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People Vs Climate Change: “Climate action is a civic responsibility”Sue Peachey participated in the UK's first ever Citizens' Assembly on climate change. Here she discusses the role of citizens in driving climate action with UN High Level Champion for Climate Action, Nigel Topping.
In 2020, the UK Parliament randomly selected 108 members of public to take part in the UK’s first Citizens’ Assembly on climate change. An independent ‘behind the scenes’ documentary of the Assembly was made: The People Vs Climate Change. The film follows seven members, one of which includes Sue Peachey.
This is a short extract from a conversation that took place on August 17. It has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Nigel Topping: Could you tell us a bit about your story and how you ended up getting involved in The People Vs Climate Change?
Sue Peachey: I received an invitation from The House of Commons back in November 2019 to the UK Citizens’ Assembly on climate change. I suddenly understood the uniqueness of the invitation. I almost saw it as doing jury service, because I realized that being one of the 108 people out of the 66 million people living in the UK was quite a unique experience. I looked upon it as something I was randomly chosen to do, and surely the right thing to do would be to put your name forward and accept.
At that point in time, I didn’t know anything about climate change. But I was willing to go in and learn. And I did it not really for me, but for all my nieces, nephews and step grandchildren as it will affect the future generations much more.
Nigel Topping: I like the analogy of jury service. It’s something that everyone’s supposed to do at some point, but it doesn’t happen very often. However, when you’re called it is your responsibility to fulfil that obligation. Can you tell us about the personal learning process that you went through during the Citizens’ Assembly?
For me, personally, it began on the very first weekend that we went to Birmingham. We were very lucky to have David Attenborough come and talk to us. If you’re going to listen to somebody about climate change, he’s the man! And the fact that he came and actually said, “thank you for taking the time out to come and do this,” made me think that I was definitely doing something worthwhile.
On the first day, we heard from different scientists and climate change experts. That’s when I started to understand what climate change actually is and what the consequences of inaction were. One thing that really stood out for me was the Oxford temperature change chart, which visually showcases the warming of the Earth over the last 100 years.
You started by saying that the reason you said yes to that invitation was a sense of civic duty, like jury service. What would you say to anyone anywhere in the world who gets an invitation to join a Citizens’ Assembly? And if you had to launch a Citizens’ Assembly on another topic, now, what would it be?
If somebody was lucky enough to be asked, and you’re willing to learn and you’ve got the time to do it, I would say it’s such a worthwhile thing to do and you can make a difference. Things are changing, and you’re part of that big change. And if there was a second Citizens’ Assembly, I’d suggest it should be on how to get people out of poverty.
Thank you so much, Sue. It has been a delight to talk to you. I like the fact that you see it as an honour to have been asked; as a matter of civic duty. In terms of your last answer: it is true that climate change and poverty are linked. Those who are the poorest, who’ve done the least to bring upon climate change, are always the ones most exposed to it. In my role, I’m aware that in order for us to tackle climate change, we’re also going to have to tackle inequality and poverty.
Thank you for being a voice for ordinary people to demonstrate the power of education and the importance of civic service, and what some people call a participatory democracy.
Thank you so much, Nigel, I’ll do my best to keep it up!
If you’re interested in learning more about Citizens’ Assemblies, please vist The Global Assembly, the first Citizens’ Assembly that anyone on earth can join. Designed by leading experts, strategists, and change makers, the Global Assembly’s primary purpose is to support citizens to decide on credible, human-centred guiding principles for collective climate action, with the aim of influencing the UN COP26 climate conference in November.
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