Representing the Interests of Future Generations
Guest Blogger: Sébastien Duyck from Rio
One of the key questions to be addressed in Rio is how the interests of future generations can be taken into consideration and whether the interests of future generations will become central to the definition of sustainable development.
Thirty countries now include references to intergenerational responsibility in their national constitutions. Beyond these national examples, the international community at large has also consistently recognized this principle, with 30 international environmental agreements containing explicit references to future generations (starting with the UN charter itself).
The crucial question is will these principles translate into mechanisms that can be practically implemented in public policy? At the national level, several countries have already experimented with mechanisms. For example, Israel established a parliamentarian commission for future generations in 2001, and the Czech Republic began nominating a parliamentarian commissioner for future generations in 2008. In addition, New Zealand has had a Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment since 1986.
These mechanisms incorporate the idea of ombudspersons, a term meaning guardian or representative. It is a traditional type of institution used to protect the rights of a particular group of people like children and workers. With a 200-year legacy of working to protect the rights of vulnerable communities, the international community has spent two decades discussing the establishment of ombudspersons to protect more the interests of future generations. The Brundtland report noted the possibility to establish such institutions at the national level and the 1992 Rio Earth Summit referred to the possibility of the creation of such an institution at the international level.
Twenty years later, Rio+20 offers a unique opportunity for the international community to take a decisive step forward and decide to establish an ombusperson to voice the interests of future generations within the United Nations. From the beginning of the talks, the proposal has been supported by a large coalition of civil society, national governments, and some key UN organizations. However, in more recent versions of the negotiated document, the reference to the interest of future generations has been weakened.
Independent of the final decisions at Rio, national governments could build on the in-depth discussions that occurred around this proposal over the past months and decide to create intergenerational ombudspersons at the national level. The greatest concrete outcomes from Rio+20 could be how national governments independently implement ideas from the conference.