The world's first permanent climate assembly began its work in Brussels on 3 February 2023. It will permanently accompany and co-determine local climate policy. Although there have already been many climate assemblies around the world in recent years, they have only ever met for a short time and not permanently.
In the Brussels-Capital Region of Belgium, 100 citizens have now the opportunity to put issues on the agenda of a climate assembly and propose solutions to the problems associated with them. Citizens will also monitor what happens to these proposals. Because the members of the citizens' assembly will be changed every year, more and more Brussels citizens will thus be involved in Brussels' climate policy every year
Several citizen panels
The Brussels Climate Assembly consists of a succession of several citizens' panels. Each panel is composed of one hundred randomly selected citizens who deliberate and make recommendations on a sub-theme of Brussels climate policy. The selection is made according to gender, age, place of residence and socio-economic status in order to obtain a reflection of the Brussels population.
However, citizens not only make recommendations, but also actively follow what happens with them. The model provides for a commission that monitors how politicians deal with the recommendations. The Brussels government has undertaken to thoroughly examine all recommendations from citizens and to report transparently on what happens with them. Three months after receiving the recommendations, the government must submit a first report. After one year, a final assessment will be made. If the government then decides not to implement a recommendation, it must give detailed reasons for this decision.
Randomly selected citizens determine topics
The topics of the citizens' panels are chosen each time by a group of 25 citizens randomly selected from the previous citizens' panel. In the process, the citizens of the first panel pass the baton to the participants of the second panel. This ensures the continuity of the process.
To start the process, the topic of the first citizens' panel was exceptionally decided by the government. Thereafter, the decision rests with the citizens. All participating citizens receive information on the respective topic from independent experts. In addition, participants can also seek information from civil society organisations and interest groups.
Cooperation with government and administration
The Brussels Climate Assembly will work closely with government and administration. This is to increase the impact of the recommendations on regional climate policy.
In November 2022, 10,000 randomly selected residents of the city were invited to participate in this assembly. From the applications of the invitees that followed, a group of people was put together that is a reflection of the city's population according to criteria such as gender, age, place of residence, level of education, occupation, etc.
Procedure developed by G1000
The procedure for the Brussels Climate Assembly was developed by the organisation G1000, G1000 is a Belgian platform for democratic innovation. Ben Eersels is project coordinator of G1000 and very satisfied with the result. "When designing this project, we organized a multi-day design meeting with the members of the Brussels administration and national and international democracy experts. Together, we created a process that meets the highest international standards, set by the OECD. During the design process, there was constant consultation with the government of Brussels.”
Alain Maron, Brussels Minister for Climate Change and Participatory Democracy, explains the background of the project: "Our society will change drastically in the coming decades. In order to involve as many Brussels citizens as possible in this change and to strengthen social cohesion, I have asked the experts of the G1000 and our administration to develop a new democratic instrument. This permanent climate assembly is the result."
"Example for the whole world"
"With this permanent Citizens' Assembly, Brussels sets an example for governments all over the world," says Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, candidate for the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and professor of environmental sciences at UCLouvain University. He said that just change is only possible if citizens are also involved in climate policy.
"There is a big gap between what citizens think is necessary and what politicians actually do. Citizens’ assemblies are a very good instrument to narrow that gap," says.Jan Rotmans, professor at Erasmus University Rotterdam.
Climate change requires democratic change
Previous experiments with climate assemblies have been one-off projects. As a result, the impact has been limited. Climate change, however, requires real democratic change.
"Brussels is a city of over 1.2 million people, 180 nationalities, and 100 spoken languages. If this can be done in Brussels, it can be done anywhere - particularly on an issue like climate which affects everyone," says Claudia Chwalisz, founder and executive director of DemocracyNext and former head of innovative citizen participation at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). DemocracyNext calls on cities around the world to learn from and follow the Brussels example.
Permanent climate assembly in Milan
Parallel to the establishment of the lclimate assembly in Brussels, a permanent citizens' assembly on climate policy was also convened in Milan, Italy. It accompanies the implementation and evaluation of the climate and sustainability measures adopted by the city administration. The municipality is committed to responding to the proposals of the citizens' assembly in a timely manner.
The permanent climate assembly is composed of 90 citizens who rotate at regular intervals. The randomly selected participants join the work of the citizens' assembly for a period of six consecutive months. Beforehand, they have received a short training on the topics under discussion.
Recommendations on air and climate plan
The citizens' assembly meets in plenary session every two months. At each professionally facilitated session, experts assist the participants of the assembly.
In between the plenary sessions, the participants discuss and formulate recommendations and proposals in small groups for the concrete implementation of the various measures envisaged in the city's air and climate plan.