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Safeguard the future of our children essay

The need for change in human development for them to lead happy lives has been debated for decades. The sustainability discourse started in the 1970s, and the 1992 UN Conference on the Environment and Development recognized intergenerational equity as central for policymaking that safeguards the future—this principle is now found in the constitutions of many countries.

Its implementation through binding policy-making, however, is rare. One of the reasons for this may be the structural short-term nature of representative democracies.

  • The sustainability discourse started in the 1970s, and the 1992 UN Conference on the Environment and Development recognized intergenerational equity as central for policymaking that safeguards the future—this principle is now found in the constitutions of many countries;
  • An updated institution will also need a new vision and common purpose that informs judgments about the just allocation of opportunities and the responsibilities to maintain them.

We act as we do because we can get away with it: Each created its own guardian or commissioner for future generations, independent voices for the long term that act as temporal checks and balances.

Hungarians even have the right to take complaints about particular development projects and policies to court. Such guardians for future generations can protect any constitutional right or binding policy goal for the long term.

Despite decades-long calls for integrated policies that would tackle social, environmental, and economic issues together, government decision making is still done in single-issue silos, many of which compete over budget allocations. Arguing for the quality of life of children in 2050 introduces a framework that deconstructs the alienating technocratic jargon around sustainability, connecting individual desires for well-being today with the experiences of people in the future.

All over the world, climate change, environmental destruction, financial crises, and the widening gap between rich and poor are spreading insecurity and fear. Common sense suggests that these challenges are too big for one country to handle alone and too structural in nature to ignore where our expertise needs an update.

We are the first generations whose decisions will determine for good or ill the future of human life on this planet, and we seem stuck in a way safeguard the future of our children essay thinking that is obsolete in a globalized world of growing populations. We remain mired in institutional stalemates that inhibit farsighted action, and are trapped by the fear of losing individual material wealth, a fear that jeopardizes any spirit of common action.

All this even though we have been aware for decades that the trajectory of human development needs to change: In 1983, the UN General Assembly established the World Commission on Environment and Development WCED to investigate what seemed a collision course between concerns for the global environment and the needs of development.

The final 1987 report, Our Common Future, is so clear in its analysis and vision that looking at our governments and economies today can prompt screams of frustration about our ignorance and inertia.

This report called for a world political transformation based on the concept of sustainable development, so that the parallel problems of environmental degradation and development could be addressed in an integrated way. The states agreed on an action plan, called Agenda 21, concerning how to make sustainable development a reality. Even before 1992, and following thereafter, the plight of future generations had become the subject of ethical study and debates among scholars.

Both produced conferences and essay volumes in the 1990s. Targets for climate change mitigation, biodiversity, ocean protection, poverty eradication, health, and social equity are continuously missed. This, even despite ever-better scientific measures telling us that the pressure to act is increasing tremendously.

So, why are we not changing our trajectory?

Children: The Hope of the Future

One paragraph from Our Common Future is highly relevant: These institutions tend to be independent, fragmented, and working to relatively narrow mandates with closed decision processes. Those responsible for managing natural resources and protecting the environment are institutionally separated from those responsible for managing the economy. The real world of interlocked economic and ecological systems will not change; the policies and institutions concerned must.

The short-term orientation of representative democracies that have election cycles of three to five years means that the interests of current lobbyists and voters easily trump future concerns.

Each single-issue department seeks to deliver on its own targets rather than identifying where long-term trends create convergence.

  1. In worst cases, agencies compete with each other over limited budgets and are lobbied strategically by single-issue groups.
  2. The commissioner may conduct investigations, and his or her role is not limited to the national government but includes the ability to review the actions of and to assist municipal and other local governments.
  3. The Family International also specialized in early-childhood education, and produced numerous in-house publications, Christian books, videos, and teaching aids for this level of education. Future Generations Alliance Foundation, Kyoto, 1994.
  4. All over the world, climate change, environmental destruction, financial crises, and the widening gap between rich and poor are spreading insecurity and fear. Why Future Generations Now?

In worst cases, agencies compete with each other over limited budgets and are lobbied strategically by single-issue groups. The well-being of societies depends on many factors, as indicated by at least two efforts: The excessive focus on individualist notions of freedom and well-being leaves many people fearful in times when big problems overwhelm personal responsibility.

Bringing future generations to the negotiating table could be a solution. It is time to pierce the alienating technocratic jargon around sustainability and think about our decisions from the point of view of children in 2050. It is their quality of life that should be the benchmark when debating environmental protection, youth unemployment, sustainable pension systems, the level of public debt, and so on.

Some of us will still be alive to play with these children, and we have never had more knowledge and ability to ensure that that play takes place in a better world. Scholars like Janna Thompson and those of the International Human Rights Clinic at the Harvard Law School have discussed several ways of incorporating intergenerational justice into our political systems.

Giving a real person the right to speak up for future interests grants a voice in decision making to everyone whose well-being and rights will be affected. Such guardians would function as temporal checks and balances in the structural short-term orientation of our democratic institutions. They could be directly approachable by civil society like ombudspersonsso that concerns about long-term impacts of political decisions would be filtered straight into the system.

If such a watchdog had a mandate to access all information in all governmental departments, he or she could minimize the risk of policy incoherence, of economic goals trumping resource regulation, instead initiating early cross-issue exchanges and thereby improving policymaking effectiveness.

Building on sustainability assessment mechanisms if in placethe guardians would actively engage with different departments to help decision makers understand the effects of their particular decisions on the living conditions of future people, avoiding significant future adverse effects that would cost much more to clean up than to prevent. Keeping our common future in view and analyzing how single decisions might support or harm that future can help nurture a new common purpose: Shifting our focus from individual bargaining power and winning zero-sum games to the well-being of my children and your children could trigger collective responsibility: Several countries around the world have created guardians for the long term, even to the point of giving them the mandate to engage in the legislative process, as the following examples demonstrate.

