Towards Climate Democracy: Seven Citizens' Assemblies and a Manifesto

09/January/2024 by Cristian Palazzi
Ésèpe, Bones fire, 2023

Cristian Palazzi

Director of Advocacy and Citizen Mobilization

Philosopher at Fundación Platoniq and civic crowdfunding campaign advisor at Goteo.org.

The climate crisis is not a possibility, it is real. And even more worrying is the slowness with which measures are being adopted to mitigate its effects. In spite of the assembly effort that is being made throughout the country, much more commitment is needed for climate democracy to be effective.

For a couple of years now, the Iberian Peninsula has been showing a scattered but constant movement in terms of the organization of assemblies that have to do with the climate future of this region of the world. First there was Besaya, in Cantabria, then Barcelona, Mallorca, Guipúzcoa, Lisbon… There was also a national assembly, and a few weeks ago the Citizens’ Climate Assembly began in Catalonia. In the following we will review how these processes went, where they arrived and what is the status of the recommendations that emerged from them.

1. Besaya

Under the question: how to take advantage of European funds in the Besaya area to create and maintain jobs while respecting criteria of a fair and inclusive ecological transition? A jury from Besaya, a region of Cantabria, which included thirty people from ten municipalities, published in July 2021 a report with 25 recommendations approved with more than 80% of the votes, divided into three large blocks or strategies: industrial reconversion and circular economy; environment and renewable energies; and blue heritage.

Two years later, in April 2023, the Ministry of Economy and Finance of the Government of Cantabria accepted thirteen of the recommendations and rejected ten of them. The public response can be consulted here.

The process was elaborated with the facilitation of Deliberativa and the collaboration with the OECD.

2. Barcelona

Between June 24 and December 16, the Citizen’s Climate Assembly took place in Barcelona. Promoted by the City Council itself, it had the technical assistance of the Urban Ecology Area and the Raons cooperative.

To design the Assembly, three deliberative processes held during 2021 were taken as a reference: the Citizens’ Climate Assembly (Spain), Scotland’s Climate Assembly (Scotland) and the BCN Youth Forum. As a first step, the City Council sent a letter to 20,000 city residents between the ages of 16 and 75 inviting them to participate in the Citizens’ Climate Assembly, with the question, “What can we do to address the climate emergency?” Of these, some 1,500 people responded positively to the call. Subsequently, 100 of these people were chosen at random, following criteria that ensured that the group chosen was demoscopically representative of Barcelona society in terms of gender diversity, age, district of registration, place of birth and level of education.

After three months of training, deliberation and voting, 34 recommendations were finally approved and a follow-up Commission has now been formed from which an institutional response is awaited.

3. Mallorca

In February 2023, the Climate Assembly of Mallorca, composed of 60 representatively chosen citizens, presented 56 proposals for change for the island of which 22 were rejected by the administration and 34 were approved and would be under study for implementation.

The assembly, promoted by the University of the Balearic Islands, with the support of the Balearic Islands Government and the Consell Insular de Mallorca, was structured to focus on the two sectors that generate the most direct greenhouse gas emissions in the Balearic Islands (energy generation and transport), on the one hand, and on the other, on carbon sinks (terrestrial and marine ecosystems and, potentially, agricultural systems). In addition, aspects of the island’s metabolism that are particularly relevant for climate change mitigation and adaptation were addressed: waste generation, water management and land use planning.

The official response can be consulted, here.

4. Guipúzcoa

Under the question, “How can we guarantee the agricultural activity of Gipuzkoa to face the climate emergency?”, the 32 citizens who participated in the Citizen Assembly of Guipuzcoa came up with nine recommendations with the intention of promoting that “in the future the agricultural sector would be more diverse, biodiverse, accessible, flexible, sustainable, self-sufficient, ecological, profitable and close, through the cooperation and close relationship between farmers and official organizations; taking into account the generational relay”.

Two months later, in March 2023, the Provincial Council of Guipuzcoa responded in a public letter detailing deadlines, budget and concrete commitments for each of them.

The process was technically assisted by Arantzazulab, TMelab and Deliberativa.

5. Lisbon

Lisbon has a Citizens’ Council, officially recognized by the Municipal Chamber, which for the last two years has been working together with technicians and politicians on climate and quality of life issues.

The themes addressed were: in 2022: What do we have to do in Lisbon to face climate change? and in 2023: How to make the 15-minute city a reality?

Structured in seven areas of influence, the answers to the first question achieved a majority consensus in 32 recommendations, and helped to consolidate a group and a methodology that repeated the experience in 2023, reaching 15 recommendations in 5 areas: education, care, mobility, leisure and commerce.

6. Spain

From November 20, 2021 to May 22, 2022, the largest citizen participation initiative on climate in Spain was carried out with the aim of establishing a social dialogue on the major issues involved in the ecological transition. The experience revolved around the question, “A safer and fairer Spain in the face of climate change, how do we do it?”

According to the Ministerial Order of October 8, 2021, the Assembly was required to “agree on recommendations that will serve for debate at all levels of the Public Administration and actors in the economy and society and that will be sent to the Government and the Congress of Deputies, through the legally established channels, to ensure knowledge of the proposals and preferences of citizens on how to achieve climate neutrality and improve our ability to adapt.”

