighs what we gave up and in the process, we rediscovered what really makes us happy.”

The Assembly’s composition was based on a stratified random approach, and the demographic of the 50 participants included a 50-50 ratio of men to women, whilst 26% of those involved were from a BME background.

Meanwhile, the youngest age allowed by the Assembly was 16, rather than 18, the age at which young people can vote in local and national elections.

Leader of Oxford City Council, Councillor Susan Brown told Cherwell: “Ipsos MORI will be producing a report on the Assembly which will outline what we can do as the City Council, and how we can all work together as a whole to tackle climate change.”

However, Brown commented that the Council was not planning on having anymore similar citizens assemblies, adding that the Citizens Assembly on Climate Change was a “one-off.”

The Council Leader outlined her and the Council’s plans to talk with the University of Oxford, “specifically, on reducing carbon emissions.”

Brown said: “Although the meeting of the Assembly has now finished,we will be working hard over the next couple of weeks and months on what the next steps will be.”

A separate Climate Assembly took place this week in an effort to discuss how Oxford University can take urgent climate action.

The community-wide discussion was hosted by the Oxford SU and a variety of University societies, including the Oxford Climate Justice Campaign and the Oxford Young Greens.

Open to all members of the community, the discussion focused on “how Oxford can leverage its operations, its intellectual resources, and finances and alumni network to meet the challenge of climate change.”

The event also saw the announcement of a Climate Action Plan for Oxford’s Colleges, with research-based, long-term targets for how Oxford can step up action.

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