CITIZENS' ASSEMBLY

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My round up of Content Block Three

Block 3 focussed on emissions from the second deep-dive topic ‘heating, cooking and cooling’ in both homes and businesses. Following transport these activities give rise to the second largest source of emissions in Jersey at approximately 35%. The final session in the block was an introduction to ‘Sustainable Finance’. I am really pleased that this topic was included. While there is not enough time for participants to go into it in depth, it is an important area and very relevant to our island community. Participants were enthusiastic in discussing it and recognised the potential of the Jersey Finance sector to support a move to a more sustainable future.

We are past the half-way point and an enormous amount of progress has been made. Recommendations on the deep-dive topics are taking shape. Each recommendation is subject to repeated scrutiny by participants working in small groups. Membership of the small groups rotates, in order to ensure that the final recommendations truly reflect a legitimate expression of the input of all participants.

Democratic processes can be polarising, especially when party politics come into play. What has struck me forcefully in this block is the investigate nature of the citizens’ assembly process, with the freedom to question at its heart. The process has been effective at enabling the resolution of concerns or challenges at the point they have arisen. It has harnessed the contributions and strengths of all participants and resulted in a real clarity of collective thinking. This is demonstrated by their ability to reach a high level of consensus on most issues.

The climate crisis forcefully exposes the need for a long-term committed approach to resolving the problem. Participants raised questions about how long-term commitments could be obtained from our energy providers, which are not wholly owned government entities. Participants also questioned how such organisations could be held to account. Similarly, many participants recognised the risk of short-termism in policy approach that comes from electoral cycles. Participants raised concerns that States Members might be unwilling to support change if it imposes ‘pain’ upon citizens in the near future. The concern being that politicians would be wary of the need to keep voters happy before the next election. It is a key feature of the citizens’ assembly process that it provides Government with an opportunity to hear what the appetite of citizens is for immediate or long-term change. In the absence of a clear political party structure in Jersey, participants hope that each member of the States Assembly will receive their recommendations as an effective and legitimate mandate for change.

Block 3 concluded with the introduction to ‘Sustainable Finance”. Sustainable Finance refers to the process of taking environmental, social and governance (ESG) considerations into account when making investment decisions in the financial sector, leading to more long-term investments in sustainable economic activities and projects. The presenters delivered a message that participants are now familiar with. The behaviour of people is going to do more to encourage the adoption of sustainable finance practices in the finance sector, than any Government action.

The advice was if citizens wish to drive change, the most immediate and effective way to do so will be “to vote with your feet”. Literally this means asking your bank or financial institution what it is doing to reduce its carbon footprint or how it is investing your savings or pension. If you are not satisfied with the answer and you think the institution is ‘financing your extinction’ challenge the response and/or take your business to a more climate friendly organisation. This is on my ‘to do list’ for next week, how about you?

 

My round up of Content Block Two

I was impressed by so much in Block 1 and I feel the same way at the end of this second set of sessions. There has been a big shift in the content this time round with a much deeper dive into the key area of transport, where the highest levels of emissions are recorded. In this way Block 2 has afforded the participants a much greater understanding in order to frame their recommendations.  The weekend began with participants being asked to consider the options for how Jersey might reduce transport emission levels and the pace of that change.

The format for the sessions had changed in order to enable the assembly members to have more contact with the presenters. There were more sessions in small groups and the presenters moved from one group to another. One of the participants described the rotation through the small groups as a bit like ‘speed-dating’. I think she had a point, and the rotating speakers probably felt that too, as each group was quick to fire off questions.

The benefit of this change was apparent in that it enabled participants to hear a larger range of views, not just from stakeholders in the transport sector and ‘experts’ but from different transport users as well. Users included the young and those with mobility issues. The enthusiasm and level of ambition for change from users was clearly motivating and participants remarked on how much they valued the opportunity to hear directly from these speakers.

On Wednesday evening the focus was on the broad question of “do we believe as an island that offsets are the way to reach net zero”. The question is one of principle, rather than how many offsets or what kind. I observed discussions on this issue in two groups and both formed a very strong view on the global implications of using offsets. It will be very interesting to see how this question is addressed by the whole assembly in due course.

There have been some who wondered whether Government had somehow pre-determined what information was put before participants in order to influence the outcome. The evidence process has been led by an independent expert body (outside of Government). I think Block 2 demonstrated to participants that the vast majority of speakers coming from independent and sometimes opposing standpoints affirms that the choice to determine the ultimate recommendations sits wholly with them. Participants also have a right to ask to hear from different speakers and to receive information on factors not otherwise covered– a right they have already exercised.

