A detailed report on the findings of the Oxford Citizens Assembly on Climate Change, the first of its kind in the UK, has been published.
The report, which has been produced by experts at Ipsos MORI who independently facilitated the Citizens Assembly on behalf of the City Council, summarises its findings and recommendations.
Following Oxford City Council’s declaration of a climate emergency in January 2019, the Oxford Citizens Assembly on Climate Change met over two weekends: 28 and 29 September, and 18 and 19 October.
Ipsos MORI recruited residents, who are broadly demographically representative of the city’s population, to take part in the Assembly – 42 attended both weekend sessions. A breakdown of Assembly member demographics can be found on the City Council’s website.
Across the two weekends, Assembly members heard from 27 expert speakers who set out the scale of the issue and addressed the range of options to address climate change and biodiversity.
The Assembly tested members’ ambition for taking forward carbon-reduction measures across five themes: buildings, transport, waste, renewable energy, and biodiversity and offsetting.
For each theme, members were presented with three visions of possible futures for Oxford – ranging from least ambitious to most ambitious – and their potential benefits and trade-offs. Members were then asked to vote on which of the future scenarios they would like to live in, and overwhelming preferred the most ambitious scenario.
Assembly members were also asked to vote on the question: “The UK has legislation to reach ‘net zero’ by 2050. Should Oxford be more proactive and seek to achieve ‘net zero’ sooner than 2050?” Thirty seven out of 41 of the Assembly members said ‘yes’.
Ipsos MORI’s headline findings were:
- The majority of Assembly members felt that Oxford should aim to achieve ‘net zero’ sooner than 2050. However, even among those who agreed with this, there was little consensus on when ‘net zero’ should be achieved
- There was widespread belief that Oxford should be a leader in tackling the climate crisis
- Assembly Members found a great deal of encouragement in the examples of what is already being done across Oxford to address climate change and meet the goal of becoming ‘net zero’
- Enhanced biodiversity was central to the overall ‘net zero’ vision of Oxford with increased flora and fauna in the city centre, along with more cycling, walking, and public transport, and far fewer cars
- The buildings sector should adopt improved building standards, widespread retrofitting, and more domestic and non-domestic energy needs being met by sustainable sources
- Around one in four to one in three Assembly Members rejected the most ambitious – and, therefore, challenging to achieve – visions of a future Oxford
- They were also perturbed by the extent to which the burden of change was – in their eyes – being placed on individuals
- There was, therefore, a sense that the council needs to communicate a shared vision and strategy to reaching ‘net zero’ that shows the roles played by local and national government, businesses, and individuals
- Specifically, Assembly Members wanted more information about how to recycle correctly
- There was a demand for more education and information provided for the wider public in Oxford to help them understand what they can personally do to help
What happens next?
A report, containing Oxford City Council’s initial response to the Assembly’s recommendations, will be presented to the Cabinet on 19 December. This report will include the City Council’s proposals, which will feed into the 2020/21 budget, to respond to immediate issues arising from the report.
In the New Year, the findings will feed in to the City Council’s upcoming Sustainability Strategy, including an Action Plan to determine how the City Council can play its part in tackling the climate emergency over the coming months and years.
As recommended by the Assembly, City Council will also look at its role in convening and engaging stakeholders and the wider public to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. One clear request from the Assembly was to produce educational material and information about how individuals can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and the City Council will now work up detailed plans to achieve this.
Reaction to the report
“The City Council’s initial proposals to respond to the findings of the Oxford Citizens Assembly on Climate Change will be presented to Cabinet next month. These proposals will then feed in to the City Council’s budget for 2020/21.
“We will then create an Action Plan to determine precisely how, over the coming months and years, we can meet all the Assembly’s findings – and play our part in tackling the climate emergency that we face.”
Gordon Mitchell, Chief Executive, Oxford City Council
“Personally, being a member of the Citizens Assembly was a privilege. Hearing from so many experts in their field, having the opportunity to properly discuss issues with other residents of Oxford and listen to the range of responses and views was at times challenging, but also rewarding. I felt proud to be part of the process and at a time when politics can seem disappointing, the Citizens assembly gave me the chance to be heard and for all of us to feel we genuinely had a chance to make a difference.
