CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

The climate and ecological crisis means real change must start now

11 July, 2019

Extinction Rebellion protesters stopping traffic in Camden

• DECADES of inadequate political action have led to a climate and ecological crisis that poses an unprecedented existential threat to humanity and all life on Earth.

Politics will not meet the challenge we face. That’s why one of Extinction Rebellion’s (XR) three demands is the creation of citizens’ assemblies on climate and ecological justice.

A citizens’ assembly is one of several forms of participatory democracy that involves citizens in governance. Unlike politicians citizens are free from five-year electoral terms, corporate influence and the need to seek sympathetic media coverage.

Last Monday, in an important first step towards giving ordinary people of Camden a voice on the future of the borough, the council began its process of citizen-led democracy.

We welcome this step, but let’s be clear: a robust and truly democratic citizens’ assembly, must follow internationally recognised standards.

Camden’s assembly has not been selected by the random process known as sortition – similar to jury selection – as recommended, but by a group of community researchers.

Can all of Camden’s residents have faith in the process and feel their perspectives are being represented? Can all sub-sets of the population be sure their voices are being heard?

Furthermore, proposals that gain requisite support from the assembly should be treated as binding. In a letter to XR, Camden’s council said they are committed to “debate the findings of the assembly… with a view to adopting the recommendations”.

In other words, the council should trust its citizens to make informed decisions and then it should stick to them. Why is it not doing this? Does it betray a lack of confidence in the process or, worse, in the citizens themselves?

Perhaps the biggest concern is that the assembly, though facilitated by independent body Involve, has been framed and organised by the council. The only agreed outcome will be the creation of a social action plan informed by the findings.

Some will find it hard to avoid the conclusion that the council has designed the assembly to deflect responsibility onto residents and to relieve themselves of the need to take real action.

Indeed, should a council be asking residents to bear that huge burden without making commitments itself?

The climate and ecological crisis is not going to be solved through individual action or social projects. We need system change at local and national level. Legitimate citizens assemblies and decisive action by councils will be key to that.

On Monday July 15 members of XR Camden will meet Camden leader Georgia Gould to discuss the council’s response to the climate crisis and our concerns about the assembly.

XR is not a solution-led organisation, but we will push the council towards true democratic processes; processes which are given the power and legitimacy to deal adequately and urgently with the crisis.

The time for half-baked attempts is over. Real change must start now.

TOM BROOK
Extinction Rebellion Camden

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