Similarly, some people were concerned at the start of Block 2 that they had not or would not receive enough information on the issue of transport emissions and reduction options in order to make an informed recommendation. There was a hope I think that a further piece of information might provide the magic bullet, the answer to the climate crisis. At the same time others already felt they had information overload or paralysis. The ‘speed dating’ approach seemed to really help most participants, who used it to sift through and focus on the most critical bits of information. The information is complex and voluminous, but I hope that by the end of Block 2 all participants were comfortable with the notion that if the big picture was clear enough to decide where action needed to be taken looking at it further under a magnifying glass wasn’t necessary.

My final comment from Block 2 is that I can’t help thinking that there is an advantage to undertaking this process on Zoom. The participants are confined to ‘thumbnail’ sized boxes on screen, each having the same limited prominence until it is their time to speak. It emphasises the fact that the voice and contribution of each participant carries the same value – because it is intrinsically linked to the shared fact that they are each a member of our Jersey community.

My round-up of Content Block One

So, we’ve successfully completed the sessions in Block One of the Citizen’s Assembly on climate change.

This first Block “On-boarding & Orientation’ began with a focus on how participants would work together and provided an overview of the process and the rationale for the citizens’ assembly. The presentations framed the context for the question before the assembly and gave an overview of some of the topics that will be addressed over the coming weeks. The sessions in Block Two will start to provide a ‘deeper dive’ into the key issues.

There was a lot to take in, the information is very complex, however I am pleased to report the process is working really well and I suspect the hard-working folk behind the scenes breathed a sigh of relief at the conclusion of the final session of this Block.

The stars of the show are of course the participants, picked at random from across the island but in such a way as to ensure the citizens’ assembly reflects the wide diversity of our community. Some have come to the assembly with knowledge about the issues, but most are reliant on the assembly process to shape their understanding going forward.

It is important to note that the process is not designed to turn the participants into experts on how to solve the climate crisis. There are plenty of talented brains elsewhere, focused on tackling the issues. It is also important to be clear that they are not the decision makers, that’s the role of our elected representatives and those that support them. They are ordinary people here to be part of the dialogue and to offer the politicians a sense of the ambition for change in Jersey, and to do so from a credible and informed standpoint. The recommendations of the participants will form the basis of the debate held by the States Assembly on the question of how we achieve decarbonisation in Jersey.

Feedback after this first Block of sessions has been very positive. There is real strength in how the process works and enables participants to get to grips with the issues. Everyone was amazed at how the structure of the sessions is enabling them to understand the issues at the level they are required to and the confidence that is giving them. Participants came together to listen to presentations from experts, they were then put into small groups to discuss the learning with facilitators before returning to the wider group to ask questions of the presenters. The trained facilitators are there to ensure that each member has an opportunity to contribute and for their views to be taken account of.  The participants were tasked with agreeing the guidelines for these conversations. It is really key that they take ownership of the process throughout. Participants have also fed back to me a real appreciation for the work that has gone into the process prior to its commencement.

Conversely as one of the observers of the citizens’ assembly, I am (as are many others) delighted by the engagement and enthusiasm of everyone whose evident passion and commitment to contributing to the outcome is very encouraging. If the process continues as it is, it’s a great advert for doing more participatory democracy in the island.

The sessions have demonstrated that this is a powerful means of generating ideas and evaluating the trade-offs. The willingness of the participants to engage and to come together in their learning creates a collective intelligence in the discussions and Q&A sessions. There were some great questions asked about the impact of certain initiatives, recognising that different interventions have the power to achieve both lesser and greater impact. Participants appreciated that the structure of our island economy is a real factor and the lack of market competition in some sectors is very relevant. Questions were raised about the ability to enable and drive transformational change in the key areas of transport and energy.

It’s clear with this level of positive constructive engagement the citizens’ assembly process has the potential to influence discussion outside of these sessions, particularly as the weeks pass, so that the debate widens out.  There is also an opportunity for those involved in the ‘build back better’ debate to really leverage the outcomes in the push for a clean and green recovery. The end game is, after all, to improve the legitimacy of climate change policy in Jersey – and that can best be done engaging the views of the many.

For as the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg said to leave a life worth living is to “leave the world a little better for you having lived.”

Emelita Robbins

Chair-Convenor of Jersey Citizens’ Assembly on Climate Change

To contact the Chair please email: [email protected]

Full details of the content of the Block One of the Jersey Citizen’s Assembly on Climate Change can be found here.

 

 

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