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World Future Council offers support to UN Summit of the Future 2023

As governments conclude plenary debates on the Agenda during the UN General Assembly, the World Future Council is offering their support.

Press Release: María Fernanda Espinosa was elected President of the 73rd UN General Assembly

Member of World Future Council and Ecuadorian Foreign Minister María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, was elected President of the 73rd UN General Assembly

New York/Hamburg, 6 June 2018 – Dr. María Fernanda Espinosa, Member of the World Future Council and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Human Mobility in Ecuador, was elected 73rd President of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) yesterday.
According to the UN, Dr. María Fernanda Espinosa secured 128 votes against 62 votes obtained by the only other candidate, UN Ambassador Mary Elizabeth Flores Flake of Honduras.

Dr. María Fernanda Espinosa: The Ecuadorian politician and poet is the fourth woman and the first woman ever from Latin America and the Caribbean to preside over the UN General Assembly Picture (c) World Future Council

Alexandra Wandel, Director of the World Future Council (WFC), congratulates:

On behalf of the World Future Council, I would like to congratulate you on your election, and send my best wishes in your esteemed position as 73rd President. Your leadership and inspiring vision will help to strengthen the United Nations, and global society as a whole.

The forthcoming 73rd session offers a key moment to advance intergenerational equity in the UN System to ensure that the needs of present generations are met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs. We recognise the longstanding interest and support shown by the Government of Ecuador in these efforts, not least during your former position as Minister of Natural and Cultural Heritage. We are confident that with you as President of the UN General Assembly, future generations will have a strong advocate within the United Nations.

The World Future Council is working with the informal Governmental Group of Friends for Future Generations, which provides an important platform to develop new initiatives in this area. The Group of Friends endorsed the proposal to establish Global Guardians for Future Generations, to provide balanced advocacy for future generations, so that the UN can play a leading role in securing intra- and inter-generational equity globally. The innovative nature and normative legitimacy of the Global Guardians for Future Generations will play an important role in complementing existing efforts to help ensure that the UN Development System is more inclusive, impactful and coherent. With your esteemed leadership, the 73rd session of UNGA will seize new initiatives at a time when achieving fairness between generations in the context of sustainable development is becoming all the more important. This as a unique moment for significant breakthrough on the Global Guardians proposal, which would be welcomed by Member States and civil society.

We wish you just the best success for your endeavours, and strongly hope that working together decisively, we will promote the interests of future generations and our mutual values.

Yours sincerely,

Alexandra Wandel


World Future Council

Ms. Espinosa (2nd from left) speaking during World Future Council (WFC) event in Hamburg in 2016. Also pictured: WFC Councillors Scilla Elworthy, Thais Corral and Rama Mani (from left to right). Picture (c) World Future Council


Media contact

For more information, or to arrange an interview, please contact

Media Contact

Miriam Petersen
Media and Communications Manager
World Future Council
Dorotheenstr. 15, 22301 Hamburg, Germany
Phone: 01781018019

About the World Future Council

The World Future Council (WFC) consists of up to 50 eminent global changemakers from governments, parliaments, civil society, academia, the arts, and business who have already successfully created change. We work to pass on a healthy planet and fair societies to our children and grandchildren. To achieve this, we focus on identifying and spreading effective, future just policy solutions and promote their implementation worldwide. Jakob von Uexkull, the Founder of the Alternative Nobel Prize, launched the World Future Council in 2007. We are an independent, non-profit organization under German law and finance our activities from donations. For information visit

For press enquiries, please contact Miriam Petersen,, 0049 40 307 09 14 19.


Ecological Justice in Times of Transition: National and Global Perspectives from the World Future Council

Ecological Justice in Times of Transition: National and Global Perspectives from the World Future Council

On 13th October the World Future Council hosted a dialogue on ecological justice and political transition between WFC Councillors and students of the Masters in Transitional Justice of the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights.

This session formed part of Councillor Dr. Rama Mani’s course on ‘Transformative Justice in Theory and Practice.’ Councillors Ambassador Anda Filip and Professor Alexander Likhotal were invited to share their national experience and international expertise on this subject. The almost 30 graduate students in this MA programme hail from all continents. Many come from societies that underwent violent conflict, authoritarian regimes or other forms of violent transition, and several have professional experience in this area.

Participants shared their expertise on ecological justice at the international level, and responded to incisive questions and comments from highly experienced students from Cyprus, Mexico, Cambodia, Canada and Syria/USA. The ensuing dialogue ranged from the ecological causation of wars, to the nature and ramifications of democracy and globalization, to the role of business, to the criminalization of environmental crimes.

