XR Scotland’s statement on Scotland’s Climate Citizens Assembly’s Interim Report

We believe in the potential power of deliberative democracy; to bypass the party political impasse and make way for the real change we so desperately need. This is why we pushed for a Citizens Assembly on climate change to happen and then worked as part of the Stewarding Group. We felt that we had to leave the stewarding group because we saw a process that had been co-opted by a commitment to the status quo: to not rock the boat.  

Scotland’s Climate Assembly has today presented some strong initial individual goals which are, as a whole, an inadequate response to the scale of this crisis. 

This is due to the set-up, design and facilitation of the Assembly. While the question was a good one, the way the evidence was presented and the ‘learning journey’ constructed for members meant that the root causes of the crisis – the economic and political system – were given little coverage, and attention was focussed on behaviour change. 

We are in the sixth mass extinction; a severe climate emergency caused by the profit-driven economic system which needs to radically change. As David Attenborough said last year on the BBC; “Our economic system has been based on the profit principle, that you have to come out at the end of each year having made a profit, and the bigger the profit, the better it is. In the short term that works, but it ends with disaster.”

It is clear that the truly dire scale of the climate emergency was not presented. In lead science communicator Iain Stewart’s only presentation on climate science in weekend one, he skated past the single mention of the likelihood of our world warming by 4.8c this century – without offering any context. To be very clear, 4.8c warming is utterly catastrophic and could make this planet uninhabitable for half of the global population. 

It appears that Assembly deliberations have been guided by the government’s own target of NET zero by 2045, despite hearing from the eminent climate scientist, Kevin Anderson, that Scotland needs to get to REAL zero by 2035 to do its fair share. 

Lack of action on climate change has not happened by accident. Powerful actors such as the fossil fuel industry have had great influence on policy, behaviour and public debate. However, assembly members were not given the space to collectively and explicitly decide how to stop those responsible for driving this crisis. This is despite hearing from climate scientist Julia Steinberger that “the fossil fuel industries knew that they were driving climate change and refused to tell anyone about it, . . . and still, to this day, receive a lot of subsidies from us”. 

After only two weekends of deliberation together, Assembly members were split into three groups to look at different areas of life in Scotland. The recommendations therefore focus on useful specifics related to housing, diet, transport, energy and so on. But these solutions need to connect together. Without looking at the economic and political structures which all this hangs on, these recommendations will be unable to address the challenge we face.

What gives us hope is that after carefully reviewing the evidence presented, assembly members reached 90%+ agreement on many key recommendations. Scotland’s CCA has shown the overwhelming willingness of a representative sample of the Scottish population to go beyond business as usual.

What happens next is key: who is going to be accountable for the delivery of these recommendations? Will they be passed from politicians to civil servants and ultimately ignored? Picked over to choose just the ones that can be implemented without treading on the toes of vested interests? Conveniently forgotten after the elections? 

We know that party politics and politicians are stuck in the status quo and have a track record of being unable to respond effectively to this crisis. 

The climate emergency requires a complete overhaul of the structures in which we live. We can’t have a wellbeing economy AND an economy committed to profit for the few. We can’t do growth AND degrowth. We can’t have fairness within our borders without justice internationally. 

So, can we now put in place a citizens assembly on system change. One that is not run by the government, this time able to consider how we fundamentally change the structures of our politics and economy to address the multiple crises we face? To do so necessarily challenges the standard way of running the country and the economy. Are politicians – and all of us – up for that challenge?