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Global Warming and Climate Emergency: are Global Citizens’ Assemblies an Answer to the Call?

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What are Citizens’ Assemblies and why are they relevant?

A citizens’ assembly (hereinafter referred to as CA) is a form of democratic innovation in which a set of ordinary people, randomly selected to represent the diversity of the society, are invited to come together to discuss about pressing socio-political issues. Unlike traditional forms of decision-making process, in CAs the conversations are led by citizens instead of experts or politicians. With the aim of fostering informed and inclusive deliberations, which enables participants to learn about particular issues, share individual experiences, and freely express personal perspectives, CAs often end with a list of policy recommendations.

This approach significantly increases the possibility for citizens to get involved in the decision-making process by giving the general public more voice: CAs are regarded as one of the best ways to institutionalize deliberative democracy. Consequently, we can observe a consistent rise of CAs around Europe to address prominent political issues.


Global Citizens’ Assembly: a step to the upranational level

CAs have proved to be remarkably impactful in democratic decision-making processes at either national or local level. However, in face of increasing interconnected global challenges, a mechanism which allows more cooperation, while being politically independent to national governments’ disputes, is on the agenda; thus, the idea of Global CAs is invited.

Whilst national CAs focus more on local social issues, which are contained in the nations’ jurisdiction, Global CAs operate with a more international perspective and include a variety of global challenges in their agenda. Distinctive from international forums, led by scholars or politicians, Global CAs preserve the characteristic of being citizen-led, where participants from different backgrounds and cultures are given the possibility to address challenges faced by the entire world. It is, therefore, crucial to understand that Global CAs aims at creating new pieces of global infrastructure which encourage citizens and ordinary people to be the fuel of change when facing societal dissatisfactions.

These supranational CAs represent a development of deliberative democracy, the extension of the measure represents both ambition and novel challenges. While participants are allowed to aim at surpassing national interests in discussing global issues, the process of deliberation needed to reach conclusions is of course much more complex and time consuming.


Citizens’ Assembly and its climate discourses

One of the most critical concerns faced today by our international community is undisputedly the challenge of global warming, or as António Guterres, the UN secretary general stated on July 27th, 2023 “the era of global boiling has arrived”. In response to the multiple failings of the COP climate summits, in 2021 the world’s first Global CA for that year’s UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) was held in Glasgow.

As Guterres states: “The Global Citizens’ Assembly for COP26 is a practical way of showing how we can accelerate action through solidarity and people power. You are helping to send the message loud and clear: people everywhere want bold, ambitious climate action, and now is the moment for national leaders to stand and deliver.”

The objective of these meetings was then clear: to generate a governmental infrastructure which promotes and builds citizen power and at the same time is independent from other institutional powers standing in the international governance network. Consequently, the assembly aimed at answering one big framing question, which was: “How can humanity address the climate and ecological crisis in a fair and effective way?” This was achieved predominantly through three sections: the core assembly, community assemblies and a cultural wave.

The event had its final report being published during the 2022 UN Climate Challenge Conference (COP27) in Sharm El-Sheikh. This report proved that organizing such large-scale global deliberation is not beyond the bounds of possibility, and that people across different social backgrounds are willing to support and participate in such initiatives. As we look back from a contemporary perspective, whether the assembly helped resolve the climate crisis is disputable. Still, studies do show that the event helped to significantly raise the participant’s sense of influence on issues related to the climate crisis, and this is shown in the graph below.



Supranational Citizens’ Assemblies and EU climate actions

The EU has long strived to make an impact by leading the international community into taking more proactive climate actions. As a Union characterized by multilateralism and commitment to equality, CAs offer a promising avenue to engage European citizens into the political discourse and decision-making process for climate challenges.

As discussed in the above sections, supranational CAs are a governmental infrastructure which extends over national boundaries and transcends specific party interests that might be more heavily at play at national level. Global warming and other climate change related natural disasters are catastrophes which directly influence every citizen of our Union. Engaging citizens from each member state helps not only because CAs are an independent forum to national interests; but also, as they encourage the formation of a common responsibility through participants when facing climate change. European citizens need to be included as part of the change; a people’s action is much more requested than a political action.

Moreover, the unique features of Global CAs help in the democratization of policymaking related to climate actions by the Union. This is an opportunity for European citizens as they can finally get their voices directly heard by the top leaders of our Union. One of the biggest issues related to the representation of our Union is that European citizens are rarely included in any decision-making process, the limited input policy makers can get often lead to the inadequate or insufficient responses by the EU as a supranational organization. CAs would be beneficial as they reengage European citizens and empower communities around various member states to reclaim control over the EU’s future.


Conclusions and remarks

CAs are important for enhancing our democratic system in many ways, but what I regard as the most irreplaceable feature is that it is a method that activates normal people in societies to take real actions when facing societal frustration. It is not as if politicians and governments haven’t been advocating for societal participation in issues, yet unfortunately our current democratic system rarely succeeds in generating high engagement in citizens. Or it is also the case that when citizens are very engaged on a certain societal problem, it is usually because the discontent has been building up for a long term without adequate governmental response.

Of course, it is necessary to recognize that CAs, just like all other democratic innovations, are extremely novel, at least, in practice. The fact that they are innovations makes them fragile and open to continuous challenges by our political systems. From logistic complexities to ensuring diverse representation, the design of a CA is much more complicated than one can possibly imagine.

Another formidable task is to deliver the output of the CA. The innovative ideas and recommendations generated by citizens on many occasions die with the end of the publication of the paper since politicians are not legally requested to deliver every single one of them. Subsequently, the impact of a CA is unfortunately dependent on the willingness and commitment of political institutions to carry them out.

Nonetheless, we are today living in a difficult era of climate emergencies and the current international efforts have failed the global population expectations for long. CAs may not be perfect, but they still represent a hope of improvement and most importantly that people care about the environmental crisis. By harnessing the collective wisdom and passion of European citizens, CAs at EU level are instrumental in making a transformative action for a greener and more sustainable European future.




·  Elstub, Stephen, and Zohreh Khoban. “9 Citizens’ Assemblies: A Critical Perspective.” De Gruyter EBooks, June 5, 2023, 113–26.

·  Mellier, Claire, and Rich Wilson. “A Global Citizens’ Assembly on the Climate and Ecological Crisis.” Carnegie Europe, February 14, 2023.

·  The Guardian. “Global Citizens’ Assembly to Be Chosen for UN Climate Talks,” October 5, 2021.

·  United Nations. “Taking on Record Temperatures: UN Chief’s Call to Action.” YouTube, July 27, 2023.


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