Brussels inaugurates its first Citizens' Climate Assembly

Brussels is launching an ambitious Citizens’ Climate Assembly . The 100 people chosen by lot who make up the Assembly will be renewed every year. And each cycle will have a new theme. The first Assembly, which started at the beginning of February, will focus on the issue of a more environmentally friendly habitat (in the broadest sense) by 2050. Interview with Alain Maron, Minister of the Brussels-Capital Region Government, in charge of Climate Transition, Environment, Energy and Participatory Democracy.

Missions Publiques. The Brussels Region is going to structurally involve citizens in the development of climate policy. Why launch this Climate Assembly? What are the models that have inspired you?

Alain Maron. In the face of the climate crisis, tilting changes are imposed on us and the drastic changes that society will experience in the coming decades will require new democratic tools. And we want to do this by taking the greatest number of people towards the path of transition without ruining social cohesion.

The “we” I am referring to are the citizens who live with climate change in their daily lives and in their bodies. Citizens who know very well how to welcome and implement the necessary changes and it is important, how far they are ready or feel capable of going. They know this for sure, but we have to ask them how they are ready to act, though there is a certain ambiguity, that is a natural resistance to change even among the most conscious of people. And in my opinion, this is where the need for participatory approaches as a complement to representative democracy comes in.

In other words, the idea that democracy can be reduced to voting every five years for a program and observing the implementation of a majority agreement is definitely outdated. Today, between two elections, with a permanent citizens’ assembly – as with other existing processes of citizen participation – we guarantee a space for citizens to express themselves on the “how” and then implement these majority agreements and public policies in general. And this guarantee is ensured by the permanent and structural dimension that allows us to meet the long-term climate challenges.

Our model, whose design was piloted by the G1000 and its network of international experts, is inspired in part by the permanent citizen process of the German-speaking community but also by other successful participatory experiences in other OECD countries.


Missions Publiques. Brussels today has many innovative and participatory initiatives: the deliberative commissions of the Parliament, the Agora on the just transition… How can all these mechanisms be articulated?

Alain Maron. We can be pleased that Brussels is multiplying participatory actions and is even becoming for some an exemplary laboratory for democratic experimentation!

There is never too much participation if it is good participation. And diversifying the formats is positive. The Citizens’ Climate Assembly has the particularity of being permanent and thematic; it is part of the regional climate governance, in our climate law. And another important innovative aspect is that its establishment is an initiative of the Government, the same one that will have to steer a good number of reforms and allocate budgets to it. For me, this is an additional guarantee of an effective follow-up of citizens’ recommendations – and we know that this is one of the most crucial elements of participation: explaining what follow-up is given to citizens’ work, explaining why it cannot sometimes be followed up. To be accountable on an ongoing basis for the work of elected officials, in short, just as we do as an Executive to Parliament.

I really think that there is no competition between processes as long as those who carry them out talk to each other. This is what we have foreseen in the architecture of the Assembly: there is a place for all, public and private sectors, instituted intermediary bodies, parliament and executive, etc. And as long as the participating citizens are fully informed about the working method, the subject matter and, above all, about their mandate in this deliberative exercise. This is, in my opinion, the sine qua non condition for the proper articulation of all these mechanisms.

"The Citizens' Climate Assembly has the particularity of being permanent and thematic; it is part of the regional climate governance, in our climate law.

Alain Maron

Minister of the Brussels-Capital Region Government

Missions Publiques. The solutions for achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 are known. The Citizens’ Climate Assembly focuses on climate issues. What added value do you expect from citizens on these issues?

Alain Maron. Every time we set targets or take measures to deal with the climate emergency, we risk strong opposition. I am convinced that, given the scale of the challenge and the urgency of the situation, top-down solutions alone do not work. We need to integrate more of a bottom-up logic into the policies we pursue. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that politicians should no longer decide – on the contrary, they are and remain responsible. And it is part of their responsibility to give themselves the means to be fully enlightened by the expertise of the citizens’ experience, as much as by the technicians.

As I was saying, citizens understand emergencies, they experience them in their own lives – just think of the recent floods or heat waves, not only in our country but also in the four corners of the world, we must not think that citizens are not concerned because it is far away. The added value of their contribution lies in the fact that they remain the best experts on what changes are acceptable and when they should be implemented. This is also why citizens are the drivers of the Assembly’s work: what topic should we address first? Which experts do we want to meet? What key messages do we want to get across?


Missions Publiques. The will to make this Assembly permanent is a courageous choice, which entails disappointing risks for citizens as well as for politicians. What would be your criteria for success in the short and long term? How would you judge the success of this process?

Alain Maron. Indeed, if we want the Citizens’ Climate Assembly to contribute effectively to the climate governance of the Region, we need to evaluate the process in a rigorous and constant way, adjusting the necessary elements as the cycle goes on.

As a first step, I will consider a three-part evaluation. First, the impact of the process itself, i.e., to evaluate whether the recommendations reflect the citizens’ debates, are of good quality, whether their follow-up was up to par, whether the information on the chosen theme was sufficient and diverse enough, etc. The second criterion is the institutional impact, which is measured by evaluating whether the stakeholders (civil society, administrations, politicians, etc.) were able to contribute to the setting of the agenda or whether the steering committee has sufficient expertise to make adjustments, for example. Finally, the last criterion is the social impact, which can be assessed by measuring whether the participants have gained more trust in the participatory processes and in the institutions. Has their need for knowledge and interest in climate issues been met? Were the links between citizens and civil society organizations highlighted or even strengthened? Has the necessary trust and dialogue with public and political institutions been improved?

But above all, with the necessary humility that we politicians must have in participatory democracy, I will make sure that the participation experts support us in an objective and independent way so that the project is a real success for the citizens and for Brussels.

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