Citizens' Assembly: Children have a say on climate

24. June 2021

There are many citizens' assemblies with randomly selected adults. But now, for the first time, children were able to contribute their opinions in such an assembly. At the Climate Assembly in Scotland, the ideas of children from the age of 7 were in demand.

This was made possible by a cooperation with the Scottish Children's Parliament, which has more than 100 members. The children's recommendations include shortening working and school hours so that "people have more time to grow their own food, plant trees and repair things at home or in their environment". Furthermore, the children have suggested a national tree planting day as well as encouraging landowners to use their land to protect the environment. This includes the protection of peatlands.

100 children tackle climate change

Just over 100 children from across Scotland took part in the Children's Parliament's research for the Climate Assembly and spent five months learning the facts about climate change and sharing opinions and ideas about what Scotland should do to tackle the climate emergency declared by the government in 2019.

12 children - 'the investigators' - aged 9 - 12 led the 'investigation', looking at the facts with the support of climate experts and representing the views and ideas of the whole Children's Parliament to the adult Citizens' Assembly members in a series of short films. The adult Citizens' Assembly members praised the input provided by the children, which was incorporated into the Citizens' Assembly recommendations.

"Recommendations influenced by children"

"The children who took part in the Climate Assembly undoubtedly influenced the final recommendations in the report for the better, which just goes to show the difference children can, and do, make to our society each and every day," Cathy McCulloch, Co-Director of the Children's Parliament, commented. " It is our hope that their calls to action are heard, as they continue to campaign for a brighter future for themselves, their friends and family."

"My message to party leaders is that they take our calls forward. It’s our country, too, and we have the right to be heard and listened to," twelve-year-old Margaret, one of the 'investigators' of the Children's Parliament, said. If our calls were taken forward, we would want to be able to say: that was our call to action and stand proud of our country knowing that we are doing something about it.”

Great experience

Ellie, member of the Climate Assembly, also commented on the Children’s Parliament’s ‘investigation’: “It was great to hear from the Children's Climate Assembly. The clarity of their suggestions informed the way we framed some of the recommendations which we included in our report. It was also heart wrenching at times hearing them voice their concerns about the current situation and the urgency of the global situation.” 

Professor David Boyd, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Environment, said: “Every child has the right to live in a healthy and sustainable environment, which includes a safe climate. Children's ideas for addressing the climate emergency are clear, bold and exciting, and we have a duty as adults to listen and act."

81 recommendations

The Scottish Climate Assembly had submitted its recommendations to the parliament on 23 June 2021. The Citizens' Report of the 100  Assembly participants comprises 81 recommendations, adopted by large consensus, for achieving 16 key goals. The recommendations cover topics such as domestic heating, emissions, environmental impact in public procurement, land use and agriculture, taxation, transport (including air travel) and the economy.

Those randomly selected were a representation of the population in terms of age, gender, household income, ethnicity, place of residence, rural areas, disabilities and attitudes towards climate change. The Citizens' Assembly worked independently of the government and listened to more than 100 experts in seven online sessions.

Jobs, transport, housing and education

Among the Citizens' Assembly's recommendations are the creation of a National Nature Service aimed at creating jobs in rewilding and environmental protection, enhanced training and opportunities in green jobs, a program of public education on climate issues, and a single “oyster card” for Scotland that would help integrate the country’s transport system. Another recommendation is to retrofit all existing homes by 2030, with all new buildings to be required to meet highly energy efficient Passivhaus standards.

" As a nation we have the opportunity to be pioneers, by taking immediate action to empower our next generations to lead sustainable lives by setting up the framework now," the Assembly members write in their Citizens' Report. "As a society we will need to change and adapt to meet the challenges, and recognise that there will be costs. But failure to act now will mean greater expense, and more difficult changes in the future, in order to avoid catastrophic costs to the planet."

Recommendations carry weight

The Citizens' Assembly recommendations carry weight - the government submitted a comprehensive report on how it will respond to the proposals on 16 December 2021. The assembly members gathered again 4-6 February 2022 to  scrutinise the Government’s response in detail to decide if it meets their ambitions for bold and urgent action to tackle the climate emergency in a fair and effective way. The Climate Assembly response to the government report was published on 10 February 2022.

In their response to the government's report, assembly participants express overall disappointment that the government's response does not recognise the urgency of their recommendations. They say there are many pledges to “consider” and “explore”. "We would like a clearer roadmap, with more ambitious targets. We want the government to commit to more specific actions, targets and timescales and report back to us, so we are able to hold them to account," the assembly members wrote.

Continuous and sustained dialogue

In order to continue the important work of the Citizens' Assembly and the Children's Parliament, the participants agreed that it is essential to have an ongoing and sustained dialogue between the government, the assembly and the children. " We strongly believe the Scottish government can upscale their current commitments to meet the ambitions of our recommendations and shorten their current timescales".

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