189 organisations demand climate assembly

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In an open letter to the Environment Committee of the German Bundestag, 189 organisations call for a citizens' assembly on climate change. The signatories include associations such as the German Nature Conservation Ring, the Climate Alliance Germany, Fridays for Future, German Zero and the Consumer Initiative. They appeal to the Environment Committee to push for a sortition-based citizens assembly on the climate crisis. On 26 November 2020, the open letter was handed over to Sylvia Kotting-Uhl (Greens) as Chair of the Environment Committee.

In the letter, the signatories refer to the Citizens' Assembly on "Germany's Role in the World" requested by the Bundestag's Council of Elders, which will take place in January and February 2021. "We welcome this important step towards complementing our representative democracy with sortition-based citizens'  participation. At the same time, we appeal to you to use the enormous potential of the citizens' assembly as an instrument for our most urgent and greatest societal challenges as soon as possible: stemming the climate catastrophe and ecological collapse," write the initiators of the open letter.

"The right signal from politics to the population"

Coping with climate change requires drastic changes in our way of life. The support and participation of the population required for this could be achieved through a randomly selected citizens' assembly, which would represent a cross-section of society on a small scale. The principle of deliberation - an equal and transparent consultation of participants on the basis of balanced information across different contexts and lifeworlds - creates mutual understanding and is an ideal basis for solutions oriented towards the common good. "At a time when disenchantment with politics is clearly evident, we believe that the introduction of assemblies of citizens' representatives is a correct and consistent signal from politics to the population," the letter to the Bundestag states.

Environment Committee Chair Kotting-Uhl welcomed the initiative for a climate assembly. "It is great what they have put together," she said upon receiving the open letter. Politicians, she said, are afraid to ask too much of society and the economy when it comes to climate protection. "A citizens' assembly says you don't have to be afraid to impose on society, it asks for that imposition," Kotting-Uhl said. Democracy must be developed further, she said. She will pass on the open letter to the environment committee and the federal government.

" We have to take the citizens with us"

"We have to take the citizens with us. We will not achieve the climate turnaround if we do not have the citizens on board," said Dr Anja Weisgerber, Climate Commissioner of the CDU/CSU.  All important decisions must have the acceptance of the citizens. She would find it exciting if the Citizens' Assembly "Germany's Role in the World" took up the issue of climate.

"We have to explain things and get people involved," said Michael Thews (SPD), Vice-Chair of the Environment Committee. He said he was curious to see how citizens' assemblies work. His parliamentary group is happy to participate in the discussion about it.

Many people not involved in politics

Lisa Badum, spokesperson for the Greens on climate policy, reminded the audience that many people are not involved in politics. "But we want to know their opinion." Future generations are not sitting at the table in the climate debate. Another argument for a citizens' assembly is that society is breaking up into more and more small bubbles. "The bubbles need to come together and discuss with each other without prejudice," Badum said.

Lukas Köhler (FDP), chairman of the environment committee, showed himself to be a "big fan of deliberative discourse". A broad discussion in society is needed. It is important to explain the basis for the discussion. "We need to discuss what effects the Citizens' Assembly will have," said Köhler. "The question is how we complement democracy, you have to be very careful what you do."

"You have our support"

"Direct democracy is a core concern for Linke," explained their environmental policy spokesman Ralph Lenkert. He already knows the principle of citizens' assemblies from a construction project in Jena. Lenkert also wants citizens' assemblies for people who do not believe in climate change, but also hopes for understanding for people in places where a bus only runs once a week. "You have our support," promised the Left Party MP.

Bruno Wipfler of Fridays for Future reminded the audience that it was important to stick to the 1.5 degree target in climate protection. Many politicians feared that voters would resent decisions on this. "Civic councils can help here, they can be a catalyst to kick things off and speed things up, weighing up options for action. This makes decisions much easier to accept," Wipfler believes. In this respect, citizens' assemblies have great potential.

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Background: Climate action through citizens' assemblies?