Policy - 29/October/2019

Focus on solutions and good news to engage citizens

Deliberative forums involving members of the public will help advance an ambitious energy transition

The importance of citizens participating in environmental policy making and implementation was recognised as far back as 1992 when the UN published its Agenda 21 plan for sustainable development. Discussions at the latest Citizens Energy Forum, hosted annually by the European Commission, showcased best practice for policy makers, even if citizens were somewhat thin on the ground at the invitation-only event in Dublin, Ireland.

Ireland recently agreed a new national Climate Action Plan, which commits the government: “To inform, engage, motivate and empower people to take climate action.” This pledge builds on the county’s Citizens Assembly, which brought together 100 randomly chosen citizens, broadly representative of the electorate, over 12 weekends between October 2016 and August 2018 to deliberate on a number of issues, including climate change. “Half their time was spent listening to expert speakers and the other half deliberating with their fellow citizens,” says Diarmuid Torney of Dublin City University (DCU), who spoke on the issue of citizen engagement at a conference hosted by Environment Ireland in October 2019.

The assembly produced 13 recommendations on climate change, which were significantly more radical than observers expected. The recommendations included higher taxes on carbon intensive activities (excluding poor households) and expanding public transport spending over new road infrastructure at a ratio of no less than two-to-one. A government committee on climate action subsequently considered the assembly’s recommendations and in March 2019 published a cross-party consensus for action.

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