Catherine Pearce, World Future Council
Humanity and the environment faced the same problems last year, the year before that and the years before that… and they are growing exponentially. Rio+20 deliberations are running the risk of approaching the problems we face in the very same way that they have been caused. By considering each issue in isolation, without giving deeper attention to how they are interlinked or how the solutions can be mutually beneficial, we could further exacerbate this perfect storm of financial, environmental and fuel crises.
The current economic crisis is a case in point. Efforts to alleviate the huge and rising debt burden that threatens security and stability, for current and future generations, are perceived as the only game in town, Rio being merely a side show. Yet we cannot hope for sustainable and solid foundations to our global financial models unless we deliver innovative, tangible and ambitious outcomes at Rio, which recognise and place limits upon our overuse of resources and which encourage long term investment decisions. For more than twenty years, increasingly voices have pointed out that our environment is intricately and fundamentally linked to all other aspects of society and life, be it our political and economic systems or our cultural heritage. The myth that protecting the environment is a luxury to be dealt with once we have addressed the important business of securing our economy is a dangerous one and has led us to the many crises we now face. Until we have practical structures and policies in place that acknowledge that our planet’s ecosystem underpins everything we depend upon for our ultimate survival, we will be making little headway.
The outcome document will serve as the basis for negotiations between now and Rio, so that the heads of governments attending Rio can adopt this text as the final outcome of the conference. Efforts must be made that this document, already awarded the title ‘The Future We Want’, presents the inter-linkages of our challenges and offers bold, far-reaching solutions with the urgency required.
“We borrow environmental capital from future generations with no intention or prospect of repaying... We act as we do because we can get away with it: future generations do not vote; they have no political or financial power; they cannot challenge our decisions.” World Commission Sustainable Development Report Our Common Future, 1987
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the land mark Brundtland report, therefore representing an auspicious occasion to facilitate coherence between the separate pillars of government to overcome single issue, short term thinking and bring the sustainable development agenda to the heart of decision making. Establishing Ombudspersons for Future Generations at national and international levels is relevant in this regard and we welcome that this has been taken up in the first draft, Paragraph 57 “We agree to further consider the establishment of an Ombudsperson or High Commissioner for Future Generations, to promote sustainable development”.
The institution can safeguard economic, environmental and social conditions for the benefit of current and future generations by undertaking their institutional representation in all areas of decision-making. This offers a concrete proposal in response to the second theme of Rio, Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development (IFSD). However we are aware that it is also acutely relevant to ensuring successful implementation of the green economy agenda and the sustainable development goals. Not least, an international Ombudsperson for Future Generations could play an effective role in ensuring a transparent and participatory process in identifying those goals.
With the mandate as citizen defenders, engaging with public concerns and safeguarding the right to a healthy environment, Ombudspersons (which could take the shape of a Parliamentary Commissioner, Guardian or Auditor depending how it fits best into each nation’s governance structure) increase trust in policy formulation and its effective implementation. In addition, emerging issues of concern to the population and potential civil society solutions are easily transmitted to the core of policy-making.
With respect to existing governance frameworks and legal architecture, there can of course be no uniform approach, nor identical institutions from one country to the next. Certainly similar institutions which are already in place should be reformed or strengthened as necessary. However, for this institution to be effective, attention must be given to a core set of principles upon which it must be based:
· legitimate by democratic standards
· with full access to all relevant information
· widely accessible to external assessments and citizens’ concerns
There is an increasing number of resonating proposals on the table that support Ombudspersons for Future Generations, including the 2012 Social Watch Report launched at the December Intersessional last year. Comprising over sixty national reports by independent citizen groups, entitled ‘The Right to a Future’, the proposal for Ombudspersons for Future Generations features prominently in the recommendations. Based very firmly on principles of intergenerational justice, we welcome the report and reiterate the critical need to rebalance our economic concerns to better redress the social and environmental injustices for all, but especially the youth and children of today and generations yet to be born.
For the negotiations in the next few days, we hope Member States will work together on strengthening the zero draft without delay. Rio will be 2012’s biggest political conference. This is a once-in-a-decade opportunity and the urgency and commitment of the document must begin to reflect this occasion. It is the job of civil society and all delegations to make this happen.
For more information visit: www.futurejustice.org
Catherine Pearce is the Future Justice campaign manager at the World Future Council