Agnès C. and William A. are citizens ! They have been drawn to participate in the Citizens' Climate Convention. Together with the 150, they proposed measures to achieve at least a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 in a spirit of social justice.
The Res publica team accompanied them for 8 months as facilitators to carry out their mission. We met them again after the Convention to get their opinions on this unique experience.
They lived a collective adventure together but also each in their own way. They give their testimonies and share their experiences in order to draw lessons that will be useful for other citizens' assemblies !
Agnès:Before, I thought I was being careful by recycling, by reducing my waste and my consumption. But with the Citizens' Convention I realised that I wasn't doing enough: the situation is much more serious and urgent than we think!
William There was the "slap in the face" that all the members of the Citizens' Convention talk about : the speeches by Valérie Masson-Delmotte and Laurence Tubiana during the first working session caused a shock, an awareness of the urgency to reduce our carbon footprint. But the awakening to the ecological transition is not the same for everyone. At some point you have to be receptive, take the time to get information and debate. With what we have experienced, we understand that there is no better way to get 66 million French people on board than through words and debate. Education on the climate issue should not only be reserved for children. It must also reach adults.
Agnès : The French will take up the climate issue by getting informed ! I wonder why Valérie Masson-Delmotte's speech is not broadcast on the 8 o'clock news ! Everyone should have access to the quality and level of information that we have had. I also think that we must use all possible means of communication, at all levels. The development of Citizens' Conventions at the local level is essential to be even closer to the citizens and the daily issues.
William:The roadmap that we have defined is ambitious, it is equal to the challenge: we should not deviate from it. At my level, I try to tell my story as a member of the Citizens' Climate Convention, because it is a way of raising awareness. At the local level, communities that share the awareness and urgency to act intend to apply our measures. They can rely on the 150 citizens spread throughout the territory! They can also organise local Citizens' Conventions and help spread the word.
Agnès: There was the moment when the carbon tax was put on the table and rejected very violently. It was good to talk about it once and for all, because it was a subject between us, within the groups.
And then at the end of the Convention, there was the vote to put every measure to a referendum. For me, this was a dramatic moment ! In fact, I left after the third measure for which the citizens did not vote to put it to a referendum. I did not understand why the other citizens of the Convention did not want our measures to be put to a referendum. In my opinion, we were there to highlight measures, to put them up for debate, but not to impose them on the executive and on the French people, whom we had to hear. That would have made it possible to open the debate with the whole of society and to participate in raising awareness.
William: There was a session where we had to rank the proposals that emerged in order of preference. The fight against urban sprawl, which I felt strongly about, seemed to be unanimously supported by the "Housing" group, but as there were many other subjects, it was not ranked in the priorities. We challenged the scheme and insisted on the need not to discard structuring measures. The facilitator pointed out that proposals that were close and consistent with each other could be put together. A whole area of our work could have been lost at that point, fortunately this was not the case and this measure contributes to the strength of our work.
Agnès: I think we were legitimate because we responded to a mandate, and we played the game to the end. However, I have read studies published by researchers which say that from the moment we had the possibility of refusing to participate, the representativeness was biased. The very fact of retaining people who could free themselves to come to all the sessions may have prevented some employees from participating. So there is room for improvement to ensure that the people who are selected at random are accompanied and participate. This is also why I believe that the referendum would have strengthened our legitimacy as citizens representing the expectations of the French society.
William: We were very different from each other : I have rarely discussed with such a diversity of people. But still, a multiple-choice referendum on our measures would have allowed us to debate issues that were discussed at the Convention. This would have reduced the time lag when we presented our measures. For example, people might be upset about comprehensive renovation, or about other things. Does this mean that we are not legitimate after all the work done ?
Agnès: Throughout the Citizens' Convention, we gained knowledge on the climate issue. We had a lot of freedom, and the possibility to call on all the actors of the ecological transition. There were no limits : it was exciting, especially as most of the actors we called on responded.
There were also experts on technical and legal issues that we could mobilise. As well as "fact-checkers" to verify intuitions, answer questions and obtain reliable data. Without all this support we would never have succeeded. We have drafted measures that can be written into law as they stand! It was an impossible job for ordinary citizens: we needed help to understand and a real collective intelligence work between the 150 citizens to decode and choose a way together. None of us can claim to be experts! In the end, we only worked for a year on the climate, but together we went further...
William: Facilitation was essential. It had to go through a pedagogical process, and we had to organise the words of 150 French people who can be difficult to manage because of their personalities. We needed a framework and proximity, intimacy and trust. The facilitators were the binders and catalysts of the discussion: one of the keys to the success of the Citizens' Convention. The tabling of amendments to our measures was also a real way of enriching the democratic process. The fact that we were able to complete the measures and vote on the amendments strengthened the process.
Agnès: There was a lot of criticism about the framework given, but in reality, since we became an association, we have realised how difficult it is to communicate without facilitators!
The important thing was to highlight and formulate the ideas that emerged somewhat haphazardly during the discussions. The facilitators knew how to ask the right questions to go further in our reflections and help us in a real funnel work. Working in small groups was also very relevant.
