OXFORD will establish a citizens assembly to tackle climate change, the city council has announced.
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That would make it the first local authority in the country to establish such a body over the issue.

It will involve a 'randomly selected, representative' sample of Oxford residents and is set to hold its first meeting in September.

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In January, councillors unanimously declared a climate emergency in the city, which is also aiming to implement the world's first Zero Emission Zone, starting from next year.

In recent months, the city has also seen school students join worldwide 'strikes' aiming to draw attention to the climate crisis.

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And activists from Oxford have been among those protesting in London with the Extinction Rebellion group over climate change. One of the group's main demands has been for a citizens assembly.

Now the council is commissioning research to develop options and timescales for carbon reduction in areas such as housing and transport, which will be put to the assembly.

It will also hear from a range of independent contributors, before making recommendations to 'assist the council in its final decisions on adoption of carbon abatement measures and targets'.

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Chief Executive Gordon Mitchell said: “The urgency in the need to act on Oxford’s carbon emissions was underlined by the city council’s unanimous vote this year which declared a climate emergency and called for the setting up of a citizens’ assembly to help us consider additional measures and make recommendations for our city.

"Taking this forward is one of the council’s key priorities for 2019.”

The council, which is a member of the Low Carbon Oxford network, estimates that it is responsible for one per cent of total CO2 in Oxford’s air.

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In the last month, it has announced initiatives totalling more than £80m in an effort to reduce carbon emissions, including installing one of the world’s largest batteries to support electric vehicle charging and low-carbon heat networking, and creating a new ‘smart grid’.

In June, the city will see a green festival put on to 'inspire people to take action on climate change'. Oxford Green Week - which begins on Saturday 8 with Oxford’s Big Green Day Out – celebrates sustainability and climate activism, with events and activities taking place every day until Sunday, June 16.

Labour city councillor Tom Hayes, Board Member for Safer, Greener, Environment, said: "A real representation of viewpoints needs to be heard by councillors as we develop our plans to tackle climate change, not just the traditional green viewpoint. Oxford’s citizens assembly—the first by a UK council on the issue of climate change—will bring every viewpoint into decision-making to build a majority for action.

"For instance, the cost of building zero carbon homes has plummeted, but still involves an extra outlay for the time being. Should we build more truly cheap homes or fewer truly green homes? Our council housing could be retrofitted to become more energy efficient, but how do we fund this and make big changes?"

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He continued: "Sadly we can’t shake magic money trees—so, if you want zero carbon measures, which measures would citizens most want and, so we can fund them, what do they think think council should spend less on or stop funding altogether? I want to ensure we don’t create greater inequality or poverty in Oxford as we make hard choices.

"Throughout all of this, we will continue to loudly voice concerns to Government. We need more funding and, like other cities and councils, Oxford can only truly become zero if and when the Government ensures the electricity in the grid is 100 per cent clean, and we will go on making that case."

Liberal Democrat council group leader Andrew Gant said: “We welcome the assembly as far as it goes, but it has to have proper terms of reference and ability to make recommendations unless it’s going to be just a talking shop. I would also note that the motion which led to this was an opposition initiative, not a Labour one, and while we welcome the progressive elements of their agenda, they are inconsistent in also expanding car parking.

"At the same council meeting the Lib Dems tabled a motion opposing the unnecessary and damaging expressway without far greater clarity. Lib Dems have the best recent record in govt on environmental issues: green deal, green bank, investment in renewables, all binned by the Tories.” 

Next week, the UK’s independent Committee on Climate Change will publish its advice to the Government on tightening Britain’s carbon reduction targets, which could lead to new requirements impacting Oxford.

The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that there is less than a decade to take urgent action to cut the risk of extreme heat, drought, floods and poverty.