Guest Contribution

UN Report on Intergenerational Solidarity and the Needs of Future Generations: Concerns about future generations make their way to the global political agenda.


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The Report on Intergenerational Solidarity and the Needs of Future Generations of the Secretary General of the United Nations was released on 17 September. It was an answer to a call put forward by the Children and Youth major group at the Rio+20 Conference, reflected in paragraph 86 of the Rio+20 outcome document (requesting the Secretary General to provide a report on the need for promoting intergenerational solidarity for the achievement of sustainable development, taking into account the needs of future generations).

The report evaluates how the need for intergenerational solidarity could be addressed by the United Nations system and analyses how the issue of intergenerational solidarity is embedded in the concept of sustainable development and existing treaties, declarations, resolutions, and intergovernmental decisions. It also reviews the conceptual and ethical underpinnings of intergenerational solidarity and future generations and how the issue has been taken into consideration in policy-making at the national level in a variety of institutions. The report outlines options for possible models to institutionalize concern for future generations at the United Nations level, as well as suggesting options for the way forward.

The preparatory process that preceded this publication was rich in activities. On the one hand, it was important to create a document that takes into account all the different dimensions of such concepts as ‘intergenerational solidarity’ and ‘future generations’. There are plenty of relevant perspectives on the topic, ranging from theoretical debates in philosophy, law and economics to practical considerations with regards to ways of institutionalizing concerns for future generations. On the other hand, it was important to engage with all interested parties to consider different perspectives and views before compiling the first comprehensive report on the topic.

While interdisciplinary cross-cutting analysis was prepared by our team behind the scene in quiet rooms of the UN Secretariat, outreach and engagement with civil society major groups and the academic community happened through several open activities. First, there was an Expert Panel on Intergenerational Solidarity that took place in New York in May, 2013. The event featured several prominent academics working on future generations, who talked about intergenerational solidarity in the context of sustainable development. The event was open to civil society representatives and generated an interesting discussion after that which in a way informed the report.

One month later, the Division for Sustainable Development organized an online consultation process, inviting all interested parties to contribute to the Report by answering several open-ended questions about conceptual and practical aspects of intergenerational solidarity. We received many responses, including valuable comments and ideas from civil society and the academic community. A lot of attention was drawn to the question of institutionalization of concerns for future generations. The idea of a High Commissioner for Future Generations advocated by several civil society major groups long before these consultations was reflected in the Report, as a response to this bottom-up call.

The final accord of the preparatory process happened when the first draft of the Report was already written in July, 2013. In order to raise awareness about intergenerational solidarity in general and the upcoming report in particular, a Facebook chat was scheduled. On the day, UN experts from the team working on the report answered questions about future generations and sustainable development from the general public for two hours live. There was significant interest in the topic and questions came from all corners of the world.

Engagement with the general public, with civil society and the academic community was crucial for both informing and popularizing the report.  The discussion paper “Committing to the Future We Want: a High Commissioner for Future Generations at Rio+20” prepared by Halina Ward in collaboration with Peter Roderick, Catherine Pearce and Dr Sándor Fülöp in 2012 created solid ground for the section of the report dedicated to policy options with regard to institutionalizing concerns for future generations. The comments of two academic reviewers, Prof. Edith Brown-Weiss (Georgetown University Law Center) and Prof. Stephen Gardiner (University of Washington), are also gratefully acknowledged.

What does the future hold for concerns about future generations? The Report will be presented at the next session of the General Assembly of the United Nations for consideration of member states, which is going to make it clear what further actions would follow.

Katia Vladimirova was part of the team working on the Report on Intergenerational Solidarity and the Needs of Future Generations in May-July 2013. The topic of the Report was closely related to her area of expertise: Katia is pursuing a doctoral degree in climate ethics and global environmental politics through Erasmus Mundus Joint Doctorate “Globalization, Europe, Multilateralism” in Universities LUISS (Rome) and ULB (Brussels).

Posted by Future Justice on 3 October 2013