Dr. Mani introduced the session by explaining why ecological justice must be addressed as a priority issue in transitional societies, and indicated some innovative ways this has been and could be done. Ambassador Filip and Professor Likhotal shared a penetrating analysis of the political transitions in Romania and the former USSR respectively, and the relevance of ecological justice in these transitions. Professor Likhotal underlined that ecological justice had been a decisive issue in the transition in the former USSR, and how President Gorbachev had recognized this and responded to environmental grievances, despite the economic cost. Ambassador Filip provided an insightful personal perspective on the evolutions that precipitated the dramatic political transition in Romania, and gave her honest appraisal of the positive and negative developments since transition.

Councillors also shared their expertise on ecological justice at the international level, and responded to incisive questions and comments from highly experienced students from Cyprus, Mexico, Cambodia, Canada and Syria/USA. The ensuing dialogue ranged from the ecological causation of wars, to the nature and ramifications of democracy and globalization, to the role of business, to the criminalization of environmental crimes. Professor Likhotal underscored the vital need for a new paradigm based on a systemic understanding of the current crises and a recognition of the limits to growth, and cited some innovative and successful new business models. Ambassador Filip shared the key positive lessons from the Interparliamentary Union’s process of consultations with parliaments on the Sustainable Development goals, which give room for optimism even in these turbulent times of uncertain transition.

Following the dialogue with the Councillors, our Geneva Liaison Office Coordinator Ingrid Heindorf presented the work of the World Future Council in the context of ecological justice in greater detail. She explained WFC’s groundbreaking work on Future Justice, on crimes against future generations, and demonstrated how the Future Policy Award serves as an innovative and influential vehicle for ecological justice.

Overall, this fascinating and intense interaction between the World Future Council and the graduate students of the Geneva Academy underscored that ecological justice is a priority issue that is systemically interconnected with the range of other political, economic and social issues, both nationally and globally. It also highlighted how, with creativity and innovation, there are manifold ways in which, like the Future Policy Award, new policy instruments and economic and political incentives can be developed to implement ecological justice in times of volatile transition.

Natural Partners: integrating development and environment to deliver sustainable development

Earlier this month a group of representatives from civil society convened at the ‘Natural Partners’ event at London Zoo. Together they discussed how to integrate development and environmental needs in order to deliver sustainable development with regard to the Sustainable Development Goals. Joining the chair, Achim Steiner, Director of the Oxford Martin School, and former Head of the UN Environment Programme, were the President of WWF International, Yolanda Kakabadse, Chris Bain, Director of CAFOD and Loretta Minghella, Chief Executive of Christian Aid. Mike Clarke, Chief Executive of RSPB, Fiona Wheatley, Sustainable Business Manager with M&S and several stakeholder representatives talked about the positive impact of their projects, resulting from natural partnerships.

During Mr Steiner’s thoughtful opening words the agenda of the evening was framed by reminding us that it is impossible to have an encompassing development agenda unless we also posses proper stewardship of the environment, bringing to the heart of the event the notion that the two are intricately linked.

It is high time to really stand together for this collective cross-sector commitment to creating a sustainable future instead of going down separate paths.

Despite the misleading initial assumption that the ground conflicts between a variety of species of life are entirely unrelated, it turns out that, upon closer inspection, they are all merging and that, truly, the well-being of all life-forms is interdependent. We cannot consider one without the others. This closer interdependence highlights the importance of partnerships between environmental and developmental stakeholders, including members of civil society, in order to achieve a sustainable future for all.

In light of the presentations and panel discussion, several challenges were raised by Mr Steiner. Questioning the status quo was mentioned as well as the importance of learning how to think differently, to move faster in accordance to ever accelerating time lines, instead of reproducing reality as we know it. This call to action went hand in hand with everyone acknowledging the Sustainable Development Goals as a strong sign of commitment to work together to positively shape the future; particularly echoed in regard to SDG 17, which highlights the necessity and benefit of cross-sector partnerships, such as were discussed in the case studies.

