TELESFORO MONZON eLab / Euskal Herrigintza Laborategia


3rd NEWSLETTER / 2023.03.23


Climate change and deliberative democracy. Facing new challenges through innovation

It will not be easy to deal with climate change and its consequences. Climate change affects human beings as a whole, and to deal with the damage it will cause it is necessary to promote broad social consensus. This will require experimenting with more innovative and participatory models of democracy, in which deliberative democracy or citizen and participatory assemblies, insofar as they seek to increase society’s commitment, can be conducive to responding to the great dilemmas that climate change will require.

We believe that citizens’ assemblies are a useful model for increasing the level of commitment of the organized community, insofar as they are participatory models that promote new models of governance. And this can play a crucial role in meeting challenges like climate change.

To this end, Telesforo Monzon, the Basque laboratory of ideas, opened this line of reflection and experimentation two years ago. In order to deepen the binomial participatory democracy of climate change through practical experiences beyond theoretical reflection.

The Citizens’ Assemblies (as in the case of Ireland) are probably instruments which, in addition to the climate issue, can serve to guide the strategic axes for the future of Basque society, even though we have so far focused on climate change.


Rural and Climate Council of Gipuzkoa. A first experience.

Telesforo Monzon, the basque laboratory of ideas (TMeLab), and the social innovation laboratory Arantzazulab have promoted this first experience focused on agricultural activity and climate change by the Provincial Council of Gipuzkoa.

As neighbours of Gipuzkoa, 32 randomly elected citizens have come together to share their views and experiences and to reflect. How can we guarantee rural activity in Gipuzkoa to deal with the climate emergency?

These recommendations will help to guide agricultural policy activities in the coming years, always stressing that the future agricultural sector will have to deal with the climate emergency that we already have in order to ensure its future.


Why is it important to put the rural sector in the countryside and the climate emergency together?

There are many reasons, but we would highlight three:

1. For all countries, the local agricultural sector is strategic. The agricultural sector is important for the production of the food needed by all countries and is also the manager of many other benefits produced by the rural environment. Like water, biodiversity, etc. Climate change will make it possible to manage the agricultural sector in Gipuzkoa, as in any other part of the world.

2. As has been said, climate change, which is already within us and is accelerating, will, to a large extent, determine the future development of the rural world. Therefore, in order to ensure the future of the agricultural sector, the sector itself must adapt to climate change. This requires the use of new resources (e.g. human capital, technology, etc.) and we know that resources are scarce and must be properly allocated.

3. Rural areas may absorb greenhouse gas emissions, such as CO2 or methane, when agricultural activities are adequate.



1st Session, in Orona
2nd Session, in Tabakalera
3rd Session, in Olaso Dorrea
4th Session, in the General Assemblies of Gipuzkoa

As we said, this Citizens’ Assembly of Gipuzkoa has been composed of 32 citizens elected by civic draw. Between November 2022 and January 2023, they met for four weekends to complete the 40-hour deliberation process. The question has been: “How can we guarantee rural activity in Gipuzkoa to deal with the climate emergency?”

The initiators of the process have been the Telesforo Monzón, the Basque laboratory of ideas, and the ArantzazuLab Social Innovation Laboratory, and the Provincial Council of Gipuzkoa as the commanditary entity. Accordingly, the latter undertakes not only to respond to the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly, but also to indicate how they will be incorporated into their activities.

The first two weekends of work were held at the headquarters of Orona in Hernani and at Tabakalera. In them the citizens listened to the contributions of experts and experimented on agricultural activity and the climate emergency, so that they could form an enriched look from various perspectives.

The following two weekends were held at the Olaso Tower in Bergara (Telesforo Monzon eLab headquarters) and at the General Assemblies of Gipuzkoa. These two attempts were intended for deliberation.

Subsequently, in order to find answers to local challenges, they have deliberated and finally drafted collective recommendations to answer the question.



At the session of the General Meetings on 14 January, the citizens submitted the following 9 recommendations to the delegation of the Provincial Council of Gipuzkoa chaired by the Deputy for Governance, Eider Mendoza, and to the two laboratories in which we have been promoters:


Return financial compensation to rural owners in proportion to their contributions to ecosystem services and extend these values to society.


Promote forest management through R & D and make it a strategic sector.


Strategic conversion of the primary sector from economic valuation to ecosystem through the participation of the actors involved.


Raising awareness/awareness of the world of agriculture and climate change from childhood.


