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Climate change: Tax frequent fliers and get rid of SUVs, government told

A frequent flyer tax, phasing out polluting SUVs and restricting cars in city centres are among climate change solutions suggested by members of the public.

A citizens’ assembly of 108 people from all walks of life published its report after weeks of debate.

They proposed curbing road building and using the pandemic to cut emissions.

MPs said the report offered a “unique insight”, but activists Extinction Rebellion said it didn’t go far enough.

The report says the government must show leadership on climate change and insists climate policies must be fair to all – especially the poorest in society.

Its radical conclusions may offer political cover to ministers who’re typically nervous of a public backlash against policies that affect lifestyles.

What is the citizens’ assembly?

The group, or citizens’ assembly, was set up by six government select committees – groups of MPs who look at what the government is doing and scrutinise policy.

Members of the assembly were chosen to represent a spectrum of views from all over the UK and committed 60 hours of their time to studying and debating climate change.

They met over six weekends and were asked how to come up with ideas to help the UK achieve net zero emissions by 2050. Their conclusions have been published in a report that is more than 550 pages.

What have they said?

The members said it was “imperative that there is strong and clear leadership from government” to tackle climate change.

One member, Sue, from Bath, said: “Even with the country still reeling from coronavirus, it’s clear the majority of us feel prioritising net zero policy is not only important, but achievable.”

Hamish, a software engineer from rural Aberdeenshire, told BBC News the government needed “to develop a long-term strategy to help us”.

A key theme of the report is education. Ibrahim, a GP from Surrey, said: “The media has to take a role – schools as well. We perhaps need to look at the curriculum.

“You can’t go to someone and say ‘you need to switch to the hydrogen boiler because it’s low CO2’ but they have no idea [about it]. You’re more likely to get a buy-in from people when they know about the issues.” Media captionLeia and Ibrahim are two of the 108 members of the public who worked on the report

Members said the government should start phasing out the sale of polluting new vehicles such as SUVs, and clamp down on adverts for highly-polluting goods.

Another central message is the need for policies to be fair. Amanda, from Kent, said: “Electric cars have to be more affordable to everybody – not just people who earn enough money.”

They also supported higher taxes on frequent fliers, and investment in clean aviation technology.

Tracey, a mother from Northern Ireland, said: “I would be a frequent flier myself – so I would say there needs to be something there to stop us from taking so many flights – to reduce our emissions.”

On the subject of what we eat and how we use the land, the assembly urged a voluntary cut of 20-40% in eating red meat.

“The government can’t legislate against eating red meat,” Amanda told us, “but with education, advertising and labelling I think we can change their attitudes towards eating red meat – as we did with smoking.”

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