Climate Emergency in Oxford

Climate emergency in Oxford: Citizens' assembly accelerates climate action

The City of Oxford, UK, has shown that rapid municipal climate action is possible. About a year ago, the British city declared a climate emergency. Only six months later, a special citizens' assembly was convened. On two weekends in late summer, 50 citizens of Oxford convened to discuss one question: “The UK has legislation to reach ‘net zero’ by 2050. Should Oxford be more proactive and seek to achieve ‘net zero’ sooner than 2050?” A clear majority decided in favour of a more ambitious municipal goal and thus of becoming climate-neutral in the near future.

To achieve this goal, the assembly focused on five aspects: waste reduction, buildings, mobility, biodiversity and compensation. The citizens deemed increased flora and fauna city-wide as critical to enhanced biodiversity. They decided to also create more opportunities for cyclists and pedestrians while expanding public transport services to significantly reduce the number of cars in the city. They pointed to key changes in the buildings sector with improved building standards, widespread retrofitting, and more domestic and non-domestic energy needs being met by sustainable sources.

These comprehensive and ambitious plans did not immediately meet with the approval of all participants in the assembly. Expert contributions, question-and-answer sessions and discussions in smaller groups helped clarify citizen concerns.  

Although the assembly was not able to clarify all outstanding issues and no specific year was set for Oxford to become carbon neutral, the Citizens' Assembly was a great success. At the end of 2019, just 55 days later, the city made an additional £19 million available for climate protection measures.

The example of the City of Oxford shows that it is possible to initiate rapid changes in support of sustainability with citizen buy-in and thus make progress in local climate action.

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written February 2020