Analysis of measures to rejuvenate the primary sector.


KM. Promote 0 from phase 1 of production.


Promote strategic organic farming by creating/expanding an organization to increase competitiveness, productivity and marketing.


Promote local products by adjusting tax bonuses.


Promotion of professional mixed farming.

The level of support for each proposal was voted on at the same session and all but one of the recommendations (78% approved) have exceeded the level of protection of 80%.

For each recommendation, the following explanation has been given: description of what the proposal has been made and justification has been proposed. The document containing the details can be viewed and downloaded here.

 (in basque)

The document with the answers to the recommendations can be viewed and downloaded here

(in basque)

From January to March, the Council has been monitoring these nine recommendations and considering how to implement them in their activities. At a public event on 14 March, the Member of the European Parliament issued a document containing the responses to the recommendations made by the Citizens’ Assembly.

With regard to the next steps, as can be seen on the graph, the Member of the European Parliament will share information on the implementation of the measures indicated in March 2023 at public events in October 2023 and 2024. The Citizens’ Assembly of Gipuzkoa, with the support of the two laboratories of which we are promoters, will monitor the action of the Council.



It is still early to make an assessment of what the Gipuzkoa Citizen Assembly has given of itself. In the first place, it should be noted that the issue was not easy, the combination and reflection on climate change and the rural environment has meant a great effort for the public. Citizens have had to respond to a complex issue that requires a deep level of knowledge. However, the disposition presented by the citizens is remarkable, since so many volunteers showed up to be able to meet the different profiles of the citizens to be chosen at random. In addition, their involvement and dedication has been remarkable and we have all had a good assessment of the process.

 This has shown us that democracy more than in crisis, perhaps those who are in crisis are role models and citizens are willing to explain their commitment to this country and to participate in whatever is offered to them. At this level there has been a process of empowerment. In addition, he has pointed out that society has the capacity to respond to complexities, so it seems a good tool to seek consensus and respond to the challenges that climate change requires.


However, there are elements to take into account, the complexity of the process and the cost require a level of size and scale, and the possibility of focusing on simple or minor issues through simpler deliberative processes should be studied.

It must also be taken into account that the breadth of the subject makes it difficult to respond in depth to the proposals or contributions. The broader the subject, the fewer possibilities it offers for deepening. The consequence is that the proposals that are made are also broad and, therefore, the response that can be given to them is also like that.

Of course, the challenge now is to analyze the magnitude of the response of public institutions to deliberative processes. In the case at hand, the Gipuzkoa Provincial Council has responded to the 9 counterclaims, accepting all of them, but as the Provincial Council has indicated, in all cases with slight variations. The response given and the analysis of whether its depth is sufficient corresponds to those who have participated in the citizen assembly, the citizenry and the political and social agents (HERE you can see the response of the Provincial Council -in spanish-). The evolution of this response over time will also be important. Monitoring and evaluation sessions have been established at this level.

Some members of the motor group



Unai Pascual

TMeLab expert collaborator. Unai Pascual is Ikerbasque Research Professor at the Basque Centre for Climate Change (BC3). He is an ecological economist with more than 20 year experience bridging the social and natural sciences for understanding complex social-ecological systems.

About two years ago, Telesforo Monzón, the ideas laboratory (TMeLab), reflected on how to address the challenge of the climate emergency from within Basque society itself. From the brainstorming that assailed me, I clearly deduced the need to activate society in order to respond as a people to the challenge of the climate emergency.

Convinced that in the Basque Country there is a fairly stagnant climate governance, I am clear that it is time to experiment with innovative ways, and given the different possibilities, at TMeLab it occurred to us to start working with a specific question: How to associate governance from above bottom up to the challenge of the climate emergency?

We knew that there were different options and one of them was the one that caught our attention the most. In fact, we think that the model of deliberative democracy is interesting. We came to the conclusion that we needed to launch this type of experience in the Basque Country and learn from it. So we turned headlong in search of models centered on deliberative democracy.

From them we analyzed the experiences of the Citizen Assemblies that dealt with the issue of climate throughout the world and we began to study the possibilities of organizing such an experience in Euskal Herria: where, with whom, and when to start such an experience? We began our work with ArantzazuLab and Deliberatiba as traveling companions and, thinking of the scale at the country level, we focused our gaze on Gipuzkoa. Although it could have happened in another province of the Basque Country, it seemed to us that the space for experimentation offered by Gipuzkoa was the ideal one.

