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Unique Citizens’ Convention initiates referendum on climate change in France

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Unique Citizens’ Convention initiates referendum on climate change in France

22-06-2020

The Citizens' Convention on Climate wound to a close on Sunday 21 June, handing over their 149 proposals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the French government.

Paris,  21 June 2020 -  The Citizens’ Convention on Climate wound to a close this Sunday in Paris, after nine months of deliberation, with a strong call for a shift towards a low-carbon economy, with extensive changes in the transportation, commercial and industrial sectors. The 150 randomly selected citizens have also called for a referendum to add to the Constitution that, "The Republic guarantees the preservation of biodiversity, the environment and the fight against climate change,” and to introduce the crime of ecocide in the French penal code. With these measures, the Citizens’ Convention on Climate aims to achieve a reduction of at least 40% of France’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, based on the levels of 1990.

It is the first time in French history that a citizen participation process leads to binding outcomes, in the form of specific legislation that will now either be voted on by the Parliament or by all French citizens in a Referendum. This makes it one of the most ambitious examples in the world of involving citizens in managing the climate emergency.

“The defining feature of this Convention is the institutional follow-up,” said Erwin Mayer, Board Member of Democracy International, “Citizens are the sovereign and when they debate a problem through a representative citizens’ assembly, such as this one - and even come up with concrete legal proposals - they should have the right to call for a binding referendum in which all citizens get a say. This binding outcome will help to overcome special interests that have hampered solutions in the climate crisis in the past and will at the same time ensure wide popular acceptance of far-reaching climate policies.”

Over the course of seven three-day sessions, 150 randomly selected citizens debated the climate crisis, received input from experts, and developed legislative proposals. The participants of the Climate Convention developed 149 proposals in total, three of which will be submitted to a referendum. All other proposals will be voted on in the Parliament.

The proposed measures relate to transportation, housing, consumption, production and work and the food sector. They call for a complete socio-economic turnaround, geared towards sustainable development and social justice: including among others, investments to make railway travel more attractive and the introduction of an aviation tax. But also extensive changes to the modes of production, agriculture, measures to limit consumption and a shift in France’s international policy. The Convention calls to renegotiate the CETA free-trade agreement, so it would incorporate the climate objectives of the Paris Agreement. They have also proposed legislation to make energetic renovation of all housing mandatory by 2040, a subject that had been identified by President Macron as a candidate for a referendum. The Convention however, has rejected adding this question to the ballot.

The Convention is calling for more citizen participation in decision-making in general, something that has traditionally proven difficult within France’s highly centralised political structures, it shied away however from having its work validated by the entire French citizenry and rejected submitting more of their proposals to a referendum.

Democracy International assisted the Citizens’ Convention on Climate on public relations and welcomes the decision to have a direct democratic process accompany the participatory process  in order to tackle the climate challenge. “How we will address the climate emergency is the question of our generation,” said Erwin Mayer, “The climate crisis poses an existential threat to all citizens on this planet, and it is only right that they should be involved intensively in developing and deciding on solutions.” 

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Background information: The Citizens’ Convention on Climate

The Convention was organised at the initiative of President Macron and managed by the Economic, Social and Environmental Council (the Conseil Économique, Social et Environnemental), the third constitutional chamber. The members of the Convention were selected at random and embody a representative sample of French society, based on a range of criteria such as gender, age, and residence.

Initially, sessions were scheduled to end in January 2020, but a series of strikes and the nation-wide lockdown due to COVID-19 hampered the Convention’s proceedings. Having made final amendments through video conferencing, the 150 citizens of the Convention were able to present their final recommendations to Elisabeth Borne, Minister for the Ecological and Inclusive Transition on Sunday, 21 June. 

 

Background information: Direct Democracy and Citizen’ Conventions

The call for direct democracy tools has gathered momentum in France in recent years, with the Yellow Vests movement demanding the introduction of a Citizens-Initiated Referendum tool (Référendum d'initiative Citoyenne or RIC). In response to these demands, President Macron in January of 2019 launched the Grand Débat National. However, this process was widely criticised for its weak institutional follow-up. In protest, the Yellow Vests Movement launched their own nation-wide deliberation under the header “the Real Debate” (le Vrai Débat).

Citizens’ Conventions are not a new democratic tool. They were widely used in ancient Greece. Recently, randomly-selected citizens’ assemblies have been used in Eastern Belgium, where they are a permanent element of political decision-making. In Ireland,  citizens’ assemblies have led to several referendums resulting in changes to the Constitution, notably on marriage equality and abortion. Several citizens’ conventions are currently underway around the world with varying degrees of institutional support, such as in the UK, the US State of Washington and in Germany.

 

For more information:

The website of the Citizens’ Convention on Climate: https://www.conventioncitoyennepourleclimat.fr/en/

For a full overview of the proposed measures: www.democracy-international.org/final-propositions-french-citizens-conve...

 

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