THE BLOG

Giving Rights to Future Generations -- Why It's Needed and How it Can Be Done

04/16/2015 06:53 pm ET | Updated Jun 16, 2015
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We are consuming the foundations of our existence at a rate faster than the planet can replenish. If we continue our "business-as-usual" treatment of the planet, future generations will face not only ecological collapse but also severe peace, security and development challenges. It is the responsibility of current generations to introduce a paradigm shift from short-term to long-term thinking to ensure a sustainable world for our children and grandchildren. Therefore, we need institutions at all levels of governance, international, national and regional, to identify, assess and understand sustainability problems and future threats and promote a future just planning approach in our policy and decision-making.

The 70th UN General Assembly in September will culminate in the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals with targets for all countries, up until 2030. The post-2015 framework is about development justice in our immediate future but also about building a new framework for many generations to come. The problem, however, is that people cannot think and act long term if their daily life is an existential struggle. Today, the impacts of climate change are most heavily felt by the poorest, threatening people's basic rights such as the right to food, water and shelter on a daily basis. As a result, much of the world's population is prevented from developing sustainably in a way that doesn't compromise future generations.

In a setting where short-term solutions often override the interests and needs of future generations, it is especially important to ensure their voices are heard and taken into account. The most effective way of doing this is to introduce policy frameworks that protect the present poor and vulnerable whilst also protecting these same groups in the future. This goes further than a transition from carbon-based to renewable energy. It requires adopting a human rights framework that is equitable for current and future generations while bridging local and global divisions. Only with such frameworks can we create more resilient and equal societies, now and in the future.

Many institutions still operate in silos instead of adapting their solutions to increasingly interconnected challenges. As a result, emerging ideas remain incoherent and lack a holistic approach. Institutions can help to mitigate silo-based thinking by interacting with Member States, UN staff and civil society to place issues in a broader inter-temporal context. Unless we challenge existing models and practices, we risk passing on a world with drastically diminished opportunities to the generations to come.

The good news is that policy solutions already exist, so we do not have to start from zero. We can learn from these pioneering policies and replicate and build on their success stories.

One such success story can be found in Hungary, where the government established a Commissioner for Future Generations in 2008, to reinforce advocacy for the natural environment and safeguard intergenerational justice. As one of the first of its kind, the Hungarian Commissioner was designed to be a 'representative' who ensures the protection of the fundamental right to a healthy environment as constitutionally enshrined. As an official, appointed by the national Parliament, and charged with representing the interests of the public, the Commissioner ensures the better understanding of our obligations to future generations

Similarly, in Wales, the government has just passed a "Well-being of Future Generations" Bill to strengthen existing governance arrangements to ensure that present needs are met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own. A part of this Bill is the establishment of a Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, to speak on behalf of future generations.

While such success stories are inspiring, good policies can rarely be copied and pasted as a "one fit for all" solution - they must be adapted to local settings and needs in order to be most effective. A sharing of experiences for policy-makers to learn from each other is crucial to really drive the change needed to ensure a sustainable future for all.

At the end of this month, a global community of policy-makers and institutions serving to safeguard the needs of future generations will come together in Cardiff, Wales, to celebrate the passing of the Welsh bill and continue their on-going dialogue on best policy solutions. Participants and speakers from all over the world, including Canada, Hungary, Finland and Germany, will discuss how subnational governments can act and collaborate with their societies in the implementation of the post-2015 agenda.

Such initiatives show that dedicated mechanisms can support and facilitate important processes such as the SDGs and stabilizing the climate and should be championed by civil society and Member States alike. Our decisions this year can put us on a pathway to achieving our goal of creating an equitable framework for a resilient world. But our failure to act now will threaten our past achievements, our civilisation and our future hopes. It really is up to us.