A global and permanent citizens’ assembly on transition issues should be set up by 2025

By Émilie Legendre
Originally published March 26, 2024 in AEF info (French)

Creating a permanent global assembly of citizens to hear their views on global challenges: This is the project that the Iswe Foundation, supported in particular by the United Nations Foundation, is working to achieve. They intend to take advantage of the opportunity offered by the Summit of the Future, which will take place in September 2024 during the United Nations General Assembly, to announce the launch of this assembly. It will begin its work as early as January 2025, and its conclusions would then be presented to the G7, the G20 and the Belém COP 30 by a coalition of actors, as one of its advocates David Levaï explains to AEF info.

Advancing citizen participation at the UN, from “sporadic” to “systematic”: This is the endeavor that the United Nations Foundation, the Iswe Foundation, Plataforma CIPÓ, Blue Smoke, and Southern Voice, are engaging in after publishing a policy brief on March 21 entitled “Strengthening citizen participation in global governance”.

Summit of the Future
Six months ahead of the “Summit of the Future,” to be held at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2024, the report’s authors believe that member states must make citizen participation “the new norm.”

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres could thus “declare” at the Summit “his intention to strengthen the UN’s strategic communications infrastructure in order to increase public support for the values underpinning multilateralism.” This would make it possible to “fight polarization and misinformation while encouraging collective action to tackle global problems,” the authors of the report write.

The Secretary-General is also asked to create “a world opinion barometer, using sampling techniques representative of the world’s population,” which could be used to “identify citizens’ views on challenges, solutions and policy proposals,” and thus “help the United Nations and member states prioritize and plan future action.”

Creating a permanent global citizens’ assembly
Above all, the summit represents an opportunity to give citizens “a permanent seat at the global governance table” if a permanent global citizens’ assembly is established: This assembly would work “under the umbrella” of the United Nations but would have “the same independence as the scientists working with the IPCC.”

According to its initiators, particularly the Iswe Foundation, this assembly of 300 to 1,000 members, selected by civic lottery and thus representative, could work online to answer a given question for six months before submitting its report.

David Levaï, one of Iswe Foundation’s advocates, argues that “the low-carbon transition requires an overhaul of the production and consumption systems, and to achieve this, it’s critical to take all citizens into consideration. We’re seeing it in the European Union at the moment, the backlash against the EU Green Deal is symptomatic of these players saying: we don’t want to be the losers of the transition, and we want our concerns to be taken into account. So this idea of a global citizens’ assembly that we’re putting on the table meets an expectation. It is also consistent with what has been done in the past.”

Impact Coalition
This project is based on the first citizens’ assemblies held at the national level – such as the 2019-2020 French Citizens Convention on Climate – but above all on the 2021 Global Assembly, created in the run-up to COP 26 in Glasgow (read on AEF info). This first experiment proved that it was “possible” to run such an international project, but its impact was “limited”, David Levaï observes, mainly because it was not “supported by a group of stakeholders determined to promote the results.”

In response, the Iswe Foundation is working to build a “multi-stakeholder coalition” of supporters – National governments, local governments, cities, businesses, civil society movements, etc. (1). The aim is to announce, next September, the creation of an international citizens’ assembly, whose work would begin in January 2025, before delivering its conclusions in June, which would then be presented to the G7, G20 (chaired in 2025 by South Africa) and right up to COP 30 in 2025 in Belém, David Levaï points out. Its conclusions would thus be “part of the political agenda” of the conference, which President Lula da Silva wants to turn into a “people’s COP.”

80th anniversary of the United Nations
This global assembly could also form part of the United Nations’ 80th anniversary celebrations scheduled for 2025, presenting yet another “opportunity” to lead “a global conversation on key priorities for global cooperation” by the authors of the brief co-authored by the Iswe Foundation.

In 2026, a new Secretary-General of the United Nations will be selected. The authors therefore suggest that future candidates defend citizen participation, by committing themselves to establishing a deliberative body of citizens alongside each expert or high-level committee they might create.

Finally, while the end of the decade will be marked by the establishment of a new framework to succeed or update the Sustainable Development Goals, the authors of the memo see it as “a decisive new moment to involve citizens in a meaningful way in the decisions that will shape the future of multilateralism.”