The selection of the 100 people who took part was made by an independent technical team applying a methodology that ensured randomness, which allowed preserving the quality and representativeness of the sample,

based on criteria such as age, gender, educational level, geographic origin, and residence in urban or rural areas, among others. Through six virtual meetings, 172 recommendations were proposed based on eight principles, supported by 86.7% of the assembly members:

  1. principle of sustainable development, which incorporates the criteria of social, intra- and intergenerational justice; 2.
  2. Precautionary principle
  3. Principle of prevention
  4. Polluter pays principle
  5. Non-regression principle
  6. Principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, taking into account respective capacities and meeting climate justice criteria.
  7. Principle of social cohesion and protection of vulnerable groups.
  8. Principle of decarbonization of the Spanish economy, understood as the achievement of a socio-economic model without greenhouse gas emissions.

Coordinated by the Spanish Climate Change Office, with the support of the Biodiversity Foundation, the results of the Assembly are still awaiting official response.

7. Catalonia

The Government of the Generalitat of Catalonia wants to listen to and collect the proposals of a diverse sample of Catalan citizens on the climate crisis. Specifically, a Citizen Assembly has recently been activated with the aim of debating and proposing relevant public policies on renewable energies and the food model for the future.

Following the same methodology as the national Assembly, participants will meet for a total of 6 working sessions between the inaugural session on November 18, 2023 and the final session on February 10, 2024.

So far, 55 recommendations, dealing with issues such as the food chain, agro-ecological production or the deployment of photovoltaic energy, have been proposed and are currently under discussion. The final recommendations are scheduled for January 13 and 27.

As in the other cases, this is a unique experience and opportunity to be an active part of a democratic improvement project and to participate, beyond voting, in the definition of public policies.

The Citizens’ Climate Assembly Manifesto

Once the work carried out by the Citizens’ Climate Assembly was presented, many organizations lent their support to promote the 172 recommendations with the aim of combating global warming with cross-cutting policies: Youth for Climate, Ecologists in Action, Youth Council of Spain, Scientific Rebellion, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Extinction Rebellion, WWF, Renewable Foundation, SEAE, We Move Europe… and up to 40 relevant personalities of the defense for the Earth, such as Yayo Herrero, Antonio Turiel, Maria Serra or Joan Font.

However, almost two years after the start of its deliberations, these ambitious measures continue to be invisible and buried by the authorities and public authorities. Consequently, we denounce with concern that the Government has decided to abandon one of its most important inaugural commitments: climate democracy and environmental justice, which are now a vital emergency for the whole of Spanish society.

That is why from Democracy for Climate we call on the government of our country to lead at European level the deliberative democracy with an Ecological State Pact to face the climate emergency and for this purpose we propose that you can adhere to this “Manifesto for Climate Democracy”.

This appeal calls on all of us, especially governments and political powers, to implement the recommendations of the Climate Assembly and to strengthen them through a pact that will overcome the barriers that have so far prevented decisive action in the fight against climate change. His proposal, while challenging, is a renewed way of addressing this crisis: broadening democracy to deal with the climate emergency. This is the cry for help conveyed in the Manifesto.

At its core, the Manifesto in particular emphasizes a strategy that has proven fruitful in countries such as France and the United Kingdom: the creation of Citizens’ Assemblies that, removed from partisan pressures and lobbies, can address the decisions needed to drive the ecological transition. In this sense, one of their main successes is to recognize that the ecological transition is not only a question of technology or regulation, but also of citizen participation and social justice. And that only through citizen participation and social justice can we guarantee a just and sustainable energy transition.

Sign the petition. Let’s keep pushing for climate democracy

The Manifesto is not only a call for urgent action on climate change, but also a manifesto for climate democracy, a proposal to redefine how we make decisions about our planet and our future where everyone is invited.

The Manifesto reminds us that climate change is more than an environmental problem; it is a challenge that requires a collective commitment and a profound change in the way we govern and live.

The recommendations of the Citizens’ Assemblies are only a first step in defining a course towards a just and sustainable ecological transition. But these proposals must be backed by bold public policies and the will of all stakeholders, including citizens, governments, businesses and civil society organizations. It is, in short, a call to action that we cannot ignore.

It is not only the future of our planet that is at stake, but also our present, our health, our economy and our democracy. The Basque Centre for Climate Change has just launched a Guide for the design, organization and facilitation of citizen climate assemblies.

**Who are we?

The Platoniq Foundation is part of Marea Deliberativa is the initiative that has launched this call and promotes citizen participation to strengthen democracy through Citizen Assemblies. It aims to address current challenges, such as the climate emergency, inequality and other social problems, through a collaborative and dialogue-based approach.

In a context where politics has become a show empty of effective solutions, Marea Deliberativa aspires to a more transparent and participatory political system, involving people willing to listen, learn and work together to address problems and find common solutions.

*Note: updated version of the article: The Manifesto for Climate Democracy, published in Wilder Journal #1.

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