Nottingham Youth Climate Assembly 2022
Rosanna Wilson gives a deeper insight into the Assembly, explaining its rationale, planning and, critically, where the team hopes it can lead. Rosanna is a doctoral researcher studying wellbeing and sustainability in the School of Education at University of Nottingham and a key member of the assembly organising committee.
Setting the scene
COP27 marks a key moment in the implementation of global climate action, and can provoke both hope and frustration at the slow pace of global progress towards tackling climate breakdown and reaching zero carbon. Yet the global picture will be made from local efforts, and by engaging with communities at ground level to understand ways of implementing climate solutions. Every community can contribute to the radical transformation that is required.
Why a Youth Climate Assembly in Nottingham?
Young people’s voices are often removed from decision-making, and concerns around the adequacy of information and opportunities to act on climate change throw into light the extent of injustice when it comes to responses to climate change, since young people will bear the weight of the effects of climate change for which they are least responsible.
In spite of youth movements such as School Strikes for Climate and Teach the Future; Nottingham Climate Assembly’s research in the Nottingham community in collaboration with the Pythian Club backed up the 2021 Lancet report on youth climate anxiety: a majority of young people feel ill informed, lacking in hope and ill equipped to influence the future of our planet (Nottingham Climate Assembly survey, 2021).
A collaborative community approach to bringing a Youth Citizens’ Assembly to Life
In Nottingham city, there are ambitious plans to achieve carbon neutrality by 2028, but many young people are unaware of this programme, and unclear on how to contribute to its success. Last Autumn, a team of local organizations got together with Nottingham Climate Assembly to address how we could put together a plan to involve young people of Greater Nottingham in information, planning and decision making to support Nottingham’s just transition to carbon neutrality.
Thanks to the help of local Lottery funded project, Green Meadows and youth organization, the Pythian Club, Nottingham Climate Assembly was awarded COP26 Community Lottery Climate Action Funding to put on Nottingham’s first Youth Climate Assembly. This was to be a weekend residential event of public participation, in the style of the UK wide Citizens Assembly on Climate Change (which took place in 2020), organized with, by and for young people.
Thanks to Green Light in the City and the University of Nottingham’s Institute for Policy and Engagement, the programme of community engagement and weekend event was supported by a further stream of funding to work with a local writer, artist and designer to create a Youth Climate Manifesto for Nottingham, bringing together the ethos and asks of the young participants at the weekend.
The project also established a collaboration with the School of Geography’s Masters in Environmental Leadership programme thanks to Professor Chris Ives and involved three Masters’ students in the organizing and evaluation of the Youth Assembly.
What? Aims and goals
Setting the purpose of the assembly
After a programme of community partnership and outreach, with schools, local colleges, the Nottingham universities and youth organizations, we recruited twenty five young people aged fourteen to twenty-five to participate in the residential weekend assembly event in July 2022. The purpose of the assembly was to enable young people from across Nottingham’s communities to give their perspectives on plans for carbon neutral Nottingham, and to develop an understanding of local solutions to the following areas of challenge posed by the climate and ecological emergency:
- Food and energy
- Transport and planning
- Shopping and consumption
Importantly, the outcomes of these discussions were to be articulated and shared with councillors and decision-makers at local level including businesses as well as political and civic leaders.
A youth-centred approach: Nottingham Climate Assembly Participants and Youth Panel
In preparation for the event, in March 2022, a youth panel was set up with 16-25s who wanted to be part of the project. They consulted with similar youth led projects such as Yorkshire and the Humber’s RYCA (Regional Youth Climate Assembly), established by the region’s youth unit.
The youth panel helped inform the design of the July assembly weekend, selected the themes and activities, and worked with collaborators on the assembly sessions as well as working on the outreach programme. The weekend assembly programme also provided career skills opportunities for the young people involved. A team of local adult volunteers was recruited and trained up in facilitation for citizens assemblies with a youth focus by a facilitation and youth expert from Involve, the UK’s leading public participation charity.
The citizens’ assembly approach: access to experts
The assembly design for the weekend involved working with volunteer experts from the University of Nottingham, Nottingham Good Food Partnership, Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust, Boots, Nottingham City and County Councils and many other supporting individuals such as Alan Simpson (climate campaigner and former advisor to the Shadow Chancellor on Sustainable Economics).
The assembly programme enabled the young people to come together as four teams to tackle over-riding questions of how and why Nottingham aims to get to carbon neutrality, as well as getting into the detail of the problems and available solutions to addressing the four key themes in policy and practice. Practical and hands-on solutions were central for motivation and engagement, bringing the issues to life.
The group therefore also worked with Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust to build a ‘minibeast megalopolis’ with the special support of visiting lecturer Tim Sexton and the Trust’s Youth Programme, Keeping it Wild. This project remains as a lasting legacy of the Youth Assembly by the Orchard on the edge of the University’s Millennium Gardens, and will provide vital habitats for insect life, expanding important havens for wildlife within the city and supporting richer biodiversity such as in the case of solitary bees.
Working with local writer, Andy Barrett and local artist, Laura Jay Doohan, the youth assembly brought together their conclusions from the weekend in their manifesto, which they vetted in July 2022 and launched to the public in September.
Since then, members of the assembly have been campaigning to promote the manifesto, meeting with City Councillors, the County Youth Board, attending the University of Nottingham’s Future of Food Forum, Green Festivals and the Nottingham Citizens Youth Listening Campaign meetings to name some of their activities. Their aim is to promote further engagement with these issues across the city, to inspire more young people to get involved, and to push for action on the key themes. As such the city council have pledged to report on the key asks from the manifesto, and have committed to work with the youth panel as a Youth Climate Committee moving forward.
Additionally, after youth panel members spoke at the Nottingham Green Partnership Meeting in October, a group of businesses and local leaders established to lead on climate action within the city, the group have begun work to undertake a full scale climate assembly, using a full, sortitioned sample of Nottingham’s population.
Public and youth participation for the future: implications
The project saw a great deal of positive outcomes; as shared at the ESRC festival event on the project on Sunday 30th October at Nottingham Contemporary. In their statements, young people and adults involved said that it was a chance to build ‘hope’ and see that their worries for the climate are shared; that collaborative action is possible and solutions are in progress.
Yet this is not to gloss over the challenges also exposed within the project: including continuing barriers to working across the communities and districts of Greater Nottingham across County and City, a need for more radical approaches to inclusion so that Nottingham’s global majority communities are better heard as part of the climate conversation, and concerns that greater public involvement, greater resources and even more imagination are needed if Nottingham is to reach its ambitious goal of carbon neutrality.
Nonetheless, these goals and solutions are a source of hope amidst the ongoing crises.
To quote the young people’s manifesto:
'Our ideas are driven by a belief in community, in collaboration not competition; in the connections between environmental benefits, health and well-being; in a sense of responsibility, inclusivity, diversity, social justice and transparency. They are driven by a demand for radical and innovative action. We believe that if people can work together to re-imagine the way we live our lives, that Nottingham can – and will – become one of the most inspirational cities on the planet in confronting the challenge ahead.
So let’s go …’
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