The Oxford Citizens Assembly on Climate Change took place on the weekends of 28/09/19 and 19/10/19. Participants considered measures to reduce Oxford’s carbon emissions to net zero and, as part of this, Oxford City Council’s own carbon footprint to net zero by 2030.
Problems and Purpose
Oxford City Council declared a climate emergency at the start of 2019. As part of its attempts to tackle this, the council decided to act quickly and become the first city council in the country to hold a citizens’ assembly on the issue.
The Oxford Citizens’ Assembly on Climate Change recruited 50 residents of the city of Oxford. Participants attended two full weekends of deliberation and discussion over the 28th-29th of September and the 19th-20th of October 2019. They were tasked with deciding how to respond to the following question: “The UK has legislation to reach ‘net zero’ by 2050. Should Oxford be more proactive and seek to achieve ‘net zero’ sooner than 2050?” 
Background History and Context
The 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report warned that the current global target of an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 is not enough to avert catastrophic temperature change. It said it’s essential that global temperature change is limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius and that rapid, far reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society are required to ensure this.
In January 2019, Oxford City Council members unanimously declared a climate emergency and agreed to create a citizens’ assembly to help consider new carbon targets and additional measures to reduce emissions. In April, council members set a vision to reduce the City Council’s own emissions to net zero by 2030 at the latest.
Ipsos MORI were appointed to undertake the recruitment of participants and provide overall facilitation for the CA. It is claimed that Oxford was the first UK city to hold a citizens’ assembly on climate change (a climate assembly was held in Camden earlier, but did not necessarily meet the criteria of a CA). The findings were to feed in to the City Council’s Sustainability Strategy 2020, including the Action Plan for the City Council. 
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The assembly was funded by Oxford City Council. They commissioned Ipsos MORI to delivery the project.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
An advisory group to provide governance and oversight was set up by Oxford City Council. This included a councillor from each of the main political parties on the City Council, as well as Oxford-based experts on the environment and democracy, and representatives from local industry.
The members of the Advisory group were:
- Cllr Susan Brown, Leader, Oxford City Council (Labour) - Chair
- Cllr Andrew Gant, Opposition Leader, Oxford City Council (Liberal Democrats)
- Cllr Dick Wolff, Member, Oxford City Council (Green)
- Cllr James Mills, Leader, West Oxfordshire District Council (Conservative)
- Professor Steve Fisher, Political Sociology, University of Oxford
- Professor Myles Allen and Professor Nick Eyre, Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford
- Mark Beard, Chairman/Mark Gregory, Bid Manager, Beard Construction
- Richard Pantlin, Oxford Citizens Assembly Network
- Zuhura Plummer, Oxford Extinction Rebellion
- Nigel Carter, Secretary/Hassan Sabrie, Chair, East Oxford United
- Yasmin Sidhwa, Artistic Director, Mandala Theatre Company
- Dr Alan Renwick, Constitution Unit, University College London 
50 assembly participants were recruited through a process of stratified random sampling. Residents were recruited through invitations using a database of postcodes. 2011 Census data were used to ensure the sample was representative in relation to the following criteria: age, gender, ethnicity, disability, and area. Further information was monitored but not used as the basis for selection including socioeconomic group, employment status, educational attainment, and political viewpoint. Each participant was paid a £300 honorarium to better enable participants to take part and in recognition of the time they are giving up.
Methods and Tools Used
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The process was designed and overseen by the Advisory Group who helped to identity and frame the issues as well as decide on the experts and witnesses to present to the Assembly. The Oxford Citizens Assembly on Climate Change was held over two full weekends (28-29 September 2019 and 19-20 October 2019) at the Said Business School. The 50 assembly members heard from 27 expert speakers who set out the scale of the issue and addressed the range of options to reduce emissions. Panels brought together speakers with different views and perspectives on each subject area, including buildings, transport, waste and energy production, the role of carbon offsetting, and the importance of protecting biodiversity. The central topic question was defined as:
The UK Government has legislation to reach ‘net zero’ carbon by 2050. Should Oxford be more proactive and seek to achieve ’net zero’ sooner than 2050 and what trade-offs are we prepared to make?
The Citizens Assembly addressed three themes, divided into five separate areas:
How do we use less energy?
