An interview with a member of the French Citizen Climate Convention

In January, Le Télégramme interviewed, Denis Boucher, a member of the French Citizen Climate Convention:

How is the convention organized?

We are 150 citizens of all ages and walks of life, including some who are younger than 18 and others who live in overseas France. There is great diversity and I believe that we represent French society quite well. We gather one weekend each month for a session of three days. We work around five themes dealing with the objective of reaching a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030: food, transportation, housing, consumption, and production. I am part of the housing theme. The allocation to themes was by sortition – that is the principle of the convention. We reject expertise from the outset and it is normal citizens who express themselves, whoever they may be. It is an altogether original organization which really embodies direct democracy. It is a little like the citizens of Ancient Greece would discuss the issues of the city in the agora.

Where are you now in the process?

We are in the fourth session and we just finished the latest weekend of work. After 4 months during which we heard numerous speakers and understood the climate and the objectives we are now entering into the thick of it. We are going to propose measures that will become bills of legislature, decrees or constitutional amendments. That is not going to be easy!
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Comments by members of the French Citizen Climate Convention

Thomas Baïetto of Franceinfo has talked to 9 members of the French Citizen Climate Convention and reports their comments about their work.

Sylvain, a 45 year old Parisian marketing manager, says that before he was allotted he used to be “a cynical Parisian” rahter than an environmental activist. He does not hide his enthusiasm about this assembly of “citizen superheros, somewhere between Jaurès and Léon Blum” and about its complex mission.

“I was skeptical at first. I was thinking that these 150 people, if there were as ignorant as I am , that is going to be difficult,” says Grégoire, 31 year old from Caen. The first months of work, spread over a several weekend sessions in Paris, have convinced him that there is a possibility of formulating proposals that are “strong, powerful and acceptable by the population.”

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Mellier-Wilson: More on the Convention Citoyenne pour le Climat

Claire Mellier-Wilson, “Systems Change and Participation Practitioner”, has a lengthy and informative article about the French Citizen Climate Convention, with details about its origins, its organization, proceedings and schedule and the people and bodies involved.

One rather interesting detail is as follows:

Themes and group work

Alongside plenary discussions where all 150 citizens stay together, the Convention members are also working in groups.

The 150 citizens have been split into five groups of 30 people covering five themes: ‘Se deplacer’ transport, ‘Se nourir’ food, ‘Consommer’ consumption, ‘Travailler et produire’ work and production, ‘Se loger’ housing. The selection of the citizens in each group was done by lot in order to prevent people from choosing their preferred subjects and this introducing an element of bias into the process.

A cross-cutting group, called ‘escouade’ was created after the second session in November 2019, at the request of the citizens, in order to look at overarching topics relevant to all five themes such as: the financing of measures, communication, engagement, education and training, constitutional reform, energy production and consumption, protection of the natural environment and biodiversity. An overview of the transverse topics can be found in the summary of session 3. However, it emerged that this cross-cutting group, based on the self-selection principle (rather than selection by lot) presented issues of legitimacy and had process implications, as it did run in parallel with the other five groups, and in effect was preventing people from being fully engaged with their original topic. Also, due to the subjects covered in the escouade (i.e. constitutional reform, finances etc.), it created tensions around the perceived more strategic nature of that group. As a result, the Governance Committee decided to suspend the escouade. Going forward, the topics from the escouade will be dealt with via different mechanisms as announced by Thierry Pech, Co-chair of the Convention, at the end of Session 4.

Two views on Climate Assembly UK

A citizens assembly discussing climate issues is meeting for the first time this weekend.

Ordinary people from across the UK – potentially including climate deniers – will take part in the first ever citizens’ climate assembly this weekend.

Mirroring the model adopted in France by Emmanuel Macron, 110 people from all walks of life will begin deliberations on Saturday to come up with a plan to tackle global heating and meet the government’s target of net-zero emissions by 2050.

The assembly was selected to be a representative sample of the population after a mailout to 30,000 people chosen at random. About 2,000 people responded saying they wanted to be considered for the assembly, and the 110 members were picked by computer.

They come from all age brackets and their selection reflects a 2019 Ipsos Mori poll of how concerned the general population is by climate change, where responses ranged from not at all to very concerned. Of the assembly members, three people are not at all concerned, 16 not very concerned, 36 fairly concerned, 54 very concerned, and one did not know, organisers said.
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Citizen assemblies in Bristol

Adam Postans and Matty Edwards report in The Bristol Cable (January 15, 2020):

Experiment in democracy, as council to pilot citizens’ assemblies

Bristolians could be gathered to make decisions on issues such as the climate crisis.

One of the biggest shake-ups in years in how decisions are taken on the major issues in Bristol has been approved with the introduction of citizens’ assemblies.

It came as the city council’s ruling Labour group threw its weight behind the Green Party’s idea, with backing from the Lib Dems.

But the Tories voted against it amid fears it would become “consultation on steroids” and add an unnecessary new layer of bureaucracy when, they say, the power of the mayor should instead be returned to councillors.
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Residents will be chosen at random, like jury service for the assemblies and be paid to spend time hearing from experts on complex issues, including the climate emergency, before making decisions which could be binding on Bristol City Council.

Labour said it “radically strengthened” the Greens’ motion by assigning between £5million and £10million from the council’s capital budget to the “deliberative democracy” proposals, including giving communities more power over spending decisions in their areas.

But Tory group leader Cllr Mark Weston said: “We are going to end up with consultation on steroids. You will have opinions expressed from the centre of the city, all having the same view, and suburbs won’t have their say.”

Electoral redistricting by an allotted citizens commission in Michigan

The Monroe News from Michigan reports:

Applicants sought for Michigan redistricting panel

The Secretary of State’s office recently sent 250,000 randomly selected Michigan voters applications to serve on the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission.

The 13-member commission will be responsible for drawing the boundaries for the state’s Senate and House of Representatives districts. It also will design the districts for the congressional delegation.

The commission is being formed as a result of the passage of Proposal 2 in November 2018. The ballot measure amended the state constitution to grant the authority to an independent citizen commission, taking the power away from the state’s governor and the Legislature.

Proposal 2 passed statewide 2,522,355- 1,593,556.

The commission will be composed of four Democrats, four Republicans and five voters who do not identify with either party. Districts are redrawn every 10 years in response to the U. S. Census, which will be conducted this year.

Per the proposal, the secretary of state’s office is required to mail out the applications to at least 10,000 randomly selected voters. Troy-based Rehmann LLC handled the selection process.

Residents within the state who weren’t part of the random mailing also may apply for the commission.

2019 review – sortition-related events

As I have done at every end-of-year of the last 9, I am offering my summary of notable sortition-related events that occurred over the last year.

As polls indicate that people continue to believe that governments do not represent them, the idea of the single-issue citizens’ assembly made strides in various European countries in 2019. In France, the Citizens’ Climate Convention is taking place, where 150 allotted people are tasked with selecting ways to address the climate crisis. This body is relatively high profile and received attention by various writers. A similar body is being demanded in the UK by the Extinction Rebellion movement.

Scotland had a citizens’ assembly for “shaping Scotland’s future”.

Participations journal devoted a special issue to sortition. 24 papers dealt with various aspects of the topic. The book Legislature by Lot, with the papers from a workshop by the same name was also published.

A citizens’ assembly on Brexit was widely discussed in the UK.

A permanent allotted body was instituted by the German speaking community in Belgium and by City Hall in Madrid.

The increasing use of allotted citizen bodies resulted in increasing scrutiny of the ways in which they are constituted and run, as well as their institutional role.