I always say that the climate emergency is a multifaceted problem. Also that the nucleus of the problem is the socio-ecological one, in which the social variables (for example, the values ​​that people have, the behaviors that they behave), political (power relations, political cycles, armies), economic (constant economic growth, the welfare model, etc.) are linked in a complex way with the environment. On the one hand, the climate is not a magical solution that we will only find from the technological field (e.g. renewable energy, hydrogen, etc.). The problem is much more complex and we must take into account the sociological, the political, etc. Furthermore, if we integrate country building into a project, we need strategic climate policies. On the other hand, it is necessary to realize that the environment is a complex system and that, therefore, having its own dynamics and inertia, it is sometimes impossible to control them. Will we ever realize that we are nothing ex machina?

So, despite the difficulties, we had to answer a few questions. Where to approach the governance of the socio-ecological system from deliberative democracy? What sector can focus on initiating this innovative experience (education, culture, industry, biodiversity, agriculture)? What activity (consumption, production, waste, mobility, food) can be more linked to the objective of building a country?

In the process of reflection we saw that the rural environment allows linking basic issues (social, ecological, etc.). Therefore, the Citizen Assembly focuses on this area. After the participation of the Gipuzkoa Provincial Council (DFG), we began with our traveling companions the design process of the Gipuzkoa Citizen Assembly (GHB).

One of the most acidic design issues was agreeing on the question that GHB had to answer, even with the DFG. After many hours of work, we set the question: How can we guarantee agricultural activity in Gipuzkoa to face the climate emergency? In my opinion, there were better questions to choose, but that question also had potential and with it we moved forward.

After two years of formative work, GHB gets underway and ends the main stage of his career. In the previous months GHB has met for four weekends and has analyzed different issues in order to answer the previous question, taking into account the information of some experts and experts. The people who have formed GHB have offered nine recommendations to the DFG (and at least to all the groups of political parties represented in the General Meetings).

The nine recommendations are already in the hands of the DFG and it is the responsibility of the DFG to indicate how it will take them into account. Soon we will know the opinion of the DFG, which will transfer it to the citizens of Gipuzkoa. GHB will oversee the actions of the DFG. That is, it will analyze the actions related to the recommendations proposed by it. In my opinion, in addition to GHB, it is necessary to activate the Gipuzkoan citizenry in general so that the model of deliberative democracy really works.

From my point of view the nine recommendations are interesting. Through GHB, society has analyzed the situation of the rural environment and has drawn a path to face the climate emergency that would start from the multiple perceptions, concerns and values ​​existing in society. Among the recommendations, the most interesting in my opinion is the one that has reached a greater consensus within GHB: Return economic compensation to rural owners based on their contribution to ecosystem services and disseminate these values ​​to society.

The rural environment offers numerous ecosystem services to society (as well as to subsequent generations). Most of them (water, food, biodiversity conservation, etc.) are closely related to climate. These ecosystem services also guarantee the well-being of people who live and work in rural areas. And of course, citizens, perhaps without being aware, are hidden consumers of services offered by rural areas. But of course, the field cannot be romanticized either. Despite its potential to offer positive ecosystem services, the rural environment can generate negative services such as the great losses and risks generated by a non-diversified forest model (for example, adaptation to climate change, loss of biodiversity and deterioration of natural resources). water flows).

In closing, I think we need to be very careful about something: deliberative democracy is not a panacea. Although we have already started, we still have a lot to learn from this experience and we have to think carefully how to deepen it. We will need more experiments of this type, on a different scale (locally, for example).

The idea that the social legitimacy of liberal democracy is in decline is spreading in society and politicians know it perfectly well. People are increasingly distrustful of traditional party politics and I believe that more and more people perceive that the authorities are far from the needs of society. I think it is also quite clear that we are going crazy in an environmental technocratism (as in many others). In addition, society is changing a lot and very quickly. After the COVID19 pandemic emerged and in this time of the new normality, it is evident that there have been many small changes, for example in the field of human relations. There is a risk for me that we have not yet fully understood in this new context: the attempt by rulers and technocrats to instrumentalize deliberative democracy. Seeing how far the potential of deliberative democracy can go, we will have to take great care in the new initiatives that we undertake and design them with caution. I hope that the experience of GHB that began will continue in the Basque Country. We will have to launch new and appropriate experiences adapted to the needs that are identified. I think it has the potential to be an instrument of countrymanship.