- Buildings – how do we ensure our buildings are fit for the future?
- Transport – how do we develop a sustainable zero-carbon transport system?
How do we make more energy?
- How do we transform our energy system to ensure it comes from renewable sources?
How do we improve environmental quality on the journey to net zero?
- Waste – How do we reduce our waste to deliver net zero?
- Offsetting – How could Oxford offset the emissions it can’t reduce?
The issue of biodiversity was considered within each of these subject areas. 
Speakers for the Oxford Citizens Assembly on Climate Change were:
- Linnet Drury, Climate Campaigner: “Why is climate change important?”
- Professor Myles Allen, Environmental Change Institute: “What are the impacts of climate change?”
- Tara Clarke, Climate Outreach: “How might climate change affect our lives?”
- Barbara Hammond, Low Carbon Hub: “Oxford’s response to climate change so far”
- Jenny Hill, Committee on Climate Change: “What does net zero carbon mean?”
- Asad Rehman, War on Want: “Inequality and climate justice- a global perspective”
- Tim Sadler, Oxford City Council: “Oxford City Council’s roles and responsibilities in relation to the climate emergency”
Further expert speakers
- Trewin Restorick, Hubbub
- Maria Warner, Oxford Direct Services
- Henry Owen, Community Action Group
- Alex Baines, The Design Buro
- Rajat Gupta, Oxford Institute for Sustainable Development (OISD), Oxford Brookes
- Dr David Hancock, Independent Expert, Infrastructure Projects
- Chris Benton, Pedal & Post
- Luke Marion, Oxford Bus Company
- Tim Schwanen, Transport Studies Unit
- David Beesley, Oxford Office Furniture
- Sukky Choongh-Campbell, Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT)
- Professor Kathy Willis, University of Oxford
- Edward Hanrahan, Climate Care
- Fiona Tavner, Oxford Friends of the Earth
- Nick Eyre, Environmental Change Institute
- Carole Souter, Oxford Preservation Trust
- Chris Jardine, Joju
- Rob Hopkins, The Transition Network
- Llewelyn Morgan, Oxfordshire County Council
Speakers provided a scene setting overview of the issue, what happens if we fail to act and what it takes to achieve net zero emissions. The remainder of the weekend examined 5 themes. Each theme session involved a 10-minute presentation, a panel discussion, individual reflection, table discussion, clarifications and a plenary Q and A.
The expert speakers in turn examined each of the five themes the Assembly was asked to consider:
- How do we ensure our buildings are fit for the future?
- How do we develop a sustainable transport system for net zero carbon?
- How do we transform our energy system to ensure it comes from renewable sources?
- What is the role of biodiversity and offsetting?
- How do we reduce our waste to deliver net zero carbon?
An outline of the schedule is as follows:
- Introduction to Climate Change
- What can we do about it?
- Theme 1 (Waste Reduction)
- Theme 2 (Buildings)
Sunday 29th September
- Theme 3 (Transport)
- Theme 4 (Biodiversity and Offsetting)
- Theme 5 (Renewable Energy) 
Weekend Two - Deliberation and Voting
Participants discussed each subject area and specific issues of trade-offs. Questions spanned areas that the council has direct control, where it can work in partnership with other statutory bodies, and where it can influence others.
The weekend culminated in a series of voting exercises. Within each of the five themes, Assembly members were presented with three visions of possible scenarios. Scenario A was the least ambitious, scenario C the most ambitious. Assembly members were asked to vote which scenario they would like to live in.
Findings and support for the scenarios
Waste reduction (A=2, B-9, C=29)
- There was a mix of views in terms of who was responsible for waste reduction (varying between supermarket, manufacturers, consumers, government)
- There was a mixed response to potential solutions discussed, including reduced bin size, charging people for waste collection, and “freecycling”
Buildings (A=3, B=7, C=31)
- Assembly members were surprised that the largest proportion of emissions came from buildings
- Assembly members firmly believed that it’s more cost effective if all new buildings are built to sufficiently high standards, rather than paying prohibitively high costs of retrofitting
Transport (A=2, B=12, C=26)
- Encouraging behaviour change, implementing infrastructure change, and incentivising public transport use were all considered important measures
- They recommended a unified strategy for transport planning between Oxford City, the County Council and Public providers.
