June 22, 2020 / 11:10 PM / 15 days ago

UK citizens' assembly backs climate-friendly coronavirus recovery

(Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Britain’s post-coronavirus economic recovery plan should be used to help cut its climate-heating emissions to net zero, a citizens’ assembly set up to give insights on how to achieve that goal said on Tuesday.

Nearly 80% of the 108 Climate Assembly UK members agreed in a secret ballot that government steps to boost the economy should be designed to help achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 - a target enshrined in British law last year.

Almost all agreed that, as the lockdown eases, the state, employers and others should encourage shifts in lifestyles to become more compatible with reaching net-zero.

The panel was set up by several parliamentary committees and the participants, who were not identified, are a representative sample of Britain’s population, selected from different walks of life, shades of opinion and parts of the country.

Their final recommendations will come out in September and will be debated in Britain’s lower house, giving the public a chance to influence government action.

The members met three times this year and the final session - postponed and held online due to the pandemic - included a brief opportunity to reflect on the impact of coronavirus on tackling climate change.

“It was quite clear that many of the assembly members felt that this period should be taken as an opportunity to encourage a green economic recovery,” said Ibrahim, a doctor from southern England identified only by his first name, in a statement.

He said members wanted to make their views public before their final report was published in September so the government could incorporate them into its COVID-19 economic recovery plan.

“Although this is a tough and sad time for so many, we should look for lasting positive change as we begin exiting lockdown,” another assembly member was quoted as saying.

Rebecca Willis and Jim Watson, experts who have guided the assembly’s work, said they were surprised by the level of backing for stimulus measures to also tackle climate change.

Many members showed interest in limiting or putting conditions on investment in high-carbon industries and in investing in home insulation, off-shore wind or support for cycling, said Willis, professor in practice focused on energy and climate governance at Lancaster University.

On Tuesday, the heads of the parliamentary committees that set up the assembly wrote to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, urging him to take the findings into account.

“In recent months the UK public has demonstrated its capacity to respond positively and responsibly when they understand the risks posed to them by an invisible threat that demands collective action,” the MPs wrote.

“We believe that a similar approach, based on securing public support for ambitious policies through open dialogue around the science, is a sound basis for the net zero journey.”

Reporting by Megan Rowling @meganrowling; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit news.trust.org/climate

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