Citizens’ Assemblies on Climate (ACC) are one of four basic demands made by the international movement Extinction Rebellion (XR) to confront the climate, ecological and energy emergency that is already upon us.
To arrive at this demand, XR has collected the many and varied experiences of Citizen Assemblies carried out in different countries, regions and cities of the world, as one of the formulas used to directly return politics to citizens through civic lottery and informed and deliberate democracy. Faced with the paralysis and the manifest insufficiency of the institutions who represent politics through parties, it becomes absolutely essential to rise above the absolute control of these institutions which are driven by large economic and financial lobbies, as well as populist polarisation that has only the interests of the next election at heart.
This political dynamic has existed since the 70s when science confirmed uniquivocally the consequences of development based on energy from fossil fuels and globalisation based on unlimited growth. Governments and parliaments around the world have resoundingly failed to protect the public during every decade since, in their responsibility to safeguard the survival of present and future generations; permanently postponing the necessary systemic changes by prioritising the survival of economic interests of an increasingly powerful minority.
Today, despite the fact that in 2019 all the democratic institutions made declarations about the climate emergency, we continue to live with a politics that, in practice, remains in denial. The latest examples of this were the recent decrees on energy saving – made in the middle of the most persistent heat wave since records began – in which no reference to the climate emergency was made, and the solution proposed was to increase investments in the fossil fuel industry.
Since 2019, Rebel·lió o Extinció (Extinction Rebellion) has been holding protests and advocating for the overthrow of the unsuccessful dynamics of politics in our own region, and an outdated, paralysing Climate Law, demanding that Catalan institutions set up a Citizen’s Assembly for the Climate, in order to promote a wide social and political consensus in favour of an indispensable, essential, and just, ecosocial transition.
In the summer of 2020, 32 environmental, social, and neighbourhood organisations supported a campaign for a Citizens’ Assembly on Climate in Catalunya – made through an informative website – and presented the proposal with a rally in front of Parliament. In the last session of the Climate Emergency Monitoring Commission of the previous legislation, on November 27 2020, they approved the proposal.
However, it was not until June 4th, 2021, following the chaining and occupation of the Department of the Environment by Rebel·lió o Extinció, that the new Minister of Climate Action promised to “convene a ACC during the first 100 days of government.”
Fifteen months later and a few months before a new electoral cycle, both the Government of the Generalitat and the Barcelona City Council have announced the holding of separate Citizens’ Assemblies for the Climate in their two areas of action. The one in Barcelona starts in September 2022 while the Catalan one is being decided now and will take place from the spring of 2023.
Given these announcements announcements, we, Rebel·lió o Extinció, along with other entities of the Network for Climate Justice that have been in dialogue with those political institutions to put forward our criteria and points of view, want to publicly state our position on these forthcoming ACCs.
1. Firstly, we celebrate the fact that both Catalan political Institutions have finally backed the ACC. We are fully aware that this could result in greenwashing, because the climate emergency declarations were at the time not effectively translated into the necessary changes. But we value this call in the sense that it implies an initial acknowledgement of the insufficiency of the current policy framework for the formulation of the necessary decisions. Consistent with this first recognition, other measures will have to follow to give prominence to citizenship in a moment as exceptional as the one we are in.
2. A key aspect of ACCs – which is being resisted by institutions – is their binding nature, so that the measures they propose are translated into effective legislature and government actions. Governments defend themselves by claiming that no legal framework exists that considers the issue, but with this they avoid the commitment that is put before them, which is a political commitment. In both Catalan and Barcelona ACCs, they have put in place mechanisms that decide “a posteriori” the degree that the measures proposed will be executed, and the commitment to give a public explanation in the case that they are rejected. But we understand that the only firm guarantee we have is that active citizens keep pushing for an effective deal.
3. And for citizens to be able to put effective pressure on the institutions, it is key that the ACCs do not stay within 4 walls and within the 100 or 150 people selected for representation (as with the “phantom” ACC held a few months ago by the Spanish government), but that there is real communication and information available to all citizens on the contents, topics and the measures that are proposed.
4. We consider it very important that the task entrusted that the ACC is very clear in the explanation of the problem and that it explicitly contemplates the commitments of the international community and emission reduction institutions from now until 2030 in order to not exceed the increase of 1.5 degrees in global average temperatures. We think that an even greater reduction is needed, but to not meet this minimum would give a message to society that today, in 2022, our institutions, despite their statements, are not even ready to achieve what they themselves have promised.
5. We see these first calls for ACC in Catalunya not as goals, but the beginning of a process that must go from less to more, both in terms of measures against the climate, ecological, and energy emergency and in regards to a deeper exploration of the citizen democracy that is essential to addressing it.
The climate, ecological, and energy emergency is no longer a scenario of the future, but an alarming reality that we all feel at present. The just eco social transition must also start now. Rebel·lió o Extinció will closely follow the processes before, during, and after these ACCs and maintains its commitment to promote information, active citizenship, and non-violent direct action, refusing to accept greenwashing.
Rebel·lió o Extinció (Extinction Rebellion) Barcelona,
19th September 2022.