Earlier this month, the World Future Council, jointly with UNEP, held a 2-day Global Conference in Geneva on Implementing Intergenerational Equity: Bringing Future Perspectives to the Status Quo. The event was attended by around 50 participants from UN missions, Member State delegations, civil society, and academia. Alice Vincent joins us once again to report back from a major conference on implementing intergernerational equity.

“We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future.”

– George Bernard Shaw

The outcomes of the conference will be fed into the UN Secretary General (UNSG) report on Intergenerational Solidarity and Future Generations. This report was one of the outcomes of the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development last June. Paragraph 86 of the outcome document The Future We Want invites the UNSG to present a report on “the need for promoting intergenerational solidarity for the achievement of sustainable development, taking into account the needs of future generations.” This report is due to be completed in August and presented to the General Assembly in September.

This Global Conference follows on from an Expert Panel on Intergenerational Equity at the UN HQ in New York on May 9th. That event was organised by UN DESA (the UN agency leading on the UNSG report) with panellist presentations to help inform the possible content of the UNSG report.

So what was discussed at this global conference?

The opening was a video-message from Edith Brown Weiss, Professor of International Law at Georgetown University.

Some of her key messages were outlining the context in which intergenerational equity arises today: Firstly – we have transitioned from a Holocene epic to a ‘Anthropocene’ epic, meaning that humans are now a force of nature, changing the natural environment at an unprecedented rate. This means we need to start taking real responsibility for our actions, and issues such as climate change have become a pressing intergenerational issue.

Secondly – that we live in a kaleidoscopic world. It is world that is more chaotic and informal, and information technology changes ways in which we interact on an increasingly rapid and diverse way. The role of government is still central but the surge of bottom-up approaches, initiatives and activities is cause for a real re-think in how political decisions are made.

Prof Brown Weiss explained

“Our obligation then, is to leave on balance the human environment in at least as good condition as received, including the natural environment but also to alleviate poverty for those living in it so that they can also benefit from the natural human environment. It is an obligation to maintain the robustness of the human environment as a key to addressing issues in the anthropocene.”

– Prof. Brown Weiss

We also heard from Judge Weeramantry, Neshan Gunasekera, Carolyn Raffensperger, Axel Gosseries and many more. An overriding view that came out of the presentations was that improving the prosperity of humans to live lives in dignity and sufficiency today is a pertinent precondition to protecting the opportunities of future generations. Harmful trends need to be reversed not only to preserve our planet for current generations but to give the people that will come after us a chance to have a fulfilling life with an intact environment.

The second part of the conference, after deep and insightful discussions on the concept of intergenerational equity was how do we implement this? How does this concept move from theory to practice?

Kate Offerdahl, member of the Major Group for Children and Youth (MGCY) as well as a writer for the International Institute of Sustainable Development (IISD), gave a clear outline of what an institution to protect future generations could look like. There already is a special envoy on youth but a proposal for a High Level Representative for Future Generations would be much broader and further reaching than that of the youth envoy. It would cut across silos by being a small office, which by necessity would have to draw on various UN agencies and thus create synergies and promote a more holistic way of identifying and implementing sustainable solutions.

A high-level representative or ombudsperson for future generations is a citizen representative that would act as a meaningful, decentralised and independent watchdog on implementation, building a bridge between citizens and politics – thus helping to combat apathy in political engagement.

The further list of speakers on this issue was incredibly informative, with real practitioners working on this at the national level, the ‘implementers’ of positive and constructive intergenerational policy. Peter Davies, Sustainable Futures Commissioner in Wales and Dr Marcel Szabó, Deputy-Commissioner for Fundamental Rights in Hungary, shared practical experiences of what it is like to protect future generations on a day-to-day basis.

There really is a lot of activity around the issue of future generations and intergenerational equity – people are realising not just that there are major global issues are requiring new and innovative proposals and institutions to tackle them.

There is currently an online consultation on future generations underway by UN DESA to feed into the UNSG report. UN staff have presented some targeted questions, with a very narrow two week window in which to contribute. We have until 10 July! Please take a look and contribute. The greater the volume and diversity calling for the representation for Future Generations, supported with helpful information and substance, the greater chance of a strong, action oriented UNSG report in August.

Please see the full details here


Featured Image Credit: Superfly Photos via Compfight cc

Written by Alice Vincent

Alice Vincent is a Policy Officer at the World Future Council. She is based in London and her main interests are international development, inter-generations justice, ethnic and resource conflict and conflict resolution. The World Future Council is an international organisation which aims to be an ethical voice for the needs and rights of future generations.