This community could be about to change how communities in Wales help decide on climate policy.
In just a few days time Wales will host its very first Climate Assembly. It could be a game-changer in providing a model for how Wales sets policy on climate change in the future.
The event, held in Blaenau Gwent, and organised with the help of ERS Cymru, will see local residents gather online to discuss, deliberate and make recommendations to tackle climate change in their local area. But this isn’t just any online event.
The Assembly is made up of 50 randomly selected and demographically representative local residents. 10,000 invite letters were sent out in January, representing a third of all households in the local authority area. From those that responded, demographic information was collected including things like gender, ethnicity, the type of housing people lived in and their interest in climate change. All that allowed the Sortition Foundation to find participants who together broadly represent the local community.
Although a first for Wales, assemblies like this are commonplace internationally with Canada, France and the Republic of Ireland amongst the growing list of countries to have held these deliberative exercises. We’ve also seen a rise in climate focussed Assemblies here in the UK, bringing ordinary people together to help find solutions to one of the world’s biggest crises.
The Climate Assembly UK is currently being followed by Scotland’s Climate Assembly as well as many more local examples, such as Adur and Worthing Climate Assembly and Leeds’ Climate Change Citizens’ Jury, demonstrating the value of holding assemblies like these within a specific area.
For Blaenau Gwent, the Climate Assembly is a step towards involving people living in the community more in conversations about climate change, fairness and the future of their local area.
On Tuesday 2 March these 50 residents will gather for the first time to hear experts, discuss and deliberate. They will meet twice more with the assembly running over two weekends in March before making recommendations to answer the question:
“What should we do in Blaenau Gwent to tackle the climate crisis in a way that is fair and improves living standards for everyone?”
These recommendations will not sit in the draw – major organisations working in Blaenau Gwent will get them and start taking them forward.
One example of this is through a collaboration of the four housing associations in the area, providing housing for nearly a quarter of local residents, who are currently working together to retrofit their housing stock, an approach to decarbonising homes. The recommendations that come out of the assembly will be directly fed into this work, presented to the chief executives and boards of each housing association in mid-April.
Another is through the local Public Service Board, which is made up of public services working in Blaenau Gwent, such as the local authority, local health board, fire and rescue services and Natural Resources Wales. Their Climate Mitigation group has been closely involved as plans for this assembly are developed and they will consider the recommendations as part of their climate strategy.
What is already clear about this climate assembly is the cross-sector collaboration it has led to between anchor institutions in the area, the local authority, Welsh Government and the third sector. We estimate that we have well over 50 people volunteering their time to get this project off the ground, from those setting up the assembly, those helping to support participants to use technology, facilitators who will be on hand to assist members in their discussions and of course a huge number of speakers. These will include government ministers, academics, practitioners and residents in the local community.
In other words, this assembly has real clout and major backing – and could set a powerful example for the rest of the country in drawing up policies backed by communities themselves.
As the first session of the assembly approaches and our 50 assembly members gather for the first time, it’s hard not to feel optimistic that this can represent a step-change in how we have critical conversations around climate change in our communities and better involve those living in the area.
While this may be Wales’ first Climate Assembly, it will surely not be the last.
Support work like this in Wales by joining the ERS today