Amsterdam Citizens' Assembly recommends climate forest

16. November 2021
Claudio Ar / Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Amsterdam should plant a new forest and appoint a "climate mayor". These are two of the proposals of a citizens' assembly in which one hundred randomly selected citizens of the city developed a climate action plan.

On 15 November2021, the citizens' assembly participants had presented their 26 recommendations to sustainability councillor Marieke van Doorninck, including a plan for a new 1,000-hectare "climate forest" the size of today's Amsterdamse Bos, but located in the west of the city.

Fund for thermal insulation

Another proposal is to set up a fund filled by the city to make heat insulation of houses affordable. A "climate mayor" elected by the city council is to act as an ambassador for climate policy. Television presenter Floortje Dessing is among those being considered for the post.

The city council had convened the citizens' assembly because Amsterdam is lagging far behind in its climate goals of emitting 55 percent less greenhouse gases by 2030. In early 2021, it had become clear that the city would not achieve more than 37 per cent. The randomly selected assembly participants were given the task of closing this gap. Councillor Van Doorninck had promised in advance to forward all their proposals to the city council if they met certain conditions.

No fear of radical measures

Van Doorninck is impressed by the Citizens' Assembly recommendations. "You can see that the participating citizens are not afraid to propose radical measures. People believe that we should not postpone the fight against climate change. This opinion will help to create new measures that we need to reach our climate goals."

One proposal to achieve the climate change target is to require a 25 per cent green ratio in new building permits. An additional tourist tax of 25 euros per night for people arriving by plane and 3 euros for rail travellers is also recommended.

Using geothermal energy

Many other proposals of the Citizens' Assembly had already been discussed in the city council. For example, the proposal to quickly install more heating networks, preferably in combination with more geothermal energy, i.e. sustainable heat from underground. The Citizens' Assembly also recommends measures to make public transport more attractive and cars more expensive, for example through parking tickets.

The consultancy firm Berenschot has calculated the impact of all the measures proposed by the Citizens' Assembly. With a few exceptions, they would be enough to make up almost half of the shortfall in climate targets, about 7 per cent. The chairman of the Citizens' Assembly Alex Brenninkmeijer, former ombudsman, proudly emphasises that the hundred Amsterdam citizens sacrificed much of their free time for this. As a democratic experiment, he believes the Citizens' Assembly is worth repeating.

Support for local climate policy

The Citizens' Assembly is associated with the hope of gaining more support for local climate policy. Plans to build 17 wind turbines on the outskirts of the city had led to a storm of indignation in 2020. The proposal to build three additional wind turbines was supported by only 60 per cent of the Citizens' Assembly participants. The proposal thus failed, as it fell short of the required support of at least three quarters of the assembly members.

The 100 Amsterdam citizens produced their citizens' report on Climate Change in six face-to-face and online meetings over a two-week period. That was a very short period of time, says Brenninkmeijer. The participants felt under pressure because they had to compile the proposals very quickly.

How representative is the citizens' assembly?

It is also disputed how representative the Citizens' Assembly was. Although the participants had been randomly selected from all Amsterdam residents, not all had accepted the invitation. Therefore, not all population groups were equally well represented, Brenninkmeijer admits. "The mix could have been more diverse," he says. "You can't say that a photo of the Citizens' Assembly is one-to-one with a cross-section of Amsterdam's population."

Several assembly members had also ended their participation early because they found the work there too exhausting. Only 81 participants went through the entire procedure. This is also a lesson for the next Citizens' Assembly, says Brenninkmeijer. "If you want to have a hundred participants at the end, you have to start with 110". The researchers at the Hogeschool van Amsterdam hope to gain more insights of this kind from a comprehensive evaluation.

2,000 randomly selected citizens invited

The municipality of Amsterdam invited 2,000 randomly selected residents to participate in the Citizens' Assembly in early October 2021. 240 interested people had applied to participate. From these interested people, 100 Amsterdammers were finally selected for the assembly.

According to the municipal government, several of the 26 proposals made by the Citizens' Assembly go beyond the legal and financial limits of the city. These include proposals on property tax, tourism tax and full financial relief for residents and businesses that carry out thermal insulation. But the city administration also wants to examine these proposals.

City wants to implement ten proposals

The city administration believes that ten of the measures proposed by the Citizens' Assembly can contribute to reducing carbon emissions in Amsterdam. The city government would like to include these as new possible measures in the Climate Report 2022. After the City Council has discussed the Climate Report 2022, the measures can be included in the implementation of the Amsterdam Net Zero 2050 concept. The recommendations of the Citizens' Assembly will be discussed by the city council in February 2022.

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