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News Columnist: ‘Citizens’ Assemblies and ‘frequent flier’ levy’

Imagine there’s something exciting in the post for once. It’s a letter inviting you to join a Citizens’ Assembly.

It’s a bit like jury service, the letter explains. A group of randomly selected people hear and discuss evidence about an important issue before agreeing on recommendations. In Ireland, assemblies like this helped break political deadlock on abortion and marriage equality. Instead of politicians trying to predict what will appeal to voters, citizens work out together what is necessary and fair.

And the problem we need to solve? In short: how can we keep global temperatures from rising to a point where life cannot survive?

The first national ‘Climate Assembly’ took place in a year that has seen not only the pandemic but also devastating fires, loss of wildlife, crop failures and, here in the UK, heatwaves and flash floods. The 108 members have recently published clear and practical recommendations for reducing carbon emissions from homes, food and transport.

Take the example of flying. All Southwark residents suffer from the noise and air pollution of hundreds of flights a day going to and from Heathrow and City Airport. But did you know that over half of the UK population does not fly abroad at all?

Just 15% of the population take 70% of the flights, and there’s no tax on jet fuel (unlike petrol for cars).

The Climate Assembly has proposed a ‘frequent flier’ levy: the more someone flies, the more they pay. While the idea has been around for a while, it’s now clear that it has wide support.

Some London boroughs – including Camden and Lambeth – have set up citizens’ assemblies to work on their local plans to cut carbon emissions.

Unfortunately, Southwark Council has (so far) decided against this approach. You can instead contribute ideas here, with a conference promised for the autumn:

Assemblies are key to the vital cross-party ‘Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill’ introduced into Parliament by Caroline Lucas MP last week

It would enable imaginative responses to these emergencies, and ensure a fair transition, with financial help and retraining for people working in sectors like aviation.

At the time of writing, none of our Southwark MPs were listed as supporters.

Why not drop them a line, inviting them to play their part?


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