The parliamentary commissioner for the environment PCE has an auditing function with a view of preserving ecosystems and improving environmental governance. Additionally, the PCE and staff experts have incorporated issues such as social and economic rights in their research and reports, creating latitude to move beyond environmental issues in relation to the protection of future generations. Depending on who is appointed to the role, the commissioner may or may not actively advocate for the rights of future generations.

There have been and still are proposals to change the PCE into the Office for Sustainable Development, as the idea of an agency that can mainstream sustainability is gaining support. In practice, however, the commissioner could claim the right to issue an informed opinion, even when the Knesset was bound by law to make a decision within safeguard the future of our children essay given time frame or to otherwise postpone the decision.

This amounted to the commission having informal veto power, similar to what a filibuster in the U. It challenged business as usual in a troubled region and was a voice for future generations in policymaking across environmental, economic, and social concerns. Especially through the visionary approach of Commissioner Safeguard the future of our children essay Shoham, it provided opinions and analyses with a commendably systemic and integrative perspective.

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Whether or not to abolish the overarching law is currently being debated. A Parliamentary Commissioner for Future Generations Hungary An additional safeguard the future of our children essay, which is different from commissioners who report to environment ministers or auditor generals, involves establishing an ombudsperson to actively defend the rights of future generations. In 2008, as part of an overarching statute that created an ombudsperson for civil rights, the Hungarian government also created the parliamentary commissioner for future generations.

This includes providing opinions to members of Parliament as well as to other entities that seek to take actions affecting the environment. The commissioner may conduct investigations, and his or her role is not limited to the national government but includes the ability to review the actions of and to assist municipal and other local governments.

In terms of sanctions, after an investigation the commissioner can order that an action be stopped or modified and can bring a case to court if deemed necessary.

Thus the position has a significant degree of independence. The important difference is that the Hungarian commissioner directly defends the rights of our descendants. Given the fate of the Israeli commission, a strong asset in the Hungarian case is that the authorizing statute makes removal of the parliamentary commissioner difficult without cause. The weak spot remains financial: Characteristics of a Powerful Guardian If a guardian for future generations is to become a strong mechanism of temporal checks and balances, such an office should have the following characteristics: It should be independent, according to the logic of the division of powers.

A guardian should not also hold another governmental post, such as in a parliamentary committee. The Hungarian commissioner is the only such guardian discussed who has legally binding tools. The Israeli commission enjoyed de facto veto power through the delivery of statements in a tactical way, but this power was risky to use because it could destroy the trust-based cooperation between deputies and the commission.

Another issue regarding effectiveness involves the size of the office: While the commissioners in all of the above examples provide regular reports, the Hungarian commissioner has the most direct mandate for their independent distribution. The New Zealand and Israeli offices were established top-down.

The mandate of the Hungarian commissioner is most generous in this sense. Both offices are reported to follow a strong grassroots engagement strategy in their work. Reviewing the three examples, we become aware that every legal and cultural setting will lead to a different mandate for a guardian for future generations, depending on the fundamental rights and duties of citizens or overarching political goals.

A civil-society coalition is just starting to promote a guardian to protect the aims of the European Union as defined in the Lisbon Treaty similar to a constitution in its legal status. Article 3 lists three aims: Thus, an EU-level guardian with the mandate to speak up in the name of future generations would directly support EU commitments regarding sustainable development, would improve the coherence and efficacy of European policies drafted in single-issue departments, and would give teeth to the principle of intergenerational solidarity.

Yet, expectations about the impact of such guardians should remain realistic: They all report successfully pushing the envelope in terms of what their ascribed mandates should cover and which methodologies would best fulfill them.

  • Yet, work that is too visionary may turn the tables to the detriment of the entire institution, as seems the case with the Israeli commissioner for future generations;
  • Protecting the rights of future generations therefore starts today;
  • So, why are we not changing our trajectory?
  • All this even though we have been aware for decades that the trajectory of human development needs to change;
  • The Israeli commission enjoyed de facto veto power through the delivery of statements in a tactical way, but this power was risky to use because it could destroy the trust-based cooperation between deputies and the commission;
  • Keeping our common future in view and analyzing how single decisions might support or harm that future can help nurture a new common purpose:

Yet, work that is too visionary may turn the tables to the detriment of the entire institution, as seems the case with the Israeli commissioner for future generations. Established in 2001, the position was only filled for one five-year term, and thereafter the Knesset has debated its abolition.

Passig combines systems research with behavioral science,30 and Goleman emphasizes the ability to perceive the best for both sides in a relationship.

Shoham himself gave this assessment: In its originality of concept in calling the Commission to life, the Knesset showed courage. And in our success in influencing legislation and bringing a new concept into the legislative realm, we see an unprecedented event. An interesting debate between scholars on this topic can be found in the Intergenerational Justice Review.

Hans Jonas is probably the most prominent advocate of a systemic justice view, which informs his advocacy for the rights of future generations. He defines a generational categorical imperative that can be summarized as follows: Along with enjoying access is the notion of trusteeship, meaning the protection of the common heritage as the property of humankind as a whole.

We represent past generations, even while trying to obliterate the past, because we embody what they passed on to us. We represent future generations because the decisions we make today affect the well-being of all persons who come after us and the integrity and robustness of the planet they will inherit.

The Solutions Journal

The diversity of the natural and cultural resource base must be conserved so that the options available to future generations for solving their problems and satisfying their own values are not unduly restricted. The quality of the earth should become no worse.

And each generation should provide its members with equitