As is the case each year at the UNFCCC negotiations, youth at the annual climate talks – this year taking place in Lima – are undertaking a myriad of activities to prod negotiators towards crafting an agreement commensurate with the growing climate crisis. A subset of the youth, under the banner of Inteq, are working hard to safeguard future generations from the ravages of climate change. Regular contributor Ken tells us more…

As is the case each year at the UNFCCC negotiations, youth at the annual climate talks – this year taking place in Lima – are undertaking a myriad of activities to prod negotiators towards crafting an agreement commensurate with the growing climate crisis. A subset of the youth, under the banner of Inteq[1], are working hard to safeguard future generations from the ravages of climate change. The group, who comprise young people from around the world, and who also fondly refer to themselves as Inteqqers, are keen on getting the concept of intergenerational equity included and operationalised in the new global climate agreement. The Inteq Working Group is a section of the youth constituency of the UNFCCC working for the adoption and utilisation of intergenerational equity in the UNFCCC decisions and processes, mainly through collaborations with like-minded partners.

But why the focus on Intergenerational Equity (Inteq)?

Credit: sustainableman.org
Credit: sustainableman.org

Demystifying Intergenerational Equity

Contrary to the heading above, it is my contention that intergenerational equity is not a mystical concept; rather, it is quite straightforward. Simply put, intergenerational equity concerns fairness between generations. A generation is entrusted to use Earth and its natural and cultural resources and pass them to the next generation in a condition no worse that they received them[2]. This concept is enshrined in numerous places, from Native American traditions to the Brundtland Commission’s definition of sustainable development.

Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

– Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future

The atmosphere, where significant amounts of greenhouse gases are being pumped into, is a public resource of critical importance, but past, present and near-future generations are wrecking it, hence destabilising the Earth’s climate system. This subsequently condemns future generations to an unstable, dangerous climatic system, whose perilous effects such as rising sea levels, increased drought frequency, erratic rainfall patters among others, are being experienced, and are growing in intensity. This is thus the crux of the challenge posed by climate change as regards future generations.

Intergenerational Equity within the UNFCCC

The emergent form of the forthcoming climate agreement has been remarkably different from other similar attempts to come up with an international climate agreement to replace the ineffective Kyoto Protocol. With equity being the overarching, inherent character of the evolving new agreement, there is an invaluable opportunity to operationalise intergenerational equity in international law – the first time ever! Almost two-dozen international agreements, treaties and other instruments recognise intergenerational equity, but none has operationalised it thus far[3].

Credit: UNClimateChange on Spotify
Credit: UNClimateChange on Spotify

Provisions of the Convention

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has a clear provision for the Principle of Intergenerational Equity, in Article 3.1 of the Convention:

“The Parties should protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations of humankind, on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.”

This thus offers a basis upon which to operationalise intergenerational equity.

Proposals and Ideas

A number of ideas and proposals have been put forth on how to operationalise intergenerational equity in the new global climate agreement.

1. In National Commitments

The core of the new global climate agreement will be the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) – quite a mouthful. Simply put, INDCs are commitments that a country will make towards addressing climate change. The Inteq working group has developed a proposal on how to integrate intergenerational equity in the INDC, mainly through the adoption of a discount rate.

2. An Equity Reference Framework

Another proposal that provides for the possibility of operationalising intergenerational equity that has been put forth is to consider the equity issues under a broad, overarching framework for countries to refer to when developing their proposed contributions. This proposal envisions having such a framework by 2017, after the agreement has been adopted in 2015. Under this framework, intergenerational equity can be integrated into aspects of relative costs / benefits of action through such instruments as a carbon pricing as a way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as presented by a country in its INDC. Such as action would have the benefit of also spurring development of clean energy.

3. An Intergenerational Arbiter

The proposal to have an intergenerational arbiter for climate change has been on the table for quite some time, and has been neatly summarized by the UK Youth Climate Coalition (here). The basic concept of an international arbiter involves having the arbiter as part of the UNFCCC secretariat, reporting to the COP (decision making body of the UNFCCC) and liaising with other external bodies on matters concerning intergenerational equity. This proposal was modelled on the Ombudsman for Future Generations and similar offices that are in various countries such as Israel (disbanded in 2006), Finland and Hungary (merged with Office of the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights in 2012). There have been suggested that the Commission for Future Generations in Israel was disbanded due to its growing influence that was affecting business as usual politics, thus underlining the potential inherent in such institutions.

Intergenerational Equity Beyond the UNFCCC

The growing trend of climate action being undertaken outside of the UNFCCC provides an opportunity to integrate issues of intergenerational equity elsewhere too. This is an exciting avenue especially for young people, since it offers space for spontaneity and creativity that is synonymous with youth, a far cry from the bureaucratic chokehold that is characteristic of the UNFCCC.

1. National and Sub-national Laws and Policies

Since climate actions are increasingly focused on local and national levels, laws and policies at this level provide an important platform to provide for, and operationalise intergenerational equity. For instance, more countries are now developing and adopting national climate laws. Since it is arguably easier to influence local and national laws and policies, advocating for the inclusion of intergenerational equity can be a significant and more effective intervention avenue.

In addition, national Youth Policies, which are also being developed at an increasing pace, can provide an excellent – albeit wider – platform to operationalise intergenerational equity.

2. In Courts

Courts are becoming an increasingly important battlefield for issues of intergenerational equity / justice in the context of climate change. The Supreme Court of the Philippines has been a beacon of the efforts to enshrine intergenerational responsibility and justice in the judicial system. A landmark case in 1993, saw court judged in favour of a group of children – who represented themselves and future generations – who called for a cancellation of logging concessions granted by the Government of Philippines, since the logging of the virgin tropical forests would have undermined the well being of the children and future generations.

3. Atmospheric Trust Litigation

logo
Credit: Wild Earth Guardians

An important legal concept known as Atmospheric Trust Litigation (ATL) is emerging at sub-national, national and international courts. In the US, a teenager in partnership with a conservation group WildEarth Guardians have taken the state of New Mexico to court over the latter’s decision to repeal greenhouse gas regulations. This was the first national case of this nature in the US, and has opened the possibility for people to explore operationalisation of intergenerational equity / justice in courts.

4. Youth Participation

Despite seeming an obvious avenue, youth participation in decision-making processes can have a tremendous impact on integrating the intergenerational justice dimension in matters affecting climate change. This strategy offers a wide spectrum of influence, from the local level to the international level. For example, the growing success of fossil energy divestment campaigns in universities is one of the promising avenues where young people are influencing decisions that will have an impact on future generations. Similarly successful examples abound the world over.

Winning for the Future

There is power in networks, and the success of various youth-led climate groups is testament to this. In order to safeguard their future, and that of future generations, it is prudent for young people to coordinate their efforts so as to safeguard their rights and those of future generations through decisive climate action. As the Inteqqers succinctly put it: Winning for the Future!


[1] ‘Inteq’ is the abbreviated term for ‘intergenerational equity’

[2] http://www.uow.edu.au/~sharonb/STS300/equity/meaning/integen.html

[3] UN Framework Convention on Climate Change – UNFCCC (http://unfccc.int); UN Convention on Biological Diversity – UNCBD (http://cbd.int); Universal Declaration of Human Rights (http:// http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/); Agenda 21 (Paragraph 8.7) (http://habitat.igc.org/agenda21/); Declaration on the Responsibilities of the Present Generations Towards Future Generations (http://www.unesco.org/cpp/uk/declarations/generations.pdf)

Written by Kennedy Mbeva

Kennedy Mbeva

Kennedy is a climate justice advocate passionate about making it easier for young people to engage in environmental and climate governance, as manifested in the climate change education initiative he founded. He is also the Policy and Advocacy Development Officer at the African Youth Initiative on Climate Change – Kenya, an avid blogger and poet.