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​The Austrian Citizens’ Climate Assembly

​Purpose: The Klimarat was organized in response to one of the demands of a citizens’ initiative on climate protection (Klimavolksbegehren) which collected 380,000 signatures (required threshold 100,000 for parliamentary debate) between 2018 and 2020. In March 2021 a parliamentary resolution handed over responsibility for organization of a climate assembly to the Ministry of Climate Action.

Website. https://klimarat.org/

​Commissioning. The Assembly was commissioned by the Federal Ministry for Climate Action, on behalf of the Austrian Parliament

​Task. To propose measures to reach climate neutrality in Austria by 2040  

​Commitment to respond. No formal mechanisms for response in the resolution. At the launch of the Assembly the Minister committed to replying, but no details of how that would take place were given.

​Governance. The formal decision-making body for the Assembly was a core team made up of the facilitation delivery consortium, two coordinators of the Scientific Board, the public relations agency, civil society engagement officers and a public official from the Ministry. Day-to-day decisions were made by the facilitation consortium, working closely with the Scientific Board which provided guidance on the format, balance and accuracy of evidence. The Scientific Board constituted 15 climate experts from across different disciplines. A Stakeholder Advisory Board involved representatives of different social partnerships, including the Chamber of Commerce, agriculture, labour unions, climate and social justice NGOs, youth and Klimavolksbegehren, the organization that led the original citizens’ initiative. The Stakeholder Advisory Board was updated by the delivery team after every weekend.

​Delivery bodies. The delivery consortium responsible for design and facilitation comprised ÖGUT, pulswerk and PlanSinn. Locki and Keck contracted to deliver public relations strategy and website. Two civil society engagement officers appointed, funded by the European Climate Foundation, to undertake more extensive engagement with stakeholders.

​Participant recruitment. Statistics Austria (national statistics agency) recruited 100 participants and 20 reserves by random stratified sampling through a two-stage civic lottery. Criteria applied: age, gender, education, urban/rural, region, income-level, citizenship (Austrian, EU and non-EU – participants had to have lived in Austria for five years). The non-EU category was the only one not filled. Reserves were used only for the first weekend. At the end of the process, 88 members were active, of whom 83 participated in the final vote.

​Duration. Six in-person weekends between January and June 2022 in (alternately) Vienna and Salzburg.

​Structure. The first weekend introduced the assembly process and basic information on the climate crisis and climate protection. Five themes introduced in weekend 2 which became the basis for workstreams that developed proposals: mobility; housing; energy; production and consumption food and land use. Two transversal themes also identified – global responsibility and social justice – which were considered by all workstreams and were the specific focus of weekend 5. In weekend 4, the Assembly engaged with social partners (members of the Stakeholder Advisory Board) and politicians. The social partners were invited to write impulse papers on any of the seven topics which were sent to participants and the engagement involved two rounds of dialogue groups. Politicians from all five parliamentary parties presented and took questions. Final decision making took place in weekend 6.

​Facilitation. Table facilitation with working groups of between 8-11 participants. Facilitator and assistant (for documentation) always present. Dynamic facilitation was tested briefly. Sign language translation available.

​Technology. Internal space on website to share documentation and videos. Slack online space created but not used much. Members self-organised in WhatsApp groups, typically based on regions.

​Evidence base. Scientific Board provided advice on provision of evidence. Board produced fact sheets on the 5 main topic areas. Two experts from Board responsible for each topic area: required to produce joint keynotes, to provide feedback on members questions and bring in additional experts when needed. Expert leads did not propose specific measures but rather identified 4 to 5 leverage points for each area which were used by members to brainstorm ideas. Presentations pre-recorded for each of the topics. All evidence sessions available on YouTube.

​Developing recommendations. Recommendations developed in 10 working groups (two per workstream). Members of the Scientific Board available to answer questions during development of recommendations. Proposals exchanged in plenary sessions within workstreams. Marketplace created most weekends so that proposals could be shared across Assembly members using a template designed by facilitators. Allowed members to identify synergies and duplication. Before and during weekend 5, members provided feedback on the proposed recommendations from each working group. Scientific Board reviewed and provided feedback on all recommendations, including issues that may have been overlooked. Working groups free to incorporate feedback before finalizing recommendations.  

​Decision-making. Consensus required from within each workstream for a recommendation to progress. One person could block a recommendation which happened in a small number of cases (e.g., proposed speed limits on highways). Each recommendation that passed this threshold considered by whole assembly. Any recommendation was allowed up to 9 reservations (small or major concerns). All recommendations passed. Objections documented in the report.

​Final report. Assembly approved 93 recommendations, 10 of which were general recommendations, with the rest clustered in the 5 topic areas. Recommendations presented to the government on 4 July 2022. Each recommendation accompanied by a rationale: a description of the measure, potential positive effects and how to avoid possible negative side effects.

​Communication. A public relations team - Locki and Keck – contracted to ensure publicity and transparency. Organised press conference at start and end of process. In contact with journalists throughout the process and a specific hour for journalists to be present at each weekend. Participants put in contact with media early in process. PR team also responsible for website which published a summary of the Assembly’s work after each weekend. Two civil society engagement officers led more in-depth communication with interested parties (e.g., regional government climate and energy managers, climate NGOs and activists, etc.), distributing a newsletter after every session. Officers continuing their work until end of 2022.

​Public engagement. Online consultation using the Pol.is platform between weekends 4 and 5. Public able to rate 100 statements by Assembly and able to add own ideas. Around 6,000 people participated. Results given to members to consider. Public webinar organized twice involving participants and facilitation team.

​Official response. Seven ministries, coordinated by the Ministry for Climate Action, published a 130-page formal response to the 93 recommendations in late November 2022. The report offers a detailed response to each of the recommendations made by the Klimarat, offering explanations ranging from coherence of proposals with existing policy through to why government is not willing or able to act. The government emphasises that its response is only the first step and that further work is taking place as part of the preparation for its updated National Energy and Climate Plan.

​Oversight of official response. Members formed Association of the First Austrian Citizens’ Climate Assembly to monitor government response and to spread knowledge on climate crisis and their recommendations. Civil society engagement officers supporting the Association which is open to supporting members.  

​Impact. Too early to judge policy impact. Articles in major newspapers after each weekend. PR agency put particular focus on regional and local media. Final results widely reported across different media formats. ORF (Austrian national TV channel) produced 4 short (15 minute) documentaries following members. 25 mayors provided support to assembly which helped local media engagement. Pol.is consultation generated media attention, including from the most popular radio station. Following the publication of the Assembly’s final report, a spontaneous rally in support of the climate assembly organised by Fridays for the Future (F4F). Mehr Demokratie, Klimavolksbegehren, F4F and Extinction Rebellion established an alliance, organising an online petition to put pressure on government to fully consider the recommendations.

​Evaluation.  

​Scientific evaluators from two institutions – Research Lab Democracy and Society in Transition and Institute for Forest, Environmental and Resource Policy. Funded 50/50 by European Climate Foundation and Ministry.

​Budget. Total available budget €2m – half for delivery of assembly (e.g., facilitation, travel and hotels); half for communication.  

​Further resources. Introductory video  

Video of KNOCA learning call on the Austrian Citizens’ Climate Assembly  

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