Oxford Citizens Assembly on climate change

Following Oxford City Council’s declaration of a climate emergency in January 2019, Ipsos were commissioned to conduct a Citizens Assembly on Climate Change in Oxford.

The author(s)

  • Kelly Finnerty Public Affairs
  • Paul Carroll Public Affairs
  • Gary Welch Public Affairs
  • Glenn Gottfried Public Affairs, Ipsos North
  • Holly Day Public Affairs
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Ipsos recruited 50 Oxford residents to be Assembly Members who met over two weekends. They were tasked with responding to the following question: “The UK has legislation to reach ‘net zero’ by 2050. Should Oxford be more proactive and seek to achieve ‘net zero’ sooner than 2050?”, as well as discussing five key themes: waste reduction, buildings, transport, biodiversity & offsetting and renewable energy.

Should Oxford seek to achieve ‘net zero’ sooner than 2050?

  • The majority of Assembly Members (37 out of 41) felt that Oxford should aim to achieve ‘net zero’ sooner than 2050. However, even among those who agreed with this, there was little consensus on when Oxford should aim to reach ‘net zero’ instead. Instead, Assembly Members felt that rapid action was required, that the speed of action depended on the specific area under consideration, and that interim targets would help measure progress.
  • Assembly Members were very aware of the scale of the problem and the need for change. Both the scale and the need for change were greater than they had anticipated before the Assembly, yet what they heard – from experts and from fellow Assembly Members – encouraged them that change was possible.
  • Assembly Members responded particularly positively to the examples of what is already being done across Oxford to address climate change and meet the goal of becoming ‘net zero’. There was limited awareness of this among Assembly Members, however, it gave a sense of what could be done – which helped counter the fear that things have gone too far already or that the scale of the challenge makes reaching ‘net zero’ an intractable problem.
  • Discovering that something is already being done encouraged them to think that even more could be done. This strongly suggests that communicating more about what is already being done can help foster enthusiasm and optimism.
  • Assembly Members were perturbed by the extent to which the burden of change was – in their eyes – being placed on individuals. They wanted to know what large businesses and government were doing to change their ways – and, in the latter case, to support individuals and communities to meet ‘net zero’. Related to this, there were many questions about how changes – new heating systems, retrofitted homes, solar panels – will be paid for.
  • There was, therefore, a sense that the council needs to communicate a shared vision and strategy to reaching ‘net zero’ that shows the roles played by local and national government, businesses, and individuals.
  • There was also a demand for more education and information provided for the wider public in Oxford to help them understand what they can personally do to help. Specifically, Assembly Members wanted more information about how to recycle correctly.

Vision of a ‘net zero’ Oxford

  • When imagining a ‘net zero’ Oxford, Assembly Members envisioned Oxford having become a leader in tackling the climate crisis. In achieving this, Oxford would become a more liveable city, with better communities, happier, healthier people, and a cleaner and more pleasant environment to live in – all without sacrificing residents’ standard of living. There is an opportunity here for the council to harness this strong civic pride – Assembly Members felt that, as an affluent city with access to the expertise of the university, Oxford should be leading the way.
  • Enhanced biodiversity was central to the overall ‘net zero’ vision of Oxford with increased flora and fauna in the city. Assembly Members foresaw major changes in transport provision in Oxford with cycling, walking, and public transport prioritised over private motor vehicles.
  • There would be key changes in the buildings sector with improved building standards, widespread retrofitting, and more domestic and non-domestic energy needs being met by sustainable sources. Assembly Members anticipated future Oxford residents would have more sustainable patterns of consumption with less waste and increased levels of recycling.
  • However, it’s important to consider the caveats to this broadly optimistic and positive image. Around one in four to one in three Assembly Members rejected the most ambitious – and, therefore, challenging to achieve – visions of a future Oxford. For these Assembly Members, the most ambitious scenario typically felt impractical, unrealistic, and represented too great a change from their current lifestyles. Bringing these more sceptical or reluctant citizens with you will be vital to meeting the ‘net zero’ challenge. 

Technical note

  • The Assembly was conducted over two weekends – 28 and 29 September and 19 and 20 October 2019. Each session lasted from approximately 9:30am until 5:30pm and was facilitated by Ipsos moderators and professional note takers.
  • Weekend one involved listening to and questioning expert speakers and weekend two consisted of deliberation and discussion around what should happen next.
  • The Assembly covered five key themes related to carbon reduction measures: waste reduction, buildings, transport, biodiversity & offsetting and renewable energy. For each theme, Assembly Members heard presentations from various expert speakers and deliberated on the key issues. They were then presented with three possible visions of the future for Oxford – ranging from least ambitious to most ambitious – and the potential benefits and trade-offs of each scenario and asked to vote on which they would like to live in.
  • Assembly Members were also asked to vote on the question: “The UK has legislation to reach ‘net zero’ by 2050. Should Oxford be more proactive and seek to achieve ‘net zero’ sooner than 2050?”
  • In total, 50 Oxford residents were recruited to be Assembly Members. Quotas were set for key demographic criteria, to ensure these residents were broadly reflective of the demographic profile of Oxford in terms of gender, age, ethnicity, disability and postcode area – 42 Assembly Members attended both weekend sessions. A breakdown of Assembly demographics can be found on the Oxford City Council website.
  • Other variables were monitored such as social grade, educational attainment, working status, length of Oxford residency, and environmental and political attitudes to ensure a range of Assembly Members were included that reflected the views of the wider Oxford population.
  • There were two phases of recruitment for the Citizens Assembly. Firstly, Assembly Members were recruited from the existing Oxford City Council Citizens Panel – itself recruited by Ipsos on a randomised stratified basis. The gaps in the profile of Assembly Members recruited in this way were filled via a second stage of free-find on-street recruitment.
  • All Assembly Members were recruited by Ipsos specialist recruiters. A purposive sampling approach was adopted, whereby key quotas were set, and Assembly Members were recruited according to these using a screening questionnaire.

The author(s)

  • Kelly Finnerty Public Affairs
  • Paul Carroll Public Affairs
  • Gary Welch Public Affairs
  • Glenn Gottfried Public Affairs, Ipsos North
  • Holly Day Public Affairs

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