Citizens’ Assemblies on Climate

Democratic Innovations in Climate Engagement

What are climate assemblies?

A Citizens’ Assembly is a representative body of citizens who are brought together to discuss and reason together over an issue of public concern before providing a set of recommendations, options, or a collective decision to a convening body. 

The convening body is typically either a level government (national or subnational) or parliament. The members of a Citizens’ Assembly are generally selected to reflect the variety of backgrounds and experience found in the wider population and, in this sense, form a “mini-public”.

Citizens’ Assemblies employ a deliberative approach to an issue and tend to move through three distinct phases: 

  1. A learning phase, where the selected citizens are presented with evidence-based and balanced information on an issue
  2. A listening phase, where they hear from presenters representing the spectrum of thinking on the issue
  3. A deliberation phase, where they collectively decide on recommendations, policy options or decisions to be delivered to the convening body for an official response

Citizens’ assemblies are a form of deliberative democracy, providing an opportunity for citizens to increase their democratic participation that exists neither in the arena of elections and partisan politics, nor in the public sphere. The OECD includes citizens’ assemblies as an important deliberative approach for governments tackling complex policy issues1.

A climate assembly is a citizen assembly that is convened with a focus on climate solutions. 

Recent examples of Climate Assemblies or Citizens’ assemblies which included a focus on climate change:


Denmark grounded their climate assembly in what is deemed to be one of the world’s most ambitious climate laws and with the country’s history of using consensus building at local levels to tackle issues of societal importance.


Grounded in Scotland’s Climate Change Act, this assembly offered one of the first attempt to an intergenerational approach to climate solutions with its integration with the Children’s Parliament.

United Kingdom

This assembly recently concluded and demonstrated how parliamentary committees can work across party lines to support better democratic participation, the UK assembly, just as the French one, produced ambitious recommendations, far beyond what politicians had proposed.


This Assembly was highly visible to the wider public, with 70% of the French public reporting their awareness of the Assembly’s work. Some of the legislation proposed by the assembly, particularly around financing and taxation, was considered both ambitious and innovative.


These local municipal assemblies enabled municipalities to vote on concrete measures against extreme weather events such as flooding. Read the Polish report here.


The Irish Citizen Assembly introduced recommendations for Ireland to become a climate leader. It is thought to have greatly contributed to Ireland divesting from fossil fuels.

Photo Credit: Images are screenshots of each assembly's landing page

Why a climate assembly?

The deep structural reshaping that will be necessary to tackle climate change will inevitably require innovations and risk-taking in policy making. Deliberative mini-publics in the form of climate assemblies can be used to effectively test options for ways forward and weigh their trade-offs against the values put forth by citizens. Climate Assemblies can act as “trusted arbiters” of public reason. Deliberative democracy approaches such as climate assemblies can increase the prominence of issues in the public consciousness and lead to better understanding of complex issues like climate change. Climate assemblies can become “facilitative trustees” that can bridge the gap between citizens who have little trust in political processes and government institutions that may have negative past experiences with citizen input by facilitating knowledgeable and effective participation. These deliberative processes can complement traditional representative democracy processes while also countering the wave of misinformation currently experienced by many liberal democracies. Citizen Assemblies offer an opportunity to move past polarization and embrace a diversity of perspectives and options that could provide the fodder for the societal innovations needed to tackle climate change. 

Characteristics of successful Climate Assemblies:

Random selection of participants

Organizers typically employ some form of quasi-random selection, such as sortition, to ensure all citizens have a roughly equal chance of participating. Citizens are selected to reflect a variety of demographics, backgrounds and experiences.

Independent coordination

The coordinators should be impartial, e.g. not active politicians or direct stakeholders.

Inclusion of a wide range of perspectives in both the learning and the listening process

If there are diverse solutions and perspectives on a subject, ideally all of them should be presented during the educational phase of the citizens’ assembly (by expert speakers, readings or videos).


Discussions which include listening to others mindfully and weighing options in relation to participants’ values are key elements of a citizen assembly.

Interaction and integration with the wider society 

All members of society should be able to provide input to the citizen assembly in the form of comments, proposals or suggestions. The assembly members should ideally have opportunities to build awareness with the wider public. Decision-makers should be provided with opportunities to interact with the assembly members. This integrative approach reinforces the sense of ownership over the outcomes of the assembly.

Impact and accountability 

The follow-up to the citizen assembly’s recommendations should be clear from the outset. Ideally, decision-makers should have a duty to respond and/or implement the recommendations of the assembly based on agreed-upon conditions. For example if the recommendations meet a certain threshold of support from the assembly members.


Deliberative materials, hearings, reports from the conclusions of the assembly and how they impacted decision-making should be shared openly with the wider public.

Emerging innovations for better climate assemblies:

Capacity-building and citizen empowerment

A citizen assembly is a unique opportunity to build democratic skills among citizens. In some of the case studies, the capacity building was done mostly through the information provided in the learning phase, in others, media training was provided to support citizens to communicate more widely about what they learned and deliberated on.


Live streaming of all expert presentations and appropriate media access at select times ensured that the proceedings were considered transparent, legitimate and accountable to the wider public and to stakeholders. Participants also proved to be excellent ambassadors for their processes. In the case of the Irish and French Assemblies, citizen participants played an important role in countering disinformation on the issues among the general public.

Involvement with elected officials

All case studies we examined involved some formal interaction between participating citizens and elected representatives. For the U.K. and Irish Citizen Assemblies, parliamentarians of all parties were invited to attend the assembly meetings and engage with the materials and experts presented. By working across party lines, both assemblies garnered multi-partisan support and enjoyed a high level of trust from citizens. Having gone through previous experiences of successful citizen assemblies in both countries made for a stronger support from parliamentarians. In France too, efforts were made to engage parliamentarians from all parties to ensure they understood the role of the assembly and that it was not jeopardizing the role parliamentarians play in representative democracy. While this was a significant amount of work, it avoided having elected officials delegitimizing this citizen-led process. 

Accountability of decision-makers

In most of the assembly models we examined, the branch of government that requested the assembly agreed to be accountable to participants by committing to a formal response explaining how the government would or would not act on the citizens’ recommendations. The strongest example of accountability were Poland and France. French President Macron met with the participants and formally laid out which of their recommendations would be implemented in the shortterm and which ones would be put to referendum or needed further consultation with other levels of government (E.U. and regions). This level of direct involvement of the President increased the perceived legitimacy of the process and there are currently discussions underway in France to create a more permanent structure for the citizen assembly. In Poland, where citizens’ assemblies led by municipalities, the recommendations became binding if there is 80% of support from the assembly members. Within three months of receiving the recommendations, City officials are obligated to present on how recommendations supported by at least 65 percent of the participants were addressed. An independent monitoring team established by the mayor of the city supervises the implementation of the citizens’ assembly’s recommendations.

Dialogue Dispatch


Dialogue Dispatch is our community of practice newsletter where we share updates on our team's knowledge exchange activities alongside inspiring case studies, suggested readings and practical tools for people and organizations working to transform the field of democratic participation.

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