The city of Berlin will convene the first "bottom-up" citizens' assembly in Germany. On 29 April 2021, the Environment Committee of the House of Representatives complied with a popular initiative calling for a randomly selected climate assembly in the German capital. The Senate Department for the Environment, Transport and Climate Protection is now to work out the exact structure of the citizens' assembly and its sortition procedure.
On 2 December 2020, the initiative "Klimaneustart Berlin" (Climate Restart) had handed over 32,011 signatures for a popular initiative to convene a climate assembly to the House of Representatives. Despite the restrictions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, thousands of people had signed the demand. On 20 January 2021, the Berlin Senate had determined the admissibility of the popular initiative "Klimaneustart Berlin". Of 31,902 verified signatures, 24,812 were valid. Because the necessary minimum number of 20,000 signatures was reached, 2,039 more signatures were not verified.
"Berlin is acting far too slowly to achieve the goal of a liveable, climate-neutral city. That is why we are now taking climate protection into our own hands," Rabea Koss, spokesperson for Klimaneustart Berlin, said. The climate crisis requires a massive transformation of society, which can only be overcome with the involvement of the population.
What a climate assembly does
A citizens' assembly can, among other things, work out what socially just measures for the climate-neutral Berlin of the future should look like. It makes recommendations for politicians and thus complements parliamentary democracy in a meaningful way when there are conflicting social goals. The members of the Citizens' Assembly are selected at random and represent a cross-section of the Berlin population - according to characteristics such as gender, age, educational attainment and place of residence. The participants receive balanced information from experts and develop well-founded recommendations on this basis. The multi-stage random selection ensures that all relevant perspectives are taken into account.
"The ideas developed in the Citizens' Assembly will form the basis for the upcoming revision of Berlin's energy and climate protection programme. A Climate Assembly offers a great opportunity to work out the measures with which Berlin can embark on a reduction path in line with Paris. Berlin could become a role model for other cities, as announced by the governing parties in their coalition agreement," explained Felix Nasser, one of the confidants of Klimaneustart Berlin.
Environment Senator Regine Günther made it clear in the Environment Committee of the House of Representatives: "As the Senate, we extremely welcome the fact that such a Climate Assembly is being set up." It would "give much more acceptance and reach broader sections of society than would be possible from our side." Felix Nasser, confidant of the popular initiative "Klima-Bürger:innenrat Berlin": "We are relieved about the decision of the MPs to use the potential of Berliners to tackle the climate crisis!"
"We have to be faster than climate change. We can only do this with all conceivable expertise and understanding from the entire population. Politics wins comrades-in-arms, not opponents," explains Dr. Cornelia Auer, climate scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and also a trusted member of the initiative.
"Need for a fundamental transformation"
Environment Senator Regine Günther confirms the need for a "fundamental transformation of our society and our way of life": "Society will have to be different." In transport, she says, there will have to be significant changes. And in buildings, she says, it has only just begun.
"Citizens' assemblies are a help for politicians to generate social acceptance for the necessary decisions in climate protection. It is important that the House of Representatives and the Senate put the citizens' assembly on track before the end of this election period," demands Oliver Wiedmann, spokesperson for Mehr Demokratie, supporter organisation of the people's initiative.
On 6 May 2021, the House of Representatives had confirmed the decision of the Environment Committee to convene a Climate Assembly.