William: I immediately wanted to participate in this Convention, supported by people close to me, but I also took the implication that if I did so I was "collaborating" with the government rather badly. In my opinion, when the opportunity to be heard arises, one cannot refuse it. On the other hand, I have always wanted the public not to confuse the government and the 150: we are independent. I contributed with my own personal reflections, without having been instrumentalised. I was able to put what I wanted on the table.
For example, the proposal to submit a reversibility plan when a building permit is submitted was put into the minister's mouth. It was written into the bill. It's a great feeling! Future buildings will have to prove that they are reversible before they are built. This is a fact, based on my personal reflections, which we debated and enriched with the 150. That said, journalists prefer to dwell on the friction that can exist between citizens and the government, rather than highlighting small victories like this one!
Agnès: I had this impression at the beginning, yes. There was an underlying feeling among the 150 citizens that urged caution. The speakers were warning us. In politically complicated times, with the Yellow Vests crisis, some were suspicious of the organisation and the facilitators. For me, we were all in the same boat, and we needed to trust each other to get there.
William: At first, there was curiosity. Like many French people, my confidence in the political system is low. I was no longer interested in politics because in the last elections I felt that my vote was stolen. I think that democracy needs to evolve to be more attentive to the starting point, which is the well-being of all citizens.
Today I feel like a citizen again, more than ever. The mission of spokesperson motivates me a lot, and I continue to exercise it. I am one of the most followed members of the Convention on Twitter, probably because I started communicating from the beginning. I know that I am quite scrutinised, especially by the ministries, but I continue to express my feelings, my doubts and my certainties.
William: We formed an association, "Les 150", because we thought we could support our work. This association became a privileged interlocutor for the Ministry of Ecology and other ministries responsible for the continuity of the work. Some citizens have also contacted members of parliament. As a result, we have been working for two years, whereas the climate issue requires us to move quickly and act now.
We have also encountered all the political pitfalls: promises, so we have been suspicious from the start. My position was to believe that the government and then the parliamentarians wanted to do things right. Because if they are not ambitious, it will do them more harm than good. But when we see that we are still trying to save Peugeot and Renault, when we know that we have to change... Let's say that we still feel a strong desire on the part of the big groups to whisper in the ears of the ministers. We still live in this aberration of infinite growth. This is no longer the case for me personally.
Agnes: After the Convention, during the drafting of the law, I don't feel that I was really able to participate in the debates and defend our measures. I have the impression that we were invited as spectators, and that we didn't have much say. For this reason, I think the bill falls short of the goals we set for ourselves. It falls even further short of the reduction targets of at least 55% set by Europe.
Concerning the association "Les 150", of which I am the Treasurer, we want to ensure continuity in order to recall the content of our work. We do this despite personal organisational constraints. About thirty active members manage to get involved out of the 150.
Agnès : First of all, we were protected within the Convention because we had the choice to answer journalists' questions or not. Then I regretted the media spotlight on certain measures such as the 110 km/h motorway speed limit or the 28-hour working week. The disagreements that these measures raise are of interest to journalists! But these measures were brought to the media scene without explanation. People have not understood how reducing the speed limit to 110 km/h on the motorways could really reduce greenhouse gas emissions... Moreover, I am surprised that very little is said about the measures on financing. In any case, no one has ever asked me about it!
William: The media are nitpicking but they have taken an interest in the Convention, and have contributed to its reputation. On our side, we have written press releases and an opinion piece on global renovation for example. You can find it on the Twitter of the @150. This has not always been picked up by the media: maybe we don't have all the codes yet!
William: There was public support. Personally, people have come up to me to talk in person or on Twitter. We've also had calls from large groups who know that public opinion will converge at some point, but I remain wary of their intentions. The activists were initially critical of us, because 150 citizens who had nothing to do with the subject were giving their opinion and were being listened to. When you bring something new from nowhere, it raises questions for the militants involved! But then they understood that we were listening to them and that we could also carry their ideas.
Concerning our public action, I think that the Convention had an impact because the scenario was not written in advance. The rejection of the carbon tax by the 150 is an example. We can also see it in the government's reaction to our work, I think they didn't expect us to go so far, and this raises questions and fuels public debate.
We can therefore say that the deliberative democracy we have experienced can help decision-makers, especially if they commit to a real "no filter". But in the end, even if not everything is retained, we still have the feeling of having moved the lines!
Agnes: At first, we wondered why this Convention did not interest many people. Then, little by little, the media and the French became interested. The pandemic that set off the alarm about the state of our society may have played a role. I think it proves that we need to change our lifestyles.
The fact that our measures are included in the stimulus package has raised awareness of the importance of the Citizens' Climate Convention. Even if the bill does not go far enough in my opinion, we still see that companies and actors are acting on our work... I also have the impression that some people are less afraid to go further, because they have become aware, through us, that society is more ready than it seems. In any case, companies are going to be forced to change their way of working and producing, so we have to prepare for the change beforehand. Otherwise, the change will be difficult to overcome.
But beware, it's not only the others who have to move! On the individual side, everyone can act at their own level. One thing leading to another, the 150 testify and give the example around them and to other countries. In my professional life, I have made my employer evolve. Actions are essential at all levels!