University of Exeter: Devon’s Climate Assembly shows the way to a net-zero future

The assembly was held over the summer and was made up of 70 members of the public, of different ages and backgrounds, who were randomly selected to be representative of Devon.

Assembly members were presented with expert evidence in key areas that had been highlighted through previous public consultations as being particularly challenging to address.

These were transport, the role of onshore wind and the need to retrofit homes.

University researchers provided expert advice to the Devon Climate Emergency Response Group that fed into the design of the Devon Climate Assembly. Exeter academics are also actively researching the impacts of the assembly, using questionnaires and in-depth interviews with assembly participants, facilitators, expert witnesses and stakeholders.

Then, after 25 hours of deliberations over six weeks, they voted on which of the 14 resolutions they had designed should be included in the Devon Carbon Plan – the county’s roadmap to net-zero.

And now all the 11 recommendations which were supported – and those that weren’t – have been published in full on the Devon Climate Emergency website.

The resolution that had the most support – backed by 93% of assembly members – was that more financial support should be available for those wishing to add energy conservation measures to their homes, a process called “retrofitting”.

Approximately 21% of Devon’s climate emissions are created by our homes, with a typical three-bedroom home using on average 21,500kWh of energy each year for heating, hot water, running appliances and lighting.

In contrast, a fully retro-refitted home with solar panels would need just 4,300kWh of energy a year.

The assembly recognised that the expense of retrofitting puts it out of reach for most homeowners and that more funding needed to be available.

Another resolution, which gained high levels of support, was the Devon Carbon Plan’s goal to increase investment in electric vehicles (EVs) and infrastructure across Devon.

In total 92% of members supported initiatives investing in a network of EV charge points.

This resolution comes at an exciting time in Devon – 220 EV charging bays across more than 100 sites are already being planned, with the first tranche going live later this month.

And 89% of assembly members supported the increased development of onshore wind turbines, with 87% supporting a revision of the National Planning Policy Framework and removing the need for “complete” community support before a new application is approved.

Onshore wind could rapidly help to decarbonise Devon, as turbines are cheap to manufacture, and it only takes 75 days of operational electricity production to offset the carbon used in the production process.

Den Brook Windfarm in West Devon, for instance, generates enough electricity every year to power a town the size of Tiverton – but because of current rules it took 12 years before planning permission was granted.

These measures, and others included within the report, will now be reviewed by Devon Climate Emergency’s partners and considered for action in the Devon Carbon Plan.

The public will have a chance to comment on those actions next year.

Dr Phil Norrey, chairman of the Devon Climate Emergency Response Group and Chief Executive of Devon County Council, said: “I want to thank the members of the assembly for their determination and hard work in getting to grips with a hugely complex subject and for making these carefully considered recommendations which are based on scientific evidence.

“There is no doubt that climate change is one of the most significant challenges facing the county over the coming years.

“I’m confident that Devon Climate Emergency’s partners will work together to make the changes we need to achieve net-zero but also to grasp the opportunities and find the benefits to help make Devon a fairer, more sustainable and prosperous place in the long term.

“I have no doubt that citizens’ assemblies such as this will have meaningful implications for the future of UK climate action.”

Assembly member Deryn Phillips said: “Being part of the assembly was immensely challenging yet so worthwhile.

“I learnt so much from discussing with other members climate change events and the measures needed to counteract them.

“Many of the other members had very different concerns to my own and through these conversations it expanded my understanding of what needs to be done, and how it needs to be done, in order to reduce carbon emissions in Devon.

“I’d like to think that our recommendations are reasonable, fair to all Devon residents, inclusive and, above all, achievable.

“This is just the start of the campaign to reduce carbon emissions and it is now for governments and local authorities to take swift and appropriate action.”

Professor Patrick Devine-Wright, of the University of Exeter Global Systems Institute, Chairman of the Net-zero Taskforce, said: “Devon is leading the way on climate change by investing in democracy.

“The citizens’ assembly has ensured that people from all parts of the county and all walks of life have the opportunity to influence the carbon plan.

“The research we are conducting on the assembly will provide useful insights into how assemblies like this one can provide clear recommendations for policy, and a strong platform to tackle the extensive cuts in emissions now urgently required.”