Weekend one of Oxford Citizens Assembly on Climate Change concludes

Published: Tuesday, 1st October 2019

The UK’s first full citizens assembly on climate change commenced in Oxford last weekend.

The Assembly were tasked with answering the question – should Oxford seek to achieve net zero carbon sooner than the 2050 deadline set by Government?

The first of two days saw Assembly members introduced to the challenges in tackling climate change, hearing from 27 expert speakers who set out the scale of the issue and addressed the range of options to reduce emissions from buildings, transport, waste, and energy production as well as the role of carbon offsetting and importance of protecting biodiversity.

The weekend was opened by Councillor Tom Hayes, Cabinet Member for Zero Carbon Oxford who highlighted the purpose of the Assembly – to make recommendations to the City Council to be considered for adoption, which will inform a new sustainability strategy.

All the presentations were live-streamed on the Oxford City Council Facebook page, and videos and presentations are available at the Oxford Citizens Assembly webpage.


Across the two days, Assembly members explored the five themes: buildings, transport, the role for renewables, offsetting and biodiversity, and how to reduce waste – with presentations from expert speakers and panellists.

Following the presentations, Assembly members were able to ask questions to speakers and panellists about the topic areas.

The presenters and panellists who addressed the Assembly:

Day One:

Introduction to Climate Change

“Climate change is like a train crash going to happen and all young people know that they’re on that train... but you have the power in your hands to divert the tracks.”
Linnet Drury, Climate Campaigner and student at Oxford Spires Academy

“£6 trillion per year would be the cost of scrubbing out the CO2 from the atmosphere. If that is required, we can be sure the next generation will not thank us for that.”
Myles Allen, Environmental Change Institute

  • Linnet Drury, Climate Campaigner and student at Oxford Spires Academy - Why is climate change important?
  • Myles Allen, Environmental Change Institute - What are the impacts of climate change? The scale of the problem global to local 
  • Tara Clarke, Climate Outreach - What impacts will we experience?

What can we do about Climate Change?

“How hard is it for Oxford to go faster? The good news it is easier for Oxford as a city to go faster, as complex areas such as aviation and heavy industry wouldn’t be included. Electric vehicles could be key for Oxford – we are now confident that it will be cheaper to buy and run electric vehicles than petrol vehicles. So, it’s not a case of whether we will switch, just when. If you wanted to go faster as a city you can - by putting in more charging points.”
Jenny Hill, Committee on Climate Change

“You don’t need to be a climate scientist to know there are impacts of climate change around the world. You can see what is happening with 1oC warming. We live in an unequal world - where you live determines your ability to deal with climate change. There is an urgency to deal with this much quicker than 2050.”
Asad Rehman, War on Want

  • Jenny Hill, Committee on Climate Change - What does net zero actually mean?
  • Asad Rehman, War on Want – Inequality and climate justice – a global perspective
  • Barbara Hammond Low Carbon Hub - Oxford’s response to climate change so far
  • Tim Sadler, Oxford City Council - Oxford City Council’s priorities and responsibilities for supporting our citizens and shaping our environment

Waste Reduction (Theme one)

“If food waste was a country, it would be the third biggest emitter of greenhouse gases after the USA and China.”
Trewin Restorick, Hubbub

“Here in Oxford, 30% of food waste is going into the green bins.”
Maria Warner, Oxford Direct Services

  • Expert speaker: Trewin Restorick, Hubbub
  • Panellist: Maria Warner, Oxford Direct Services
  • Panellist: Henry Owen, Commmunity Action Group

Buildings (Theme two)

“Is the ultimate goal simply to create zero carbon buildings or is the ultimate goal getting our buildings up to the right standard as a stepping stone to achieving zero carbon? You can get any building to zero carbon by installing heat pumps and solar panels, but it might still be damp, drafty, have high running costs and lead to ill-health in its occupants. That would be wrong.”
Alex Baines, The Design Buro

“The industrialisation of the building industry is happening too slowly. There are already innovations in the building sector using laser cutting of materials offsite and then bringing them on site and constructing like a puzzle. That means there is almost no waste on site and better constructed, more energy efficient buildings. The wider building industry needs to learn from this, because at the moment it’s still a cottage industry.”
Rajat Gupta, Oxford Institute for Sustainable Development (OISD)

“We can’t look at buildings in isolation, we have to look at how people use them. If we are going to be a net zero city, we need to be net zero citizens, and think about everything we do that contributes to the carbon. That includes turning down our thermostats and not using a car when we could cycle.”
David Hancock, Infrastructure and Projects Authority

  • Expert speaker: Alex Baines, The Design Buro
  • Panellist: Dr David Hancock, Infrastructure and Projects Authority
  • Panellist: Caroline Green, Oxford City Council
  • Panellist: Rajat Gupta, Oxford Institute for Sustainable Development (OISD)

Day Two:

Transport (Theme Three)

