The government has unveiled plans to randomly select a “mini public” to dictate the strategy for securing Jersey’s carbon neutrality by 2030 – but denies the approach is simply farming out policymaking.
Under what’s being termed a “people-powered approach” to Jersey’s climate change responsibilities, a ‘Citizens Assembly’ will be established in the coming months, which will be expected to produce a set of recommendations for consideration by the Council of Ministers by the end of the year.
If accepted by Ministers, the financial implications of the Assembly’s ideas will then have to be factored into future Government Plans. They’ll also have to be considered in tandem with the Island Plan.
Director of Strategy and Innovation Steve Skelton said the idea was to bring together a group of around 50 islanders, together making up a "mini public" representing the local population in age and gender among other factors.
Pictured: Director of Strategy and Innovation Steve Skelton explained the selection process for the Climate Assembly.
He told Express invites to take part will be sent to a large random sample of islanders, with participants randomly drawn from those who respond positively. He added that "participation will be voluntary, with no compulsion, but you will only be able to participate if you make it through the two rounds of random selection".
Other islanders will have an opportunity to air their views from March, however, in a series of face-to-face meetings in Parish Halls and schools, as well as through an online platform.
Those selected for the Assembly will be expected to meet over a series of weekends, where they’ll be educated on Jersey’s current carbon output - direct greenhouse gas emissions from the island stood at 359,000t/CO2 at the last count in 2017, with an aim to shrink that number to 277,000 by 2030 - and the possible approaches to reduce it.
Taking the format of an open forum for ideas with guidance from experts and industry professionals, the Citizens Assembly will specifically be asked to consider “the implications and trade-offs in a range of scenarios for achieving carbon neutrality and how a full transition to zero (or almost zero) emissions in key sectors might be achieved”.
Their recommendations will then be presented in a report which will be discussed in an in-committee debate in the States Assembly, before being assessed by the Council of Ministers, which will decide which are accepted and how they can be implemented.
Pictured: The recommendations of the Citizens Assembly will be discussed by States Members in an open debate.
Informed by those findings, the Environment Minister is then pledging to submit a detailed ‘Climate Action Plan’ by the end of 2020.
The Citizens Assembly concept forms a central pillar of the Environment Minister’s proposed Carbon Neutral Strategy, which comes in the wake of States Members voting overwhelmingly in favour of declaring a “climate change emergency” in Jersey, and set the target of achieving net zero carbon emissions locally by 2030.
Assistant Environment Minister Deputy Gregory Guida told Express that all suggestions put forward by the Citizens Assembly will be considered – no matter how whacky.
"I welcome wild ideas. The most important thing is sustainability," he said, going on to explain: "We are expanding the island and reclaiming land from the sea. If we reclaimed another 30 metres along the bay or St. Clemets, we could have a bus lane. We could have a tram. That's very expensive, but it's sustainable - once you've done it, it's forever."
"Nothing is off the table," he added.
Pictured: The proposals were developed in response to the States Assembly declaring a 'climate emergency'.
Queried about the rationale behind forming a Citizens Assembly when Jersey already has an elected States Assembly, Deputy Guida said: "Are we just passing the ball? It's a very good question, a very important one... We discovered early on that it [achieving net zero carbon emissions] wouldn't be possible if the whole public didn't decide to go along. We hope that the Citizens Assembly will actually be more proactive than the government could be."
He added that islanders' input was particularly important given that many of the changes necessary to secure a greener future for the island will be lifestyle-related.
"We very quickly recognised it's more about lifestyle changes than about enforcement. I have a silly example, but if you're going to eat fruit in winter, you've got a choice between growing them in a greenhouse in China or applies in Jersey. You can imagine which one has a carbon footprint and which one took carbon from the air. That's a lifestyle change."
The government, meanwhile, will be focusing its efforts in the areas of sustainable transport and heating.
Pictured: Assistant Environment Minister, Deputy Gregory Guida, said sustainable transport and heating will be the main focus of the government.
"We are already involved in the way homes are heating through building codes... The standards are already fairly high, but we could go further and ensure that all heating is electric, that you’re not relying on the boiler, we could try to help you buy a heater."
Asked if he believes the 2030 target to be achievable, the Assistant Minister said: "I think it is possible, but if the public is ready to make the wide-ranging changes is different."
He went on to describe public perception as the biggest challenge, adding: "[Climate change] is in the news, it's very important right now. It might not be in a few months if we have a war in the Middle East or if Brexit becomes very uncomfortable. This is long-term and we want to keep people interested and active on it."
But the Environment Minister, Deputy John Young, recently suggested that the size and scope of his department could also be a hurdle following its absorption into so-called 'super-department' Growth, Housing and Environment (GHE) as part of the Chief Executive's restructuring of the public sector.
Pictured: Environment Minister Deputy John Young expressed concern about loss of expertise in his department.
Since the reshuffle, the Environment Department has more full-time equivalent staff (around 11), with some officials working across multiple departments and policy areas.
But in a recent Scrutiny hearing, Deputy Young lamented the loss of specific and dedicated expertise amid questioning over the achievability of Jersey's carbon neutral plans, making particular reference to the departure of Chief Ecologist John Pinel, whose role is not being replaced. He was not available for comment yesterday.
His Assistant Minister expressed a different view, however.
Deputy Guida said he didn't believe it should be an issue because much of the work bleeds into other departments' portfolios, such as the Department for Infrastructure, which is also now part of GHE.
Pictured: The Assistant Minister said the Infrastructure Department would have a large input on the sustainable transport plans.
"Most of the practical applications of carbon neutrality will be done by Infrastructure. Transport will probably be the main thing. It's nicer to be closer to them."
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