Blog Post

Future Generations in the UN – the report is out!

The report from the UN Secretary-General, ‘Intergenerational Solidarity and the Needs of Future Generations’ is finally out!  Available here.

As you will remember – the World Future Council, together with a number of the Major Groups and many civil society organisations, with the support of numerous Member States, called for the establishment of a UN High Commissioner for Future Generations.

In the course of the Rio+20 process this proposal morphed into a High Level Representative for Sustainable Development and Future Generations. Unfortunately this was dropped in the final hours of negotiations and instead we have been looking towards the report on intergenerational solidarity and future generations (para 86 of ‘The Future We Want’) as a key tool to ensure that intergenerational equity becomes an integral part of UN policy-making processes.

We would like to use this blog to share our initial views on the report and the ambition required to help guide the UN and its Member States to create fair conditions for all future generations.

The argumentation for recognition of the rights of future generations comes out strongly in the report. “The present generations need to understand why leaving the planet to our descendants in at least as good condition as we found it is the right or good thing to do.” (§11)

The biggest take home message comes under section IV with the options for a way forward. The first proposal is for a High Commissioner for Future Generations – which is positive news for us as the report sets a strong case for this option.

We would not support the 2nd proposal for a Special Envoy. This is because the Secretary General would appoint a Special Envoy, yet we have continued to demand that the mandate of any UN role should be defined and agreed by Member States. This helps to ensure buy-in from across the UN system. Equally we would not support a proposal in the report for such role to have a fixed term, but rather that the role and mandate should be regularly reviewed and monitored, particularly in view of assessing its impact.

We would also oppose the third option, § 66, – of adding this issue as an agenda item in the high-level political forum (HLPF).  This is because the HLPF already has a very full agenda – and it will have fewer days per year to deal with that agenda than its predecessor, the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD). On top of that the HLPF is also very likely to be the home of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their implementation once they have been decided on next year. We simply would not want the issue of future generations to get lost as ‘an agenda item’ in an already overcrowded space.

§ 67, which proposes inter agency co-ordination, would also not bring this issue into the heart of the UN activities and architecture. As we have maintained throughout our work, future generations is too important an issue to be added to everyone’s day job. This topic needs a dedicated, if small, office that solely represents these cross-cutting issues to really start defining how we can apply long-term thinking, strengthening programmes and policies to promote inclusive, sustainable human development for current and future generations.

We would not anticipate the proposal for a High Commissioner for Future Generations to be in any way comparable to the existing two High Commissioners (Human Rights and Refugees) in terms of size, budget and reach. This could be a small office, of 3-5 supporting staff, working with other agencies in a proactive, collaborative manner. The office would report to the GA and operate in tandem with the HLPF. The Commissioner’s supportive role would provide a broader discourse to identify common interests and win-win situations for present and future generations.

On a final note, the concluding recommendation, § 68, to “invite the high level political forum to consider, at its second meeting, in 2014, the possible institutional arrangements proposed in this report” is in our view unnecessary delay on this pressing issue. Governments should instead carry this agenda forward more promptly via a General Assembly resolution, which would also help to address the financial aspect of the role. We will be looking to and supporting governments to do just that.

Posted by Future Justice on 24 September 2013