Bird Life International partner, Nature Kenya’s Sarah Munguti spoke about the development of a strategic plan with environmental assessment and government collaboration to develop the Tana Delta, whilst minimising the environmental impact. The stakeholders involved with Net-Works, a collaboration between ZSL, the private sector, such as carpet tile manufacturer Interface Inc., fibre manufacturer Aquafil and local communities, explained to the audience how to empower communities, tackle inequality and develop an innovative approach to marine conservation, whilst, at the same time allowing for self-sustaining enterprise for the local communities. Finally, the better cotton initiative between WWF ad Oxfam in collaboration with Marks and Spencer, showcased how a good partnership surrounding a critical commodity can work, introduced by Fiona Wheatley, Emma Keller and Lena Staafgard.

The linguistics surrounding partnerships were also a topic highlighted during the evening, both by Yolanda Kakabadse discussing the elimination of the word ‘donor’ and by Achim Steiner highlighting the inherent differences we associate with the words ‘trade-off’, ‘win-win’ and ‘choice’ in collaboration situations. He explained that the development side dilemma mainly resides around the notion of trade-offs, the conservation side errs on advocating win-win situations. However, importantly, when merging the two in order to achieve a strong partnership we need to stop legitimising the concept of trade-offs as they inadvertently reinforce a negative notion of unequal partnerships. Instead, we should talk about choice. This includes considering what framework conditions would have to change in order for win-wins to materialise in all choice situations and therewith to interrogate the common notion surrounding trade-offs.

The panel discussion continued with a similarly collaborative tone with the panellists referring strongly to the importance of the Sustainable Development Goals, stating that it is high time to really stand together for this collective cross-sector commitment to creating a sustainable future instead of going down separate paths. Together we can lead change, recognise and drive forward a common agenda, through acknowledging our interdependence, deriving the benefit from collaboration with one another as members of civil society and by investing in strong partnerships in order to move forwards into a sustainable future, as highlighted by the multiple case studies and discussions throughout the event.

Recognising nature as a legal person: the Whanganui River in New Zealand

The relationship between indigenous peoples and nation states is historically marked by conflict and oppression. The exploitation of natural resources, usually ignoring indigenous knowledge, feed into these conflicts,threatening the sovereignty, rights, culture and ultimate existence of indigenous peoples. The historical relationship between the state of New Zealand and the Māori has proved to be no exception. However, the 2014 Whanganui River Deed of Settlement is an exemplary attempt to protect the River, and its natural resources while respecting incorporating the long ignored voices of the local Whanganui tribes.

Conflict flows

The Whanganui River, home for a large proportion of Māori villages in pre-European times and regarded as taonga (special treasure), is sacred to the Whanganui Iwi Māori tribe and believed to have human traits. Prior to 1848 a substantial Māori population, which was dispersed along the Whanganui River and its major tributaries, enjoyed rights and responsibilities over it. This changed in 1848 when the Crown purchased 86,200 acres of land at Whanganui. The Crown proceeded to assert authority over the land and River within the area purchased and, as a result, faced Māori opposition, who asserted control over the rest of the area and continued to make use of the River.

Frequent conflicts arose between the Crown and the Māori. The River’s relevance as an important communication route motivated, in 1887, the inauguration of a steam-boat service, which was protested by the locals, who argued this would greatly affect fish and eel weirs population, their main food source. Only a few years later, by 1891 most fish and eel weirs had, in fact, been destroyed, and yet the boat services continued. Rights to extract and sell gravel from the River were equally protested by the Whanganui Iwi, who attempted to obstruct the River works, but were ignored by the Parliament. In 1903, the Coal-mines Act Amendment Act, without consultation with the Whanaganui Iwi, brought further misery, by declaring the beds of all navigable rivers to be vested in the Crown.

The Māori tribe continued to be voiceless throughout the 20th Century until the Whanganui River Māori Trust Board was established. It negotiated outstanding Whanganui Iwi claims for the settlement over the Whanganui River and, in signing the Deed of Settlement, the Crown recognised, amongst other things, its failure to protect the interests of Whanganui Iwi, and the adverse effects and prejudice caused to Whanganui Iwi.”

Several settlements have, prior to the Whanganui River Deed of Settlement, recognised Māori conceptions of the environment, among them are settlements that relate to the Waikato, Waipā and Kaituna Rivers. The Waikato River settlement, for example, recognises that the River is an ancestor (tupuna) to the Waikato-Tainui and it possesses a life force.

The Settlement

On August 2014, and following numerous petitions to Parliament dating back more than a century, the Whanganui River Deed of Settlement (or Ruruku Whakatupua) was finally signed. Under the settlement, the Whanganui River is recognised as a legal person, granting the River rights, powers, duties and liabilities and “recognises the intrinsic ties which bind the Whanganui River to the people and the people to the Whanganui River.” Not only has Māori belief been incorporated into the Deed of Settlement but the River is also represented by two guardians (with advisors) who act ‘as one’: one is nominated by the Crown and the other one by the Iwi natives.

