A randomly selected citizens' assembly is to make proposals for achieving climate protection targets in the German state of Saarland. On 15 November 2023, the Saarland state parliament decided to set up the mini-public. The SPD and CDU were in favour, the far-right AfD abstained. Nine months after its establishment, the assembly is to submit proposals, which will then be discussed by the state parliament.
State Parliament President Heike Becker (SPD) suggested the format in her inaugural speech in April 2022 in order to make democracy more "inclusive" for citizens and counteract the low voter turnout.
"In a way, we are breaking new ground with the citizens' assembly. We are launching an experiment," said the President of Parliament during the debate on the mini public. "With the citizens' assembly, we are testing an instrument for more participation and involvement beyond the rituals and possibilities of everyday parliamentary life." A small majority of people are "dissatisfied with the way democracy works in this country", according to the parliamentary resolution.
Support from SPD, CDU and Greens
The SPD and CDU in the state parliament are in favour of the citizens' assembly. "We are strengthening the active, issue-orientated participation of citizens in critical topics," said Raphael Schäfer, Parliamentary Secretary of the CDU. "It's worth a try." Kira Braun, deputy leader of the SPD parliamentary group, said: "I believe that the citizens' assembly can also provide us with new impetus. We are opening our democratic window a little and letting in some fresh air. We will take up these recommendations and will probably incorporate many of them into the climate protection concept and translate them into concrete political action." The AfD parliamentary group will observe how the citizens' assembly is put together and what it does, announced parliamentary group leader Josef Dörr.
The Saarland Greens welcome the establishment of the citizens' assembly. State Chairman Volker Morbe said that the Greens had repeatedly called for the general public to be better involved in political decision-making. "This is extremely important, especially with regard to climate protection and the transformation process in Saarland." In addition, socially acceptable proposals could be developed there that would increase the acceptance of climate protection measures.
The question posed to the Citizens' Assembly "Climate Protection in Saarland" is: How can Saarland achieve the climate protection targets set out in the Saarland Climate Protection Act on the basis of the Paris Agreement, taking into account social, economic and ecological compatibility?
This is the focus of the Citizens' Assembly:
In addition to energy saving and energy efficiency, the generation and supply of renewable energies will be a key pillar of climate protection measures, especially in Saarland as an industrialised state. One question will also be how the climate-friendly restructuring of the energy supply can succeed beyond the expansion of renewable energies. Which energy-related measures are desirable and suitable for realising Saarland's climate protection goals?
There is great potential for saving energy in existing buildings. In winter, buildings release a lot of heat energy into the environment, whereas in summer, more and more energy is needed to cool buildings. There is a great need for action in existing buildings.
What measures are necessary and suitable to achieve the most climate-neutral management of the building stock possible, regardless of technology, and thus enable climate-friendly living and working?
Sustainable mobility means environmentally and climate-friendly means of transport. The transport sector accounts for a large proportion of climate-damaging greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, people in the country want to stay mobile.
This raises the following questions: How can means of transport become more climate-friendly and how can the switch to climate-friendly and efficient drive systems succeed? What steps should Saarland take to achieve sustainable mobility with lower emissions and reduced resource consumption?
Climate adaptation measures
While combating climate change is a global challenge, the consequences of climate change bring with them specific local problems that are the responsibility of the state. These consequences of global climate change have long since reached Saarland's municipalities: Flooding as a result of heavy rainfall, heat-related stress or the duration of dry periods are noticeably increasing. This raises the question of how Saarland can meet the challenges posed by the consequences of climate change and what measures need to be taken.
The citizens' assembly will consist of 51 people who will be randomly selected from all Saarlanders aged 14 and over whose primary residence is in Saarland. The random selection is intended to achieve a balanced participation with regard to criteria such as age, gender, regional distribution, community size and educational background.
Knowledge transfer by experts
The deliberations of the citizens' assembly are led by a neutral facilitation who ensures a balanced participation of the participants. The mini-public is supported by experts from academia and practice to provide the necessary knowledge and expert guidance. The aim is to provide as comprehensive and objective an overview as possible of the status and breadth of the discussion on the respective issue.
The deliberations of the citizens' assembly are made accessible to the public "in an appropriate form". The discussions and deliberations of the participants should take place in a protected space. The deliberations of the small groups customary in citizens' assemblies are therefore not public. Reports on the content of the non-public parts should only be made after the final votes on the assembly's recommendations.
Publicity and transparency
Representatives of the press should have access to the public meetings of the citizens' assembly. Members of parliament may attend public meetings of the assembly as listeners. If possible, all interested parties should be able to follow the meetings via internet broadcasts. Information, documents, presentations, statements and other material will also be made available to the public online.
Participants in the citizens' assembly will receive a lump sum of 100 euros per meeting day in person and 50 euros per meeting in digital form.
Citizens' assembly project centre
The citizens' assembly is supported by a "Citizens' Assembly Project Office" of the state parliament administration, which assists the external service provider commissioned with its implementation. As part of the assembly's remit, the participants should be able to exert sufficient influence on the focus of the content. The project office agrees on the concept and other issues of fundamental importance that arise during implementation with the steering group appointed by the State Parliament Presidium.
The work of the citizens' assembly is scientifically monitored. It serves to analyse the deliberations and recommendations for action with regard to the further development of the citizens' assembly as a participation instrument.
The path to parliament
Once the preparatory work has been completed, the Presidium sets up the Citizens' Assembly "Climate Protection in Saarland". Within nine months of its establishment, the assembly presents its recommendations for action in the form of a citizens' report.
This report will be debated in the plenary session of the state parliament. The intention is to refer the report to the Committee on the Environment, Climate, Mobility, Agriculture and Consumer Protection for lead deliberation. Other committees may be consulted for joint deliberation. The results of the parliamentary deliberations on the citizens' assembly's recommendations for action will then be made available to the participants of the mini-public
Climate assemblies worldwide
The climate assembly in Saarland is the first in a large German federal state. Previously, there were already local climate assemblies in the Freiburg region, in Arnsberg, Bergisch Gladbach, Berlin, Bonn, Duisburg, Erlangen, Frankfurt/Main, Constance, Mannheim, Neumünster, Offenburg, Osterburg, Schorndorf and Stuttgart. More than 100 climate assemblies have taken place worldwide, from the local to the global level.