I was very impressed with the presentations from the Citizen Panelists who spoke to Executive Committee yesterday. They were some of the 57 Edmontonians of diverse backgrounds who came together last fall to deliberate over six weekends on tough questions of climate and energy facing Edmoton.
Two things impressed me most: their positivity and their high level of consensus (here’s a video showing both).
On their positivity, the discussion paper they worked from laid out the intimidating scale of the challenges that lie ahead; and yet they were optimistic that with sustained political will, meaningful progress on reducing emissions could be achieved.
On the panelists’ high level of consensus, the appendix to their report shows that there was a diversity of views on the causes and significance of climate change going in. We heard that diversity honoured among the speakers. And yet, in spite of that diversity of views, the better than 90% of the panelists envision a sound case for reducing our reliance on fossil fuels over time. Climate change or no, they overwhelmingly agreed that reducing fossil fuel reliance will reduce consumers’ exposure to price fluctuations, lead to cleaner air, and support a healthier population, just to name a few benefits. In other words, they see more risk with business as usual than with taking proactive steps.
And the good news from the technical reports is that it is possible to make significant reductions (more than 50% from today’s city-wide) by 2044. The challenge is that the City, while able to influence some of the proposed strategies, only has direct control over a small portion of it. Proactive decisions by consumers, industry, and other orders of government are all required to make significant change. Nevertheless, it is significant that a diverse group of Edmontonians, armed with the facts and a chance to debate them thoroughly, endorses such a vision so strongly. And it’s telling that those panelists are still engaged and are self-organizing to continue to advocate their shared views.
Of the things the City does more directly influence, the panelists are advocating for building a more compact city with more density and more diverse housing choices (in both new and old areas) and supporting those with more transportation choices that enhance conditions for walking, cycling and transit use. They also recommended the city buy more renewable energy, which we’re doing, and increase the efficiency of our buildings and systems.
City administration will now work on a more detailed implementation plan with business cases around each recommendation, which will come back to Council in early in 2014. This will be a chance to highlight the great work already happening, as well as reach further.
I think citizen panels are a promising tool, which we’ve used a few times now, to work through complex issues that divide our citizens. As a decision maker, I think this kind of ‘deliberative democracy’ exercise with our citizens can be very helpful. They empower citizens and they cut through polarization – and we need more of both.
I wanted to thank the panelists and the U of A’s Centre for Public Involvement and the Alberta Climate Dialogue group for all their thoughtful work. Experts in public engagement have been monitoring and advising on this project all the way along and I believe it’s a good news story for Edmonton.