What is a Citizen’s Assembly? BBC Radio – 9 Aug 2019

Now other news: In the face of rising global temperatures plastic waste and air pollution, councils across Sussex is declaring climate emergencies. But once they’ve said there’s an emergency what are they actually going to do about environmental problems? Well, in Brighton talks are underway to bring a so called Citizen’s Assembly to the city to discuss how to tackle the climate crisis. A group of ordinary people are deliberating what to do. They’ve been used elsewhere, to work out changes to abortion laws in Ireland for instance, but how would they work in Brighton and Hove? Our political reporter Ben Weisz has been speaking with Les Gunbie who’s a local activist with the Extinction Rebellion group. LES: I think the problem with politics at the moment and we’ve seen it with brexit is that politicians are divided on issues and they can’t seem to find the mechanisms to make clear and sensible decisions. And climate change or the climate emergency or the climate crisis as it’s now being called is an area where politics just doesn’t seem to work. It’s too short term; it’s too party political. BEN: so you need some radical decisive long term action. A dictator could provide that but that wouldn’t be very democratic so what’s the solution that you’re offering? LEN: So Extinction Rebellion has put forward the idea of a Citizen’s Assembly and they’ve demanded that nationally that comes together to look at the issue of the climate emergency and how we should respond. We here in Brighton feel that a local example of Citizens Assembly would also help our local council in making bold decisions about how to address the climate crisis. BEN: And what is a Citizen’s Assembly? LES: It’s essentially a group of randomly selected people from an area chosen very much in the way that a jury is chosen by a process called sortition and this group of people comes together and deliberates on a particular issue or question. It’s given informed opinion from experts and other stakeholders. Through a process of deliberation and discussion it comes to some conclusions and recommendations about what can be done to address the situation. BEN: You’ve mentioned that they’d hear evidence. How do you make sure that they’re able to get the information they need to make a proper decision and also are able to understand that information? LES: Yeah that that’s a good question. The the group of people that are chosen, it will be done on a voluntary basis and they would also need to be rewarded somehow financially for their time, and a proper amount of time would need to be given to the process. It’s not something that could be done in a in a weekend, it would need to be done over an extended period of time. People would be given some some training in critical thinking so that they had the skills to look at the evidence that was being put before them. BEN: Are you open to the idea that the Citizen’s Assembly might come up with very different solutions the ones that you personally and your friends as climate activists would be advocating? LES: Yeah so this is a question that I was discussing with my family last night and my daughter put exactly that question to me. And I think the answer is a clear yes it’s about trusting people to to take an issue seriously, and once they’re able to see the problem clearly and understand the different angles, from from every angle, that the pros and the cons of different action – trusting people to use their common sense and and their understanding of things to make best decisions. BEN: And just finally what should the council now be doing in your view to set one of these up? LES: We’re in dialogue with the council over how this process might move forward. A key thing for them would be that if they’re going to run a Citizen’s Assembly that they do it properly.

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