Biodiversity and Offsetting (A=2, B=8, C=30)
- Members say planting more trees is an “easy win” and were very positive about creating more biodiversity and green space around Oxford
- Members were concerned with the tension between the need for green space and new housing, and whether “offsetting” could effectively address carbon neutrality
Renewable Energy (A=6, B=7, C=27)
- Members were surprised by how much was already being done
- They felt government should play a more direct role, and felt too much current emphasis was placed on individuals
Neutralising climate change was seen as more important than aesthetics. 
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
A report summarised the following findings from the assembly:
- The majority of Assembly Members (37 out of 41) felt that Oxford should aim to achieve ‘net zero’ sooner than 2050, yet there was little consensus on when before 2050 ‘net zero’ should be achieved. There was a widespread belief that Oxford should be a leader in tackling the climate crisis.
- Assembly Members found a great deal of encouragement in the examples of what is already being done across Oxford to address climate change and meet the goal of becoming ‘net zero’.
- Enhanced biodiversity was central to the overall ‘net zero’ vision of Oxford through increased flora and fauna in the city, along with more cycling, walking, and public transport, and far fewer cars.
- The construction sector should adopt improved building standards, widespread retrofitting, and more domestic and non-domestic energy needs being met by sustainable sources.
However, it is important to consider the caveats to this broadly optimistic and positive image:
- Around one in four to one in three Assembly Members rejected the most ambitious (and therefore most challenging to achieve) scenarios
- They were also perturbed by the extent to which the burden of change was – in their eyes – being placed on individuals.
There was, therefore, a sense that the council needs to communicate a shared vision and strategy to reaching ‘net zero’ that shows the roles played by local and national government, businesses, and individuals.
There was also a demand for more education and information provided for the wider public in Oxford to help them understand what they can personally do to help. Specifically, Assembly Members wanted more information about how to recycle correctly.
In response to the report, the City Council announced that it would:
- Set a Climate Emergency Budget that commits over £1 million additional operational funding and £18 million of capital investment to address the climate emergency – on top of £84 million of ongoing investment to tackle the climate emergency in Oxford and countywide
- Become net zero as a Council in 2020.
- Respond directly to the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly through raising the energy efficiency of new homes and community buildings, cutting transport emissions, boosting renewable energy installation, expanding biodiversity across the city, and increasing public engagement with recycling.
- Hold a Zero Carbon Oxford summit in the early new year – involving the major organisations responsible for the majority of emissions in the city to see how we can work together to will be to develop a shared vision, forum, and plans to set a course towards a Zero Carbon Oxford.
- Establish a Zero Carbon Oxford Partnership and influence partners to do more.
- Create new carbon budgets for the city to step down to zero
- Provide support to individuals and communities to tackle the climate emergency. 
A concern clearly expressed by both councillors and assembly members, is that the city council’s programme to cut carbon should not disadvantage low-income households in the city or sacrifice residents’ standard of living. It was also recognised that the City Council have the opportunity to enhance standards of living, especially for the most vulnerable and those on low incomes, through climate action.
The findings will feed in to the City Council’s upcoming Sustainability Strategy, including an Action Plan to determine how the City Council can play its part in tackling the climate emergency over the coming months and years.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
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 Oxford Citizens Assembly on Climate Change, Oxford City Council. Available at: https://www.oxford.gov.uk/info/20011/environment/1343/oxford_citizens_assembly_on_climate_change/6
 Oxford Citizens’ Assembly on Climate Change Report, November 2019, Available at: https://www.oxford.gov.uk/downloads/file/6871/oxford_citizens_assembly_on_climate_change_report_-_november_2019
 Oxford Citizens’ Assembly on Climate Change. Schedule Weekend One, Oxford Citizens Assembly on Climate Change Available at: https://www.oxford.gov.uk/downloads/file/6661/schedule_for_weekend_one_of_citizens_assembly
 City Council responds to Oxford Citizens’ Assembly on Climate Change and outlines £19m climate emergency budget, 16th December 2019, Available at: https://www.oxford.gov.uk/news/article/1275/city_council_responds_to_oxford_citizens_assembly_on_climate_change_and_outlines_19m_climate_emergency_budget