In March 2019, Camden Council declared a ‘Climate Emergency’ with the acknowledgement that time is limited to stop the rapid increase in global temperature causing long term changes to the climate system. The council has helped to reduce borough-wide emissions by 32% since 2010, but it was acknowledged that progress in this area needs to be accelerated in light of the IPCC 1.5 degree warming report.
In response to this declaration, Camden Council – with the help of a number of independent organisations – arranged a Citizens’ Assembly to decide how the borough as a whole should address the climate crisis. The Citizens’ Assembly on the climate crisis sits at the centre of Camden’s response to the climate emergency and the aim of the process was to build demographically representative citizen consensus about how the local authority area should address the issue.
The council engaged with a wide range of community groups to maximise the number of voices heard throughout the process and to increase awareness of the need for action in Camden. Groups were consulted to ask for their views on how Camden as a borough could tackle the climate crisis at the household, neighbourhood, council and national level.
An online engagement exercise was completed to allow anyone who lives or works in Camden to input their ideas to the process. The platform included an outline of the context of the climate crisis at each of the levels as specified above, this was articulated through the use of infographics, making these complex issues easier to understand.
The pre-assembly engagement also included engagement with schools to contribute their ideas to the process and to discuss potential actions which could be taken to reduce carbon emissions in Camden. A cross-sector roundtable was also held by the Camden Climate Change Alliance (CCCA), Camden’s business sustainability network, to provide a business member response to the climate crisis and input into the process.
All of the ideas proposed from these various platforms were collated and presented to assembly in a variety of forms. In total over 600 suggestions were put to assembly members as a result of this widespread consultation.
This pre-assembly engagement was critical to build support the citizens’ assembly model and ensure that all stakeholders to the process felt a sense of ownership of the actions proposed by assembly members. This wider conversation was designed to encourage residents and local stakeholders to reflect on the actions which could be implemented within their zone of influence and trigger a sense of responsibility to respond to the Climate Emergency.
Camden has a strong cohort of established environmental community groups, but in addressing this topic and how the Borough as a whole should respond, it was critical for the assembly to be representative of the Borough as a whole. This was deemed as an essential part of the process to ensure the conclusions from the assembly were sculpted through the lens and lived experiences of residents from all backgrounds, including hard to reach groups in Camden.
Residents were selected at random by Camden’s Community Researchers who worked tirelessly to recruit participants. The recruitment process was designed to ensure that a representative profile of Camden’s population by ward, age, gender and ethnicity was achieved.
The result was a panel of participants who were a credit to the diverse nature of Camden, each assembly member brought a unique perspective and experience of life in the borough and how any ideas and actions formulated during the process would impact on them and their communities.
The Citizens’ Assembly
Camden’s Citizens’ Assembly on the climate crisis was the first of its kind in the UK. Whilst the council delivered the project, maintaining impartiality and transparency through the process was seen as a key requirement for success. This was delivered through working with partners to provide expert support on the process design as well as leading facilitation throughout all of the sessions.
An advisory group was also established comprised to provide independent oversight of the process. Politicians had an observer-only role, standing back from the process itself.
Assembly meetings are not open to the general public, but the agendas, presentations, summaries of deliberations and video footage were uploaded to Camden’s website.
The assembly was comprised of three sessions. The process started with two evening sessions where participants heard from a total of eight speakers on the science of climate change, current CO2 emissions in Camden, and solutions which could be implemented at the home, neighbourhood and council level. The third session, titled ‘Action for Change’, brought participants together to formulate ideas and actions and resulted in 17 actions to be implemented within the borough.
The assembly process was widely praised by participants and this was reflected by 90% of participants attending all three sessions and 76% of participants wanting to continue to be involved in developing and delivering the actions following the assembly. Further to the feedback from assembly members, the process has been widely praised in local and national media.
Although the assembly has been widely praised, Camden Council have appointed UCL Culture’s Evaluation Team to provide an independent review of the process to validate the integrity of the citizens’ assembly and its findings.
Implementation and Social Action
The aim of the assembly was to formulate key ideas and actions which could be taken forward by the council and community, which will feed into a new Environmental Plan for Camden in 2020. The ideas and suggestions from the community helped assembly members to formulate 17 actions which will be put to Full Council (October 2019) who will decide which actions are adopted and taken forward into the new Environmental Plan.
Some of the actions will require significant further deliberation before moving into delivery. This deliberation could involve Assembly members, stakeholders and experts working together in a more “task and finish” setting, with this informing more detailed recommendations for Members on the proposal in question. How this will be structured has not yet been finalised, it is likely this will be facilitated by the council with discussions led by assembly members and the community.