The Deed of Settlement helps ensure a more sustainable usage of natural resources by, for example, significantly limiting dredging from the riverbed. It also respects natural areas and traditional knowledge: S.3.3.3. states that Iwi and Crown guardians, working must “promote and protect the health and well-being” of the River within a framework of traditional Māori knowledge. Ensuring a less polluted River, not only helps to restore local ecosystems and balanced biodiversity, but it brings a significant impact on the ocean’s health as well.

This policy is not only vital for environmental and natural resources protection but it also recognises  the local community and its relationship with the State, and the local environment. Poverty and human rights violations are addressed through the redress of historic exploitation by the Crown and the development of the River that had taken place without Māori consent. The Crown also “recognises its failure to protect the interests of Whanganui Iwi, and the adverse effects and prejudice caused to Whanganui Iwi.” The historical oppression  by the Crown over the Iwi is also taken into account. By consulting and partnering with local tribes, the Crown provides an avenue to redress such atrocities and violations, where possible.

It must be noted, however, that this Settlement is only appropriate and well-adapted to the cultural values and traditions of the Iwi. Local inhabitants of other faiths don’t have their beliefs acknowledged within the Deed of Settlement. This means that the Deed does not have the neutrality of pluralism and secularism, which the New Zealand government displays elsewhere in its policies.

By electing guardians and advisors from the tribe and incorporating their beliefs, knowledge and practices, it further empowers the local Iwi. It also provides for public consultation and genuine engagement in its design and implementation such as the appointment of legal representatives who “must … develop appropriate mechanisms for engaging with and reporting to [local Māori] on matters relating to [the river]”. The Deed establishes a strategy group comprised of representatives of persons and organisations with interests in the Whanganui River. This includes the Iwi, local and central government, commercial as well as recreational users and environmental groups.

This Settlement is by no means the consequence of a fully healed relationship, both between New Zealand’s indigenous peoples and the State, and between humans and nature. However it is a cause for celebration. The burden of environmental degradation rests the heaviest on the shoulders of indigenous peoples, who are more likely to rely upon a healthy and thriving  environment and yet, perversely usually have little say, or few means of access in these matters. Hopefully policies like the Whanganui River Deed of Settlement can inspire Governments around the world to take action towards recognising and respecting indigenous knowledge, and the restorative capacity of healing nature and communities.

The Brexit Chaos

Last weekend the CEO of Nasdaq complained in the Wall Street Journal about ‘The Overblown Brexit Market Panic’. Repeating the absurdity that the vote has created an “independent Britain”, as if the EU is a colonial power, he assured readers that “over the next two years, the timeline for EU withdrawal, Britain has an opportunity to become a trading magnet”.

It is rare to find so many errors and misunderstandings in such a short space. First, there is no panic because there has been no Brexit, only a non-binding referendum. This generated a small pro-Leave majority, which – according to numerous polls since – would not be repeated today.

Britain is a representative democracy with a sovereign parliament which chose to make this referendum non-binding. The Prime Minister who promised to implement it has since resigned. While the House of Commons could find strong reasons to ignore the vote, they will not (yet) dare to do so because of the fanaticism of the Brexiteers. Thus, Dominic Lawson, a columnist in the ‘Sunday Times’ has claimed (July 3rd), that ignoring the vote would cause such anger that “we could see tanks on the streets”.

So what is the most likely outcome? Will the British Parliament pass Brexit legislation, which most of its members do not believe in? The current House of Commons has a large pro-EU majority and it is unlikely that this will change after the next election.

So for now, it is likely that the process of the UK leaving the EU will go ahead, despite the growing opposition. Over 1000 lawyers have called for an independent body to examine the consequences, followed by a parliamentary vote.

Before the referendum, David Cameron said that the UK would trigger the EU exit clause (Article 50) quickly after a Brexit vote. Today this date is receding ever further into the future, with government ministers not wanting it triggered until the end of the year or even next year. Why? Because, having no Brexit plan, they have only now realized the complexities of unravelling 40 years of EU membership. As the Article 50 timetable stipulates that the UK will be outside the EU two years after triggering it, they are panicking that this will leave them without an alternative arrangement and at the mercy of their ex-partners. (Unanimity would be required to extend this two-year period). Experts have calculated that concluding negotiations and passing the required legislation may take seven years. The Austrian Minister of Finance experts Britain to still be an EU member in five years’ time…

As for negotiating new trade agreements, this may take even longer. For decades such agreements have been concluded at the EU level and the UK no longer has the required expertise. Last week, the media reported that New Zealand had offered to help out by lending London some trade negotiators…

While there is yet no panic, the Brexit insecurity is growing: “Sterling falls despite reassurance”, “Banks promise to boost lending to stop Britain falling into recession” (both headlines in the “Daily Telegraph”, July, 6th), and “Brexit vote may be the undoing of Italian Banks” (“City am”, July 6th). One of this paper’s columnists recommends that the UK adopts the cold war UN strategy of Stalin’s Foreign Minister Molotov and turns up at the EU Council of Ministers to “veto every proposal on any subject whatsoever, regardless of its merit”, until the EU agrees to Brexit negotiations before the UK has triggered the Article 50 exit clause.

One can only imagine the animosity and harm this will cause. Already, xenophobic and racist incidents have surged in the UK since the referendum. The vote has also created new inter-generational conflicts. Most young Britons voted to remain in the EU and many are furious with parents and grand-parents for depriving them of their freedom to live and work in other European countries.

So, as a result of holding this referendum at a time of strong anti-government feelings, and resentment against the privileged establishment after years of austerity, and promising to implement a non-binding vote come what may, the UK and EU now face many years of turmoil and disruption. At a time when many urgent issues — climate change, economic instability, terrorism, the refugee crisis, a resurgent Russia etc. — require the attention of European decision-makers, they will be busy unravelling the details of the UK’s EU membership and implementing alternatives. The simplest, guaranteeing continued full UK access to the EU market, would involve joining Norway and Iceland in the European Economic Area (EEA). Yet the UK will soon find that this involves accepting most EU laws and obligations — including free movement – but with no ability to influence them, and at equivalent financial costs for EU membership. The UK may believe it can get a special deal but this is very unlikely as the other members – who would all need to approve the outcome — would not want to create precedents.

So what is the most likely outcome? Will the British Parliament pass Brexit legislation, which most of its members do not believe in? The current House of Commons has a large pro-EU majority and it is unlikely that this will change after the next election.

The more time elapses since the Brexit vote, the more likely it is that MPs will assert their primary duty to act in the best interests of their country. This will particularly be the case if Scotland moves towards independence and the peace in Northern Ireland is threatened by Brexit, which will necessitate border controls between N. Ireland and the Republic.

In such a case it would be very surprising if MPs did not prioritize the peace and integrity of the UK above a non-binding vote taken years ago.

So, while it is likely that Article 50 will be triggered to appease the Brexit fanatics, it is even more likely that it will later be rescinded, i.e. that the UK withdraws its application to leave in a few years time. International treaty law allows this. Of course, this would require reversing the complex legislative process, wasting more years and risking more vetos along the way. David Cameron’s foolishness and arrogance will cost his country and Europe dear.

So what about immigration? Of course problems arise when health and educational facilities face years of under-funding due to austerity policies. But there can be little doubt that media anti-immigrant propaganda played a greater role in the referendum than actual immigration. I live in London which often really feels overcrowded with foreigners. But London voted to remain. On the other hand, areas of Britain which seem “unchanged since the 1950s” (to quote a retired lawyer living in Cheshire) voted to leave, despite very few immigrants. Voters there read the “Sun”, “Daily Mail” or “Daily Telegraph”, which worked hard to convince them that this was their last chance to stop the mass invasion of dreaded foreigners reaching their village…

Climate change – the greatest threat to human rights in the 21st century

The Future Justice team attended a talk concerning the relationship between climate change and human rights, hosted by the Global Governance Institute, UNICEF UK and UCL Grand Challenges, with the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, Prof. John Knox.

Mike Penrose, Executive Director of UNICEF UK, introduced the topic at hand by urging us all to place human beings at the core of this debate. Climate impacts causing the displacement of several tens of millions of people in places such as Bangladesh and food security crises in East Africa bringing a rise in child mortality, point to the key framing of the issue. It becomes even more pressing when we consider that it’s the young/future generations and the ones most vulnerable amongst the current generations who will bear the consequences of climate change first and hardest.

Climate impacts causing the displacement of several tens of millions of people in places such as Bangladesh and food security crises in East Africa bringing a rise in child mortality, point to the key framing of the issue.

