The UK citizens’ assembly identifies overarching principles and makes specific recommendations for achieving the environmental goal.
By Paul A. Davies and Michael D. Green
The Climate Assembly UK has published its report on how the UK can achieve its statutory target for net zero carbon emissions by 2050. The report, which was released on 10 September 2020, followed more than a month of weekend meetings (some of which took place remotely due to the pandemic). Participants underwent a three-stage process of learning, discussion, and decision-making.
Comprising 108 members of the public, the citizens’ assembly was commissioned in June 2019 by six Select Committees of the House of Commons, including the Environmental Audit and Business Energy and Industrial Strategy. The House of Commons sponsored the initiative, with two philanthropic organisations providing additional funding and not-for-profit organisations organising the assembly
The report’s first section identifies a series of overarching principles that should inform both the legislative processes and executive decisions for moving toward carbon neutrality. The principles were arrived at through a vote in which members of the Climate Assembly prioritised the 25 principles they had developed. The most important principles include:
- Informing and educating everyone
- Clear, proactive, accountable leadership
- Protecting and restoring the natural world
- Ensuring the sustainability of any solutions
- A joined-up approach across all levels of society
- Long-term planning and phased transition
Chapters 2 to 11 of the report offer specific proposals to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. According to the report, the recommendation followed members’ discussion on the advantages and disadvantages of different ways of reaching net zero.
The recommendations include:
Surface transport: The government should work to provide more accessible public transport, greener means of transport, and improved infrastructure. Proposals from the Climate Assembly included a ban on the sale of new petrol, diesel, and hybrid cars by between 2030 and 2035, and a car scrappage scheme.
Air transport: Progress should be made on advancing technology and investments in greenhouse gas removals, alongside financial incentives for companies. The report also proposed a tax proportionate with the frequency and distance of flights undertaken by individuals.
Homes: Areas of focus should include zero carbon homes, VAT changes on energy efficiency, zero carbon heating products, and new product standards that foster more efficient and smarter products. The best technology to use for zero carbon heating sparked a significant policy debate, with members agreeing that regions should receive tailored solutions.
Food and land use: Local produce/food production should be promoted, individuals’ meat and dairy consumption should be reduced (by between 20% and 40%), and steps should be taken to restore biodiversity. Throughout the report, members agreed that farmers should receive skills training and more accessible government contracts to help them make the transition.
Retail: Areas of focus should include recycling (through deposit return schemes or doorstep recycling), as well as re-using/re-purposing, increased consumer protection, and more carbon efficient production chains.
Electricity: Efforts should be taken to increase reliance on renewable energy (including offshore and onshore wind and solar power). However, members were much less supportive of bioenergy, nuclear, and fossil fuels.
Greenhouse gas removals: Four greenhouse gas removal methods should be part of the UK’s path to net zero, namely better forest management, restoration and management of peatlands and wetlands, limited wood use in construction, and enhanced carbon storage in the soil. The members of the Climate Assembly were not particularly supportive of carbon storage initiatives (such as direct air carbon capture). Their main concerns surrounded possible leaks and initiatives’ failure to actually address the issue.
COVID-19: Members strongly agreed that any steps taken by the government to support economic recovery should be designed to help achieve net zero. Similarly, Climate Assembly participants felt that the government should take the opportunity to encourage lifestyle changes that are more compatible with the net zero target.
The Select Committees will consider the report, and the Committee on Climate Change will build on the report in preparing its advice to Parliament on the new carbon budget.
Latham & Watkins will continue to monitor developments in this area.
This post was written with the assistance of Sabina Aionesei in the London office of Latham & Watkins.
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