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Setting the Remit for Climate Assemblies

@ Wojciech Radwanski / Fundacja Stocznia (Poland’s Citizens’ Assembly on Energy Poverty)
The remit for a climate assembly should be timely and relevant for citizens and policymakers, fit with the local context of climate politics, be accepted by most stakeholders, and consider the implications for delivery of the assembly given the constraints of time and money.
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Why is this an issue?  

Deciding on the question that the climate assembly will deal with is not easy. Who should set the questions? Should it be an open question on what to do in response to the climate crisis – or a more specific policy question? What is the promise that you should make to assembly members about how their work will feed through to policy and decision making? Answers to these questions have significant effects on the organisation of the assembly and on its impact on the commissioning authority and other stakeholders.

What have we learned from previous assemblies?

The remit for a climate assembly should be timely and relevant for citizens and policymakers, fit with the local context of climate politics, be accepted by most stakeholders, and consider the implications for delivery of the assembly given the constraints of time and money. This is not an easy balance to achieve.

Who sets the remit?
Most remits are set by the commissioning authority, sometimes in consultation with key stakeholders, policy experts, scientists and participation experts. On occasion, the general public has been asked to give its opinion through a digital platform and there are cases where assembly members themselves have had a key role.  It is difficult to say that one approach is better than another because much depends on why the assembly is organised and the extent to which the commissioning authority is committed to respond to the assembly recommendations. Giving members a role in deciding the remit certainly increases their agency and allows them to follow their own interests, but their choices may not relate well to the opportunities to affect policy within the commissioning body – or amongst other stakeholders.

The remit of Scotland’s Climate Assembly was broadly framed through legislation, but the specific question asked of the assembly was decided through a series of facilitated workshops involving members of the assembly’s independent advisory body (the Stewarding Group) and the assembly’s Secretariat (composed of seconded civil servants).

In Denmark’s Climate Assembly, a broad remit was established that asked the assembly to inform the process of transition and the national climate plan. Within that broad remit, assembly members were facilitated to prioritise the areas they wished to focus on.  

The permanent Brussels Climate Assembly empowers members to decide on the agenda. Assembly members are replaced on an annual basis – those leaving the assembly set the remit for the next assembly, having consulted with the municipal authority and other stakeholders.

The Devon Climate Assembly in the UK was preceded by a consultation exercise with stakeholders and the public which narrowed the remit down to three major policy challenges facing the locality: renewable energy, car use and retrofit of buildings.

Broad or tight remit?
The remits of climate assemblies can be roughly divided into broad and tight. Broad remits have tended to be favoured, particularly at the national level. Remits often ask the assembly to consider how the country, region or city should reduce its emissions to a specified level within a particular timeframe. Some move beyond mitigation to include questions of adaptation.

Three examples of remits from the Irish, French, and Scottish national assemblies:

How can the State make Ireland a leader in tackling climate change?

How to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% by 2030, in a spirit of social justice?

How should Scotland change to tackle the climate emergency in an effective and fair way?

Tighter remits ask assembly members to consider a particular policy challenge such as energy costs, flooding, air pollution, congestion, green spaces, etc.

Pros and cons of broader remits


  • Helpful when commissioner is looking for an overarching platform for climate action that sets a long-term direction of travel.
  • More freedom and sense of ownership to members.
  • Space for dealing with systemic and cross-cutting issues – e.g., questions of justice, the existing growth model, etc.
  • Can generate a set of proposals that are sensitive to the interdependencies between issues.


  • More time and resources necessary to produce actionable recommendations.
  • Often have to split the assembly into groups to work on different aspects of the climate crisis, so not all recommendations are considered in depth by whole assembly.
  • Can be overwhelming for citizens if not designed carefully.
  • Not all recommendations will align with policy windows.

Pros and cons of tighter remits


  • Easier to focus assembly on policy dilemmas and to tie in with relevant policy windows.
  • More focused package of policy proposals.
  • Easier to involve whole assembly in development of proposals.
  • Easier to hold the commissioning body to account for its response.
  • In contexts where climate is a contested and polarising issue, focusing on specific policy challenges may be more politically acceptable


  • Assembly members sometimes feel constrained.
  • More difficult to deal with interconnections between policy areas and other systemic challenges.
  • The agenda of commissioning bodies tends to dominate over the interests of citizens.

Almost all assemblies with broad remits have to make strategic decisions about how to manage the workload. This normally involves breaking into workstreams on specific issues (hence workstreams with tighter remits). In France, for example, the organisers selected housing, labour and production, food, transport, consumption. In Denmark, the members were empowered to decide on the areas they wished to focus on within the assembly’s broad remit.

An alternative approach: evaluation of policy options or scenarios.
A different approach is to task the assembly with evaluating policy options or scenarios. For example, many of the recommendations of the Climate Assembly UK were based on scenarios and options developed by the expert leads. Finland’s Citizens’ Jury on Climate Actions was asked to consider the fairness and impact of 14 potential measures to be included in the national Medium-Term Climate Change Policy Plan.  

Such an approach is highly responsive to commissioner’s immediate policy needs, but it leaves much less space for members to be creative as they are not asked to develop their own recommendations. It can also require more preparation time to develop scenarios or select policies for review.

Commitment to respond.
Remits often include a commitment by the commissioning authority to formally respond to the assembly. This is good practice. For example, the Scottish government committed to respond to the report of Scotland’s Climate Assembly within 6 months; the Brussels-Capital Region government is committed to provide an initial response to its permanent assembly within three months and a more considered and detailed response within a year. Evidence suggests that while commitments are often made, not enough attention and resources are given to the follow-up process (see Quick Read on Follow-up).


Make sure you have an answer to the fundamental question “why are we running this assembly?” The motivation behind the assembly will help guide the setting of its remit. Surface the different assumptions of commissioners and stakeholders. It cannot be assumed that everyone is thinking the same thing. By surfacing assumptions and expectations, a common objective can be agreed from which the remit flows.

Carefully consider whether a broad or tight agenda is most relevant for the current context. Much will depend on expectations of what the climate assembly can achieve.

Use the setting of the remit as a first opportunity to reach out to relevant groups to involve them in the process – for example, policy makers, stakeholders, scientists, participation experts and the broader public. Where governance bodies have been established (see Quick Read on Governance of Climate Assemblies), consider giving a formal role to advisory committees in defining the final remit.

Make sure you take advice from participation experts about what makes a good question and what is possible for the assembly to achieve in the time and resources available.

Be explicit about current policy dilemmas and the opportunities to affect policy development.

Consider setting an agenda within which the members can decide their priorities for areas to work on. This will require some background information for members so that they can make decisions based on an understanding of the sectors that are most climate intensive, etc. The remit should include a commitment to how recommendations will be used and when a formal response to the assembly can be expected within the remit. Make sure that consideration and resources are given to the follow-up process (see Quick Read on Follow-up).

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