Climate Citizens Assemblies – An instrument for climate justice and inclusive decision-making?

Climate change in its magnitude is a wicked and urgent problem that requires collective efforts and the integration of diverse knowledge, experiences, and perspectives.

Participatory forms of democracy offer complimentary instruments and institutional arrangements to tackle public policy challenges, that can bring in this necessary diversity, in enabling collaboration and facilitating deliberative decision-making. One remarkable example that is called upon and is growing in popularity is Climate Citizens Assemblies (CCAs). These temporal institutions consist of randomly selected citizens who deliberate on climate issues and guide decision-making on climate policy. Due to their specific design, they are considered to do better at inclusively representing various groups compared to legislatures and self-selected participatory processes. Despite the promises and hopes connected with CCAs, there is little empirical evidence on the extent to which climate assemblies succeed in 1) fostering inclusive participatory forms of democracy that 2) bringing forward impactful proposals for climate change mitigation and adaptation. 

With most CCAs to date held between 2020 and 2021, this research project aims to contribute to the growing body of empirical evidence in the newly emerging field of CCA-research by examining the elements and qualities that contribute to a successful (or failing) performance of CCAs in terms of contributing to climate justice and just transition.

Research objectives

By means of qualitative research, eco-social design tools, and visualization methods we aim to analyze both the deliberative processes and the outcomes of subnational Climate Citizen Assemblies in a comparative case study.

Overall, the research project tackles three interrelated research questions to examine the performance of CCAs in achieving climate justice and a just transition, exploring their contributions to this area and understanding the relationship between democratization and climate change mitigation/adaption.

On an operational level, we want to shed light on which elements of the formation, facilitation/management, and framing of CCAs enable inclusive participatory processes. We also aim to critically analyze the extent to which climate justice influences the goals, practices, and outcomes of CCAs. With this objective, we seek to articulate concerns about the assumption that climate assemblies – as institutions and participatory tools – engage in practices and produce outcomes that take into account broader justice concerns (e.g. gender, race, legal status, and more-than-human) while reflecting on their ethical implications. The findings expand the prevailing narrative about climate assemblies as democratic innovations and open up empirically-grounded questions about what makes assemblies successful institutions for proposing mitigation and adaptation from a climate justice perspective. Grounded on the literature on climate and multi-species justice and legitimacy building for climate action, we set the focus on justness, equity, and social inclusion in both our analysis of deliberative processes and outcomes of CCAs, assuming these aspects play an important role in both democratization and in climate change mitigation and adaptation – and the unavoidable interplay of both.

In a triangulation of methods, we analyze existing guidance and assessments, available documentation, and relevant publications, and conduct interviews and participatory observations. As a research team, we have the expertise to tackle these societal dimensions, while a science-based assessment of climate impact, would be a task for a follow-up project directly involving partners with expertise in climate impact research not only as associate partners. 

The contribution of this project is three-fold. Firstly, it provides empirical analysis and proposes performance criteria and factors for CCAs from participatory, organizational, and design perspectives. Secondly, it critically evaluates the extent to which the CCAs’ outcomes and processes meet the requirements for climate justice and just transition. Finally, it distills the findings into design patterns (and anti-patterns) and guidelines potentially aiding future CCAs in their formation, facilitating, and framing.

Team

Maria Menendez Blanco

Anja Salzer

Urban Nothdurfter

Teresa Palmieri

Alessandro Narduzzo

Kris Krois

Associated Partners

Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies e.V. (IASS)

Eurac Research, Research Area “Climate Change and Transformation“: A consortium of the Institute for Regional Development, Institute for Renewable Energy, Centre for Advanced Studies and the Institute for Earth Observation (EURAC)

Here we go – Democracy Innovation e.V. (EGL)

Blufink