Speakers cautioned against centering future generations commitments around sustainability alone, to prevent undermining sustainable development efforts of the current generation.
They stressed the need to learn from national governance and institutions to develop the proposals from the UN Secretary-General’s policy brief at the UN level and called for integrating them in the existing SDG architecture as future and current generations “are not in conflict with each other”.
The German Institute of Development and Sustainability (IDOS) and the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) convened an online event to discuss the UN Secretary-General’s policy brief on future generations, prepared as an input for the Summit of the Future in 2024. Experts shared perspectives on the strengths and weaknesses of the policy proposals contained in the brief and offered recommendations going forward.
The 19 April talk focused on the theme, ‘UN – Fit for Future Generations?’ Providing context for the discussion, the event page notes that the SDG Summit in September 2023 and the Summit of the Future in 2024 share the common task of strengthening collective action and working towards “more effective UN and global governance structures in order to better address existing and future challenges in the area of sustainable development.”
Marianne Beisheim, SWP, said the event is part of the Wednesday Expert Talk Series, which aims to shed light on the topics under negotiation and assess the political feasibility of policy proposals made in the context of the Summit of the Future, focusing on their impact on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the SDGs.
Silke Weinlich, IDOS, summarized key takeaways from the 15 March Expert Talk that focused on the Emergency Platform proposed by the UN Secretary-General, including the need to define the criteria for emergencies, understand how to embed the Emergency Platform in existing mechanisms, and ensure accountability.
Beisheim outlined proposals contained in the Secretary-General’s policy brief titled, ‘To Think and Act for Future Generations,’ including:
- an envoy to serve as a voice for future generations at the global level;
- better use of foresight, science, and data;
- a declaration to define and make concrete our duties to future generations; and
- a dedicated intergovernmental forum to advance implementation of the declaration and share best practices.
She noted that the proposal for a repurposed Trusteeship Council from the ‘Our Common Agenda’ report “did not fly” with many Member States and was not included in the brief.
Beisheim said three dialogues convened as part of the preparatory process for the Summit of the Future, led by the Permanent Representatives of Germany and Namibia. She said consultations on the forthcoming policy brief on meaningful youth engagement will begin “later this week.”
Among the many impacts that will affect future generations, Lutz Möller, Deputy Secretary-General of the German Commission for UNESCO, highlighted climate change, biodiversity loss, and inadequate stewardship of emerging technologies. However, he cautioned against centering future generations commitments around sustainability alone, to prevent undermining sustainable development efforts of the current generation.
Möller drew attention to the 1997 UNESCO Declaration on the Responsibilities of the Present Generations Towards Future Generations and to the report of UNESCO’s International Bioethics Committee on the principle of protecting future generations. He urged treating future generations comprehensively, taking into account a range of issues including intergenerational transmission of inequalities and health predispositions, reproductive rights, and changes to the human genome, among others. Möller called for using the precautionary principle and a human rights-based approach and pointed to the need to think about future generations as a group distinct from young people living today.
Elizabeth Dirth, Development Director, ZOE Institute for Future-fit Economies, focused on implementation and bringing the proposals outlined in the brief to life. She stressed the need to learn from national governance and institutions to develop the proposals at the UN level and called for integrating them in the existing SDG architecture as future and current generations “are not in conflict with each other.”
In ensuing discussion, participants emphasized the importance of integrating the voice of future generations in all UN processes, shared views on the Maastricht Principles on the Human Rights of Future Generations, and called for obligations to “respect, protect, and fulfill” the rights of future generations.
Some speakers were skeptical about the added value of an additional mechanism to support efforts on future generations, and expressed doubt an envoy would be “up to the task,” citing the need to “go further beyond what we see in the brief.”
Many highlighted the need to involve young people in discussions.
In closing, Weinlich announced that an Expert Talk on 3 May will discuss findings of the recent report by the UN High-level Advisory Board on Effective Multilateralism (HLAB) and the 2023 Global Sustainable Development Report. She said another Expert Talk, on 10 May, will focus on youth. [SDG Knowledge Hub Sources]