“The report manages to capture the complexity of the topics we discussed and also how carefully we considered the scenarios presented. There was an understanding of how great the changes would be in our daily lives but I was heartened by the commitment of fellow citizens to make these changes in their lifestyles to achieve net zero.
“I know the report stresses that we did not agree on a date to achieve it by, just that we wanted to be sooner than 2050 and for me, it seemed that we didn’t want to limit ourselves. For me personally, and plenty of others I talked to, there was a strong aspiration to try and achieve this as soon as we could and to start the process right now as the message that had been loud and clear was the time for action was now and every reduction, every change, every emission that was avoided would make a difference.”
Emma Howell, Oxford Citizens Assembly on Climate Change member
“It was a really positive experience to be part of the Oxford Citizens Assembly on Climate Change – to meet fellow Oxford residents, to discuss how we imagine a net zero Oxford could look like, and to understand all of the benefits we might gain from that, but also the trade-offs we'll have to make.
“I think the Ipsos MORI report is a very accurate summary of the discussions we had, the problems we raised, and also the feeling of optimism that as a city we can change things for the better. I really do hope that the council is bold enough to make net zero a reality in the coming years.”
Phil Davis, Oxford Citizens Assembly on Climate Change member
Findings across the five themes
Ipsos MORI’s key findings around the theme of waste were:
- Recycling, reducing, and re-using waste were important goals for Assembly members. They felt that individuals and organisations should be encouraged to consume and produce less, respectively
- Yet there was confusion over how recycling currently works in Oxford. Assembly members demanded more education and information in order to ensure households recycled effectively
- There was a mixed response to some of the potential solutions discussed including: reducing bin size, charging people for their waste collection, freecycling, and share/repair schemes
Ipsos MORI’s key findings around the theme of buildings were:
- Assembly members found it surprising that the largest proportion of emissions came from buildings – they typically assumed transport or industry would create the greatest emissions
- A mix of developers, private landlords, individuals, Oxford City Council and central government were felt to be primarily responsible for reducing carbon emissions in buildings
- There was a perceived need for a balanced approach to decreasing emissions from buildings while simultaneously working to resolve the current affordable housing and homelessness crisis in Oxford
- Assembly members firmly believed that it’s more cost effective if all new builds are built to sufficiently high standards, rather than paying the prohibitively high cost of retrofitting
Ipsos MORI’s key findings around the theme of transport were:
- Encouraging behaviour change with a shift away from private car use was seen as key – people can feel reliant on their car. Implementing infrastructure changes (i.e. more and safer cycling infrastructure) and technological changes was also important
- A unified strategy for transport planning between Oxford City Council, Oxfordshire County Council, and public transport providers was important to Assembly members. Incentivising public transport use and consideration of how vulnerable groups (especially children and the elderly) can get about were important areas to address when encouraging a move away from cars
Biodiversity and offsetting
Ipsos MORI’s key findings around the theme of biodiversity were:
- Assembly members were very positive about creating more biodiversity and green space around Oxford. Creating more green space and planting more trees was considered an ‘easy win’ and visible to the whole community
- There were questions about whether ‘offsetting’ could effectively address carbon neutrality, and if it allowed those who can afford it to continue polluting
- Assembly members identified a tension between setting aside land for green space while, at the same time, allowing for new housing to be built
Ipsos MORI’s key findings around the theme of renewable energy were:
- There was surprise at how much Oxford has already done about renewable energy
- Electricity was viewed as more expensive than gas, and there were concerns about the affordability of solar panels
- It was felt that too much emphasis is currently placed on the individual to take the initiative. The council and national government need to play a more direct role in helping households to make the transition away from gas and to new sources of power
- Assembly members were open to compromise in deciding where renewable sources would be placed – neutralising climate change was ultimately seen as more important than the aesthetics of Oxford’s skyline