Extinction Rebellion calls on Dorset Council to set up a citizens’ assembly on climate and ecological emergency

Environmental pressure group Extinction Rebellion (XR) has been meeting with Dorset local authorities to demand action following declarations of a climate emergency by both Dorset Council and Bridport Town Council.

Since Dorset Council’s declaration last month, Cllr Ray Bryan, spokesman for Highways, Travel and Environment, has announced the council will be setting up a Climate Emergency Panel to discuss the council’s plans for tackling climate issues.

On Monday, representatives of XR Bridport and XR Dorchester and Weymouth met Cllr Bryan and council officers to put forward Extinction Rebellion’s three key demands in the context of the council’s declaration.

Those demands are: that Government must tell the truth by declaring a climate and ecological emergency; that it must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025; and that it must create and be led by the decisions of a citizens’ assembly on climate and ecological justice.

A citizens’ assembly consists of a randomly-selected, representative sample of the community brought together to learn, deliberate, and make recommendations in relation to a particular issue.

Citizens’ assemblies have recently been used in a number of countries to address various issues that are deemed too difficult for politicians to deal with successfully. In the UK, a citizens’ assembly is currently advising House of Commons Select Committees on social care.

In April, Oxford City Council became the first local authority in the UK to establish a citizens’ assembly to tackle the issue of climate change.

At the meeting with Dorset Council, Extinction Rebellion representatives asked councillors to set up a citizen’s assembly for Dorset on the climate and ecological emergency.

“We had a useful discussion on the meaning of ‘emergency’ and the sort of measures that will be required to address it effectively,” said XR Bridport representative Anna Rose-Prynn.

“Cllr Bryan told us about the panel that he intends setting up to take things forward and we provided him with links to framework guidance aimed at local authorities who have made declarations of emergency, as well as information about citizens’ assemblies. The council is also to consider whether they can change the declaration to one of climate ‘and ecological’ emergency, which is a more accurate and complete description.

“Overall, the meeting was very positive,” said Anna, “and we are pleased to have been invited to talk to the new Dorset Council about their decision to declare an emergency and where we go from here.”

Earlier this month, XR Bridport attended a meeting of Bridport Town Council’s Environment and Social Wellbeing Committee following its own declaration of a climate and ecological emergency last month. XR Bridport asked that the town council use its influence to persuade Dorset Council to convene a citizens’ assembly and that XR Bridport be included as an external member of the town council’s proposed One Planet Group.

Reacting to the meeting with Dorset Council, XR Bridport coordinator Sarah Churchill said: “This is all very encouraging and positive, and I am looking forward to seeing what happens next.

“I get the impression that Cllr Ray Bryan is taking his role seriously and understands the urgency we are in, and the necessity to ACT NOW. He seemed inspired by our discussion and open to our suggestions.”

She added: “We have some actions from the meeting to get stuck into, the lines of communication are open and the first steps are being made towards Dorset Council putting in place it’s Climate Emergency Action Plan. Watch this space.”