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Direct democracy a piece of the climate puzzle, P.E.I. committee hears

Laura Berry of the Brooklyn-based Climate Mobilization speaks via Skype before a standing committee on climate change on Thursday. Berry argued MLA’s should take direction from citizens assemblies tasked with coming up with policy recommendations on how to reduce carbon emissions quickly.
Laura Berry of the Brooklyn-based Climate Mobilization speaks via Skype before a standing committee on climate change on Thursday. Berry argued MLA’s should take direction from citizens assemblies tasked with coming up with policy recommendations on how to reduce carbon emissions quickly. - Stu Neatby
CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. —

Ordinary people want a say in how P.E.I.’s economy could be transitioned away from runaway climate change.

This was the message delivered to members of P.E.I.’s standing committee on climate change by Laura Berry, a member of the US-based advocacy group Climate Mobilization. 

Berry’s main argument to the elected members of the committee was for the need to organize citizens’ assemblies. These assemblies would consist of a group of roughly 50 ordinary people tasked with examining how to meet P.E.I.’s climate change targets and with issuing recommendations to government. Participants would be randomly selected from a representative sample of individuals.

Berry’s presentation comes as the committee is preparing to conduct a number of roving meetings in the coming weeks in Tignish, Miscouche, Morell, Rustico and other communities.

Berry argued that a citizens’ assembly would be more involved than typical consultations but would be valuable for policy-makers.

"When we're dealing with issues like sea-level rise, erosion, extreme weather and increased temperatures, public participation is going to be incredibly important to help chart this clear path forward," Berry explained to the committee, appearing via a Skype connection.

"There's actually currently a pretty high level of public distrust of environmental decision-making.”

Berry said environmental decisions are usually made by experts, but often don’t take into account social inequality or local concerns. 

Berry’s suggestion was for such an assembly to attempt to reach a consensus on recommendations, and for policy-makers to be prepared to engage seriously with them.

Green MLA Stephen Howard asked Berry what kind of time commitment should be expected of participants in an assembly.

"They are hosted over weekends. So obviously it takes time and investment for someone to take time off from their job, similar to jury duty," Berry said.

Berry said climate-focused citizens assemblies have often had one full weekend devoted to learning, between one and two weekends devoted to deliberations and then one to two days focused on developing recommendations. In one case, an assembly in Oxford, U.K. resulted in the local town council focusing a £19 million budget on green programs such as renewable energy.

Environment Minister Brad Trivers asked Berry about how to ensure randomly-selected citizens who take part in an assembly have an understanding of the scientific background needed to make recommendations. 

Berry said the decision-making body and facilitator of the assemblies should be responsible for providing participants with access to experts and enough time to learn the issue.

"People will surprise you in terms of understanding the science when they're given enough information and enough time to actually work through it,” Berry said.

Liberal MLA Gord McNeilly raised a criticism of the Progressive Conservative government. He read Berry a section of last April’s speech from the throne, which committed to establishing a panel of citizens and MLAs within six months in order to suggest reforms to the legislature.

"We missed our targets and we did not do anything with that assembly," McNeilly said.

"I think this conversation today could be a good place to bring that back to the forefront."


Twitter.com/stu_neatby

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