“In reality, government and local government have limited influence over what happens with transport. Transport in Britain is really commercialised and deregulated, so we have to work with the privately owned transport operators to work out how we solve the problems to make a transport system that works for everyone. We can design some of the rules and regulations on how the network works; but main thing about how people interact with transport is through the services, most of which are commercially operated. So we’re working together.”
Llewelyn Morgan, Oxfordshire County Council

“I think the future is on two wheels and isn’t necessarily about the electric vehicle – they don’t solve issues such as congestion and road safety in this medieval city.”
Chris Benton, Pedal & Post

“Who do we design our transport systems for in the city? We need to think about low income workers such as caterers and cleaners in my college who often travel in a long way because they can’t afford to live in the city and have to travel on bus services outside the normal nine-to-five work day. They have really arduous journeys and that is an issue. We need to think about children, including those with complex needs and elderly people, including those with dementia. If we think about them when we design our transport systems, then we’ll build systems that work for most people. These social questions need to be addressed as well as the environmental issues.”
Tim Schwanen, Transport Studies Unit

  • Expert speaker: Llewelyn Morgan, Oxfordshire County Council
  • Panellist: Sukky Choongh-Campbell, Society of Manufacturers & Traders
  • Panellist: David Beesley, Oxford Office Furniture 
  • Panellist: Chris Benton, Pedal & Post
  • Panellist: Luke Marion, Oxford Bus Company
  • Panellist: Tim Schwanen, Transport Studies Unit

Offsetting and Biodiversity (Theme Four)

“Nature itself does have a value because it provides benefits for all of us. It’s not just nice to have, it’s our natural capital assets that provide many essential services – our pollination, our carbon sequestration, our food, our recreation.”
Kathy Willis, University of Oxford

“There is no substitute for reducing your direct emissions at source. However, you will still have a residual footprint that you may want to reduce through planting trees or other forms of offsetting. If you are going to fly, if you are going to drive that high-emitting vehicle, then you should absolutely take responsibility for reducing your residual emissions.”
Edward Hanrahan, Climate Care

  • Expert speaker: Professor Kathy Willis, University of Oxford
  • Panellist: Fiona Tavner, Oxford Friends of the Earth
  • Panellist: Edward Hanrahan, Climate Care

Renewable Energy (Theme Five)

“84% of this country’s greenhouse emissions are down to the use of energy. It is not a trivial problem to address, because a modern society depends critically on energy. A power station might typically operate for 50 years, and so the rate of change in the energy sector is much slower than in other areas.”
Nick Eyre, Environmental Change Institute

“The majority of our housing was built before First World War and there needs to be support for bringing that building stock up to standard. In those areas where it is rented we need to be really clear that landlords need to be required to provide housing stock that is efficient.”
Carole Souter, Oxford Preservation Trust

  • Expert speaker: Nick Eyre, Environmental Change Institute
  • Panellist: Chris Jardine, Joju
  • Panellist: Carole Souter, Oxford Preservation Trust
  • Panellist: Barbara Hammond, Low Carbon Hub

Presentations and videos from the weekend can be found at the citizens assembly website.

Assembly members

In line with best practice, 50 Assembly participants were recruited through a stratified random process, creating a ‘mini-public’ broadly representative of the demographics of the city’s population.

Residents were not able to apply to become an Assembly member, but as the Oxford’s postcode address file was used for selection, all local residents had the potential to be invited to participate.

The size of the Assembly enables citizens with diverse backgrounds and perspectives to come together in detailed discussion on a common issue.

To ensure we had a genuinely representative a sample of Oxford’s population a range of selection criteria were applied, including gender, age, ethnicity, disability and area of the city.

Additional data on participants was also monitored, including socio-economic group, employment status, educational attainment and political viewpoint – but this was not used to select or deny participation. The 2011 Census was used to draw up the target quota for the Citizen Assembly.

Download our document with the breakdown of the demographics for the Assembly members at the Oxford Citizens Assembly on Climate Change.

Assembly Member Reflections

Following the presentations and discussions across the weekend, Assembly members were asked for their perspectives on the overall challenge, as well as their thoughts on how to prioritise the five themes based on the information provided over the weekend.

During the second weekend, which will be taking place on Saturday 19 and Sunday 20 October, Assembly members will be introduced to specific questions around particular trade-offs. The questions will span areas that the Council has direct control, where it can work in partnership with other statutory bodies, and where it can influence others.

“The first weekend of the Oxford Citizens Assembly on Climate Change was fascinating and along with Assembly members I learned a lot about the challenges and also some of the great work already happening in the city to tackle it.

“I would like to thank the hard work of Ipsos MORI, City Council staff, staff at the Saïd Business School, the speakers and panellists who shared their expertise, and the participants who gave up their time to attend the Assembly.

“We will be taking on-board the comments and feedback from Assembly members for our second weekend, and we are looking forward to reading the recommendations that will be produced from this process.”
Councillor Susan Brown, Leader of Oxford City Council

To find out more visit our Oxford Citizens Assembly on Climate Change pages.