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UC researcher’s ideas put into action amid global deliberations on climate change at COP26

Michael Black

12 November 2021: A University of Canberra researcher has helped turn climate change politics on its head at the COP26 summit in Glasgow, Scotland, with 100 international citizens taking part in an historic Global Assembly, that’s been almost a decade in the making.

The idea of a global citizens’ assembly was first posited back in 2011 by three academics, including John Dryzek, Centenary Professor at the University’s Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance.

His vision was to assemble ordinary citizens from across the world to debate significant or controversial global issues, such as climate change, cloning, or gene editing, and come up with a citizens’ statement on the issue.

Professor Dryzek said the Global Assembly made up of everyday people was not about taking the politics out of these issues, but rather to create a new kind of politics – oriented around the common good.

“A lot of effort has gone into forming this first Global Assembly, and it’s part of a larger project to make national and global politics more meaningful and more deliberative,” he said.

“The principles are about getting a diverse and proportional representation of the global population, a variety of perspectives, and hearing voices from the regions most affected by these issues.”

The participants were chosen using algorithmic sortition, a selection process based on population density data – in fact, Australia’s comparatively small population meant it wasn’t represented at the assembly.

Around 70 per cent of participants earned less than 10 dollars a day, half were women, and some had no formal education.

In this first iteration of the Global Assembly, many participants logged on remotely due to COVID-19 restrictions, but several were able to speak at COP26.

Professor Dryzek said it would not be a surprise if the final citizens’ statement proposed much stronger action on climate change compared to the central negotiations of the conference.

“The big thing will be trying to get international organisations and lawmakers to actually pay attention to this people’s statement or declaration,” he said.

“It can be a real challenge to achieve that recognition, but you just have to keep trying.”

Professor Nicole Curato from the University’s Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis (IGPA) said she was cautiously optimistic that the Global Assembly would make a difference to climate change policy.

“The process doesn’t end with COP26  – organisers are hoping to showcase the people’s declaration at high-profile events throughout the next year,” she said.

“There are success stories from a citizen’s assembly in France, where French lawmakers supported a recommendation to ban short-haul international flights when traveling by train is possible.”

Professor Curato’s role within the Global Assembly is to chair the Global Governance and Participation Committee, which she described as the brain trust of the event.

It has given her first-hand insight into the massive, long-term logistics of assembling 100 voices from around the world, based on an idea from 10 years ago.

“The Global Assembly is a testament to the importance of universities as spaces to think of big ideas that can transform global practice,” she said.

“We want to make sure that the Global Assembly does not replicate the same shortcomings of our current global governance system.”

To read the interim people’s declaration on climate change, visit the Global Assembly website.