With COP21, Penrose continued, we have an opportunity to stem this crisis – a sentiment later reiterated by Prof. Knox. Given that the governments have agreed to limit climate change to 2 degrees, or even 1.5, despite that still being a potentially catastrophic rise in temperature, it might just be within the realms of manageable. To go forwards with this daunting and ambitious objective Mike Penrose urged that we all need to move from words to actions.

Most importantly there needs to be early and heavy investment in mitigation measures that will reduce the climate impact on children. To achieve this we need to tackle the issue through a rights based approach, in order for human beings and children to be at the centre of the debate: ‘Their voice needs to be listened to because they will inherit this planet.’

The role of Prof. Knox as UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment is to study this specific area of law and clarify how human rights law applies to environmental protection. Prof Knox’s work encompasses thereby also the study of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean and healthy environment.


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It turns out that The Universal Declaration of Human Rights doesn’t cover the environment because human rights laws developed before our understanding of the environment. Thus work to combine the two is increasingly vital. Nowadays, already more than 90 national constitutions include a right to healthy environment, this includes but isn’t limited to tribunals that have effectively ‘greened’ existing human rights.

Prof. Knox shared some of his conclusions drawn from his extensive research:

  1. Environmental harm interferes with the full enjoyment of human rights
  2. Human rights laws set out procedural rules for environmental policy making
  3. Human rights law sets minimum substantive standards
  4. Groups vulnerable to environmental harm are owed heightened duties

A clear benefit derived from a human rights perspective to climate change is a clarified view as to what is at stake: whether all of us – especially the most vulnerable – will be able to live with dignity, equality and freedom and furthermore, it provides a solid guidance for robust and effective climate policies, by virtue of keeping humans at the core of this debate.

What we need to do now is to go further with the reframing of climate change as a threat to human rights; the fact that we see images of polar bears and post apocalyptic Mad-Max-Style environments, John Knox explained, is a sign that climate change and the real impact of it is still too far removed from us as human beings.

“Climate change is the greatest threat to human rights in the twenty first century.”  Mary Robinson

The recent Paris agreement therefore has to be lauded in that this is the first time that such an agreement refers to human rights in relation to climate change. The narrative on climate change is broadening out to the human threat faced, especially as basic human rights are already being violated due to climate change, with the risks of greater and more extensive corrosion of rights becoming more apparent. A great deal needs to be done to bring Paris into action, to see a fast reduction in emissions.

The talk concluded by highlighting a new way, paved in lawsuits, to move beyond this rhetoric such as Asghar Leghari v Federation of Pakistan 2015, Urgenda Foundation v The State of the Netherlands 2015 and most recently a case where the young generation decided to fight for their right to a healthy environment : the Children’s Trust Lawsuit v The United States of America ( Kelsey Cascade Rose Juliana; et al., v. The United States of America).

Why do we need a UN High Commissioner for Future Generations?

This hearing built upon the outcomes of an expert level workshop on the issue held in the European Parliament in April 2015. It aimed to provide an overview of existing practices at UN, EU and MS levels as well as to identify options for better integrating the rights of future generations.

How can Europe better consider future needs?

What steps can be taken in Europe, to facilitate the shift from short-termism in policy making towards long-term decision making? What is the way forward?

Summary and main outcomes of the event organised by the World Future Council and MEP Benedek Jávor (Greens/EFA), cohosted with Sirpa Pietikäinen (EPP) and Jo Leinen (S&D) 

Monday 28 September 2015
The hearing built upon the outcomes of an expert level workshop on the issue held in the European Parliament in April 2015 with the participation of the Cabinets of Karmenu Vella, Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries and Tibor Navracsics, Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport.

It aimed to provide an overview of existing practices at UN, EU and MS levels as well as to identify options for better integrating the rights of future generations, better  implementing intergenerational equity and bringing longterm thinking into EU policymaking with contributions from János Pásztor, UN Assistant Secretary General & Special Envoy on Climate Change, Karmenu Vella, Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Karl Falkenberg, European Policy Strategy Centre as well as highlevel representatives of particular Member States, NGOs and academia.

New, policyrelevant assessments and research results were presented and discussed including that of the Oxford Martin Programme on Human Rights for Future Generations, the Institute for European Environmental Policy and the World Future Council, the latter offering practical, credible options and recommendations for creating and formalising a ‘Guardian for Future Generations’ role at EU level.

Benedek Jávor opened the event by drawing attention to the close links between the rights of future generations and the recently adopted Agenda 2030 and the climate goals to be set by the COP21 in Paris later this year. Such decisions reflect the need for long-term thinking and integrating the interests of future generations in policy-making, which are indispensable for addressing challenges like climate change or biodiversity loss. Action at the EU level might influence other countries to follow the positive example. Mr Jávor reminded participants that despite efforts to improve governance in the EU, the interests of future generations are systematically underestimated in current decisions for a number of reasons. He made it clear that bridging the needs of present and future generations is possible and practical solutions are highly needed.

In his video message, János Pásztor, UN Assistant Secretary General warned that climate change will have the most encompassing impact on future generations. Therefore, the Paris Agreement is crucial and could mark a historic turning point, if everyone, including all sectors and all levels of society are on board. Commissioner Karmenu Vella called for the EU to live up to the UN commitments and fully implement the SDGs, keeping in mind that 2030 is around the corner. He mentioned the upcoming proposal from the Commission on the circular economy as one of the tools to do so.

Neil Kerr, deputy Permanent Representative of Malta offered a historic perspective on the role his country played in promoting the concept of a ‘guardian of future generations’ at the international level since the UN Sustainable Development Summit in 1992. In particular, he talked about the science-policy interface and the importance of a cross-sectoral and participatory approach.

Future_Needs_HearingThe founder of the World Future Council, Jakob von Uexkull reminded the audience that climate change is not the sole issue affecting future generations, but it will have the most drastic impacts across all areas of life. In his opinion, we have enslaved future generations by our current lifestyles and it would be absolutely necessary to redesign policies (including education, security, energy and biodiversity protection) and create a Guardian at EU level. Karl Falkenberg warned us about various unprecedented environmental challenges, argued for a conservative approach, namely the duty of handing a liveable planet to the next generations. He called for policy coherence, a holistic and collective approach, mentioning examples of sustainable agriculture and cities. In his view institutions such as national level sustainable development councils to embed the concept of long-termism are more justifiable than giving a voice to future generations through a single representative due to difficulties in anticipating intents and attitudes that will prevail in the future. He also mentioned the value of mainstreaming such principles across existing work and processes.

Session 2 offered insight into current practices with possible lessons to be learnt at the EU level. As explained by Rita Singh, Director of Policy at Cynnal Cymru/Sustain Wales, in Wales the role of the Commissioner for Sustainable Futures is to bring attention to inter-connectedness of policies and promote sustainability. This is achieved through a collaborative approach, including consultations with key stakeholders and social groups on their vision for 2050, with the overall aim of engaging citizens. Tools to support such work include a specific checklist for public service providers, making sure their decisions are sustainable in the economic, social, environmental and cultural sense. The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act, introduced into law earlier this year has proven instrumental into prioritising attention, of both Government and public bodies to the long-term.

Another concrete example was presented by Dr. Marcel Szabó, Deputy Ombudsman for Future Generations in Hungary. Here the focus lies more on the question of constitutionality and
checking whether government actions are compliant with environmental law, either on the Ombudsman’s own initiative or based on citizens’ claims in order to ensure that future
generations have appropriate life conditions. Dr. Szabó listed success stories in the fields of awareness raising and education, as well as cooperation with academia.

Catherine Pearce from the World Future Council also draw the attention to inspiring institutions from various countries and provided a few common characteristics of these. The key functions
include policy evaluation, mediation to achieve policy coherence, balancing the interests of current and future generations. In terms of underlying principles to ensure impact, inter alia independence, effectiveness, transparency, legitimacy, accountability and accessibility were mentioned. She argued that representing future generations at EU level would reinforce
European values, support implementation and close governance gaps, and allow performance assessment of EU institutions.

Ms. Pearce also analysed the pros and cons of six different pathways to establish a Guardian at EU level, keeping in mind the desired scope of competence of this role and stressing that these options were not mutually exclusive:

● Treaty change
● Adapting an existing EU role (eg. EU ombudsman or European Fundamental Rights
● Stand alone legislation/new institution
● Separate sectoral legislation (eg. 7 Environment Action Programme)
● Ad hoc administrative arrangement
● Interinstitutional
agreement, this being the stronger and preferred option going forward

Professor Simon Caney presented a list of areas where short-termism creates problems, such as macroeconomics, housing, pensions, foreign policies and disaster management. He summarised key drivers of short termism including human factors (such as ignorance, self-interest, tendency to focus on vivid risks and identifiable victims) and institutional factors (such as electoral dependence, economic dependence, media coverage, auditing timelines, ill-designed performance indicators). Finally, he offered a fivefold
proposal (tailored for the UK context nevertheless providing a source of inspiration for other Member States and the EU):

● Obligation for any incoming government to provide a “Manifesto for the Future” and
describe long term vision
● ‘State of the Union’ speech for the future ( a day dedicated to visions for the future in the
parliament), where the government defends its manifesto for the future
● Committee for the future to scrutinise policies for the long term
● Independent council for the future with an agenda setting power
● Longterm
performance indicators and audit

A number of comments and questions were raised covering the following aspects: providing the freedom of choice to future generations, going beyond advocacy, applying the concept of heritage when defining the role of an EU Guardian, strengthening existing tools such as environmental impact assessments, making use of an ensemble of governance instruments (complementing one another), a systemic approach with human rights and the precautionary principle at its core, decision makers to better link to academia and lawyers to find innovative and systemic solutions, measuring the sustainability performance of EU policies, using indicators to scrutinize them (possibly with a link to monitoring SDG implementation), taking into account Member State specificities, besides foresight tools (visions, scenarios), the need for back-casting and ability for identifying building blocks of transition putting the economy, institutional representation necessary for vulnerable groups under pressure.

Sirpa Pietikäinen, cohost of the hearing emphasized the importance of creating links with national campaigns (run by citizens or advocacy groups) as well as building on court cases which oblige national governments to protect their citizens from environmental threats, including climate change.

The event concluded with Benedek Jávor’s comments which included his intention to launch an EP written declaration on intergenerational justice to prompt action by the European Commission and Member States, suggesting also to establish an intergovernmental panel for future generations.

“Essential Ingredients for a Sustainable Future”

Anticipation is high that 2015 will be a landmark year for sustainable development. 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. It is in this favourable context that the conference ‘Essential ingredients for a sustainable future – Why do we need independent institutions, and how should they work for the long term?’ will take place in Cardiff in Wales, on the 28 and 29 April. The event is organised by the World Future Council, the Welsh Office of the Commissioner for Sustainable Futures, the Welsh Government, Sustain Wales and the Oxford Martin Programme on Human Rights for Future Generations. It will be the occasion to highlight the positive processes achieved or outstanding, at all levels; UN, EU, national, regional, etc.; where the needs of future generations are being actively considered and implemented.

The programme includes panels and workshops led by several eminent speakers from different horizons; including Edith Brown Weiss, Professor of International Law from Georgetown University Law Centre in Washington DC and Nikhil Seth, Director of the Division for Sustainable Development, UNDESA (Department of Economic and Social Affairs). Themes will include ‘New institutions to drive the change – working with purpose and impact to protect our common future’, ‘Identifying the gaps for institutional innovation’, ‘Learning from the rich experience of existing examples elsewhere’ and ‘Looking to the future – perspectives in practice’.

As the conference coincides with the passage of the Well-being of Future Generations Bill in the Welsh Assembly, Cardiff offers the perfect backdrop to speak about a sustainable future. Indeed Wales is leading the way in taking on board the interests of present and future generations in the decision making process. The current Commissioner for Sustainable Futures has led a ‘National Conversation’ to build a picture of ‘the Wales We Want’ by listening to the people of Wales on their pressing concerns and the threats that they fear will face Wales in the future. More information on the Bill can be found here.

The conference will bring together a global community of institutions serving to safeguard the needs of future generations, all named by the UN Secretary-General in his Report of 2013, ‘Intergenerational Solidarity and the Needs of Future Generations’[1], including

–       the Committee for the Future in Finland, which deliberates parliamentary documents referred to it and, makes submissions to other committees on future-related matters.;

–       the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development in Canada, Julie Gelfand, who is responsible for assessing whether federal government departments are meeting their sustainable development objectives, and overseeing the environmental petitions process;

–       Hungary’s Ombudsman for Future Generations, Dr. Marcel Szabó, whohas the task to ensure the protection of the fundamental right to a healthy environment. He examines individual measures and monitored policy developments and legislative proposals to ensure that they would not pose a severe or irreversible threat to the environment or harm the interests of future generations;

–   the Australian Capital Territory’s Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment, Robert Neil who encourages sound environmental practices and procedures to be adopted by the Territory and Territory authorities as a basis for ecologically sustainable development.

–   Germany’s Parliamentary Advisory Council on Sustainable Developmentserves as the advocate of long-term responsibility in the political process, should structure policy for future generations and support the work of the bodies created by the Federal Government.”

All these institutions are the proof that future generations are being increasingly considered, and that dedicated mechanisms can support and facilitate the process.