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UK citizens' assembly wants 'fair' path to 2050 net-zero emissions goal

Thu, 10th Sep 2020 00:01

By Laurie Goering

LONDON, Sept 10 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Taxes on
frequent fliers, more wind and solar power, and better
protection for nature should be key policies in Britain's push
to meet its promise to cut emissions to net zero by 2050, a
citizens' assembly advised the country's lawmakers on Thursday.

But its final recommendations in a report to parliament did
not back nuclear power, efforts to capture and store
climate-changing carbon emissions, or limits on driving and
flying.

The assembly said future changes should follow principles of
fairness - particularly for those less able to adapt - as well
as freedom of choice, and strong, consistent government
leadership on climate action with cross-party support.

"They didn't want policies to change with every successive
government," noted Chris Shaw, parliamentary director for the
Climate Assembly UK, a 108-member panel created to provide
citizen input on meeting Britain's climate change goals.

The assembly, selected to reflect diversity in Britain's
demographics and views on climate change, met over a series of
weekends from January to May - with the COVID-19 crisis pushing
some sessions online - to learn about options to cut emissions.

Their recommendations, including on how to handle the
pandemic recovery, aim to help parliament understand which
shifts most voters back, and which ideas may need a rethink.

“This report is a striking tribute to the common sense of
the British public," said Tom Burke, chairman of independent
climate change think-tank E3G.

Panel members said, for instance, that they supported
efforts to cut meat and dairy consumption by 20-40% - but the
dietary changes needed to be voluntary and achieved through
education and government promotion.

They backed energy-efficiency upgrades for homes and new
heating technologies, but asked that each house be retrofitted
"in one go" to cut disruption for occupants.

Homeowners, depending on where they live and other factors,
should be able to choose among different technologies, from heat
pumps to hydrogen-powered heat and networked heating systems, as
the country moves away from gas-fired boilers, the panel said.

Members did not support limits on travel - by air, road or
other means - but preferred more flexible ideas like expanding
public transport and taxing frequent and long-distance fliers.

They said sales of vehicles that run on fossil fuels should
end earlier than planned - by 2030 to 2035 at the latest - but
expected many people would continue to use electric cars.

OPEN TO ALL

Rebecca Willis, a Lancaster University professor and one of
the experts who helped assembly members understand the options
for tackling climate change, said most of their choices were
"strongly influenced by people's views on fairness".

"They wanted to make sure policies and strategies didn't
disadvantage certain groups," she said, from livestock farmers
who might sell less meat, to rural communities with less access
to public transport.

"They were keen to make sure the solutions worked for
different sorts of people in different areas," she said.

Where the panel members most strongly disagreed with current
government policy was on plans to capture climate-changing
emissions - from industries and the air - and put them into
long-term storage underground.

Some said they saw such technological solutions as
"politically more convenient than the behaviour-change options
that are needed" and likely to let climate-polluting fossil fuel
industries carry on without making needed changes.

"If net zero is meant to be about securing the long-term
(and) our children and grandchildren's futures, then this seems
like simply pushing the problem under the carpet for others to
solve later," one wrote.

Just 22% of assembly members supported using "carbon capture
and storage" (CCS) technology with fossil fuel power plants as a
source of energy for the country.

CCS is currently a cornerstone of government plans to lower
emissions, despite a lack of commercially viable proposals.

Most of the panel preferred to remove carbon from the air by
planting or protecting trees, peatlands and other natural
systems, which absorb and store it, and using more wood in
construction, which locks in emissions.

Nearly four in five members agreed or strongly agreed that
the government should use stimulus funds and other COVID-19
recovery efforts to help achieve its binding net-zero goal.

That should include supporting low-carbon industries, and
ensuring any money for polluting companies comes with conditions
that they should cut emissions - something that has so far
largely not happened, analysts say.

"There is an opportunity to change things for the better
during this time of adjustment and flux. This is a window that
we must use," one assembly member wrote in the report.
(Reporting by Laurie Goering @lauriegoering; editing by Megan
Rowling. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the
charitable arm of Thomson Reuters. Visit http://news.trust.org/climate)

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