Macron accepts majority of ordinary citizens’ recommendations
  • French President Macron pledges $16.9 billion to fight climate change, accepts recommendations of citizens’ assembly.
  • Win by climate change activists signals money will still flow into the sector post-pandemic.
  • European countries, including the U.K. and Ireland, are also turning to citizen assemblies to build public awareness and suggest solutions to public issues including gender equality and climate change.

A group of ordinary citizens concerned with climate change convinced French President Emmanuel Macron to pledge an additional €15 billion ($16.9 billion) to help address the issue. Such is the power of the citizens’ assembly — non-elected, regular folks charged with recommending solutions to thorny problems like the environment or gender equity.

Macron’s promise of aid for the environmental crisis came Monday in his meeting with members of the country’s Citizens’ Commission for the Climate — a committee of randomly selected 150 French people who studied the issue for nine months. Macron said he accepted all but three of the group’s 149 recommendations.

“This really brings great hope for deliberative democracy being part of the political landscape,” said Kathie Conn of the Extinction Rebellion (U.K.) Citizens’ Assembly Working Group, which supports the use of citizen assemblies to fight climate change. Because of the “abject failure of elected representatives,” she said in written comments to Karma, “there is an increasing demand for citizen representatives to investigate, deliberate, weigh up the pros, cons and trade-offs and find common ground to make the bold choices needed.”

Ireland, Belgium and the U.K. are among other countries that have turned to these assemblies to help build public awareness and support for gender equality, climate change and other issues. Almost 80% of Climate Assembly UK members last week agreed that government steps to recover from COVID-19 should be designed to still help the country meet its target of net-zero emissions by 2050.

“An assembly which mirrors its society’s diversity and voices the needs of all social groups could identify new compromises for bolder and fairer climate solutions,” Mathilde Bouyé, an associate of the World Resources Institute’s climate program, wrote on the group’s website. “It would also help address growing distrust in representative democracy.”

Global support for fighting climate change hasn’t been dented by the global coronavirus pandemic. A recent Ipsos poll conducted in 14 countries found that seven out of 10 adults think climate change is as serious a crisis as COVID-19, and almost two-thirds or those surveyed think the climate needs to be a priority in the economic recovery. 

The French assembly’s case on climate change was helped by the Green Party’s unexpected success in local elections over the weekend, when its candidates gained control of cities including Lyon, Bordeaux and Strasbourg.

These assemblies can show more problem-solving capability than elected representatives, who are generally a more homogenous group with “blindspots” and feel pressure to vote along party lines, Conn wrote, adding, “There is a diversity of views and ways of thinking, insight, imagination and experience that results in more legitimate decisions being made.”

These assemblies “give agency and legitimacy in decisions that affect citizens’ lives,” according to Conn. “There is a need to find new ways to find common ground and take action — particularly true for issues that are value-based, require trade-offs and demand long-term solutions,” she wrote.

Some would like to see these citizen assemblies expanded to include more members of the public.

“I support good practice #CitizensAssembly process (like @Conv_Citoyenne) but think how could more people be involved?” tweeted Paul Vittles, who runs his own success coaching company in the U.K. “Imagine 1000s of groups of citizens all round the country having ‘everyday deliberations.’”

Photo by Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images