If you want people’s support in the battle to drive down emissions, ask them to come up with the solutions. That is the theory behind the UK’s first national citizens assembly on climate change, whose final report recommends we all eat more plant-based food.
Climate Assembly UK consists of 110 ordinary people, a representative sample of Britons selected from all walks of life, who were asked to formulate a plan to address the climate emergency. Since society must be radically changed, the thinking goes, get the public to decide on the changes.
The government should – hopefully – then get to work implementing the assembly’s proposals. Notwithstanding the moral obligation to clean up our mess, and commitments made under the Paris Climate Accord in 2016, there is a legal obligation too. Last year the UK became the first country in the world to enshrine in law the requirement to reach net zero emissions.
Chapter 6 of the report addresses what we eat and how we use our land, both major contributors to the UK’s carbon footprint. The assembly agreed that Britons should be encouraged to cut their consumption of meat and dairy by 20-40 per cent and that teaching them about the benefits to their health and to the environment is integral to the shift to a more plant-based diet. Labelling that shows the carbon cost of individual items would also help.
Climate-friendly farming will also be key, with incentives and grants set up to help farmers shift from wildlife-unfriendly agriculture to less intensive methods. Efforts must also be made to restore and manage woodlands, peatlands, gorselands and wetlands, the assembly said, improving their ability to absorb emissions from the atmosphere.
Among several other recommendations, Climate Assembly UK has advised a ban on the sale of new petrol, diesel and hybrid cars beyond 2035; improved public transport and recycling; increased taxes for frequent flyers and long-haul flights; retrofitting homes to cut emissions, and pushing ahead with renewable energy.
The power of citizens assemblies was illustrated earlier this year, when France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, expressed support for making the destruction of the natural world an international crime, based on the recommendation of a panel of members of the public.