Logo Assembly Logo Hemicycle

More participatory democracy to tackle climate change

Resolution 2397 (2021) | Provisional version

Parliamentary Assembly
Assembly debate on 29 September 2021 (27th sitting) (see Doc. 15351, report of the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy, rapporteur: Mr George Papandreou). Text adopted by the Assembly on 29 September 2021 (27th sitting).See also Recommendation 2212 (2021).
1. The 2015 Paris Agreement of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which was signed by all 47 member Council of Europe member States, promotes stronger climate action, and along with a world-wide citizen movement, strongly driven by young people, has created political pressure and a momentum for more ambitious climate action throughout the world.
2. The Parliamentary Assembly refers to its Resolution 2210 (2018) “Climate change and implementation of the Paris Agreement” stressing the importance of parliamentary action in taking strong national measures to promote the implementation of the Paris Agreement at all levels of governance, and calling on national parliaments to ensure that dedicated structures, mechanisms and resources are in place for stepping up national efforts on climate change.
3. Noting that the human-made climate crisis is also responsible for the upsurge in pandemics and zoonotic diseases, the Assembly reiterates its call for immediate action to prevent future catastrophic events. Climate change demands long term adaptation and changes in behaviour, production and consumption patterns and only informed and committed citizens will be able to show resilience and engage in a collective dynamic.
4. While protest movements have shown their strength, the positions voiced need an institutional structure to allow for sustainable, regular and impactful public participation. The Assembly strongly believes that representative democracy can be enriched by meaningful public participation, which also provides a credible response to citizens demands, in particular young people, to be more regularly involved in decision-making and in the debate on the ecological transition and the green recovery plan.
5. The Assembly therefore urges governments to combine a clear political engagement and top-down leadership with bottom-up, participatory governance, to tackle the urgency of the climate crisis and ensure meaningful contributions from citizens. Deliberative democracy can also provide an antidote to the resurgent threat of authoritarian regimes and reinvigorate democratic practices.
6. In this respect, stressing the need to increase citizens’ active participation and ensure further involvement of all people in the conduct of public affairs, the Assembly refers to its Resolution 1746 and Recommendation 1928 (2010) “Democracy in Europe: crises and perspectives, in which it called on all Council of Europe member States to establish participatory and deliberative mechanisms, such as citizens’ juries or conferences to facilitate citizens’ participation in decision making on a public affair that is of urgent concern to them.
7. In line with its Resolution 2271 and Recommendation 2150 (2019) “Strengthening co-operation with the United Nations in implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” and Resolution 2369 (2021) “The Assembly’s vision on the strategic priorities for the Council of Europe”, the Assembly also reiterates its firm support to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, in particular Goal 16 “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development”, which includes Target 16.7 “Ensure responsive, inclusive, and participatory and representative decision-making at all levels”.
8. The Assembly notes that citizens’ assemblies in particular represent a way to tap into the collective wisdom, restore trust in politics and allow citizens to reclaim the public space which has been taken over by social media. Citizens’ input can inform environmental action and provide governments with useful information on people’s preferences, the trade-off they are ready to make as well as public support for action.
9. To be relevant and credible, citizens’ assemblies should:
9.1 base their work on reason, evidence, arguments, perspectives and different forms of knowledge and not be dominated by power, money or partisan logics;
9.2 aim at reducing the excessive influence of interest groups and lobbies and select citizens randomly, paying attention to include all age groups, qualification levels, socio-economic differences and geographical distribution;
9.3 ensure close co-operation with the scientific community to reach meaningful science-based decisions;
9.4 confront experts’ views with vested interests and engage a wide range of stakeholders, including non-governmental organisations, particularly youth NGOs, industry and environmental activists;
9.5 generate a national debate to create a sense of empowerment and self-confidence as citizens, prepare for people’s support of the proposed measures and put pressure on policy makers to implement the recommendations.
10. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the decision makers to give power to citizens’ assemblies’ recommendations and proposals and ensure that they are incorporated into the policy process, including via parliamentary committees.
11. The Assembly argues that a successful approach to climate change may require action far beyond what climate assemblies have proposed thus far and future citizens’ assemblies need to address the underlying systemic drivers of the climate emergency. This involves inter alia:
11.1 being explicit on the need for ambitious systemic change;
11.2 sharing with citizens the most pre-eminent available forecasts of climate impacts to explicitly illustrate the real consequences for people’s lives globally;
11.3 sharing all possible scenarios with a future-focused approach;
11.4 designing a robust independent process, including procedures on key decisions, agenda set up, selection of experts and voting procedures;
11.5 allowing citizens to influence the agenda, which enhances ownership and creativity, with the benefit of dissolving group polarisation;
11.6 ensuring that citizens’ recommendations are complemented by further expertise, cost assessments and evidence-based input;
11.7 providing for an accountable follow-up, allowing citizens’ assembly members to evaluate and provide input to any legislation that flows from their deliberations.
12. The Assembly believes that involving young people in decision-making processes addressing the climate crisis is of key importance and refers to the work of the Advisory Council on Youth of the Council of Europe, which is a living example of participatory democracy at European level and serves as a model to all member States embarking on participatory processes.
13. Referring to the Council of Europe Charter on Education for Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights Education and to the Reference Framework of Competences for Democratic Culture, the Assembly calls on all Council of Europe member States to encourage continuous youth participation and citizenship education in schools and universities, communities and non-governmental organisations. This includes giving children and young people the right to participate in decision-making processes, which are key to empowering them to participate in public life, foster critical thinking and engage in democratic practices.
14. Furthermore, the Assembly welcomes the European Union Conference on the Future of Europe, an open and inclusive exercise in deliberative democracy which seeks to engage citizens directly to help guide Europe’s future direction and policy making through a Europe-wide series of citizens’ assemblies and panels, including multilingual digital platforms. As a follow-up to its joint debate on the environment and human rights, the Assembly should provide an input to the conference to make the case for the universal legal recognition of the right to live in a healthy environment.
15. Finally, the Assembly underlines the potential to use public deliberation to tackle public policy problems that require the consideration of both values and evidence, and encourages all Council of Europe member States to embed deliberative processes in the policy cycle to facilitate the constructive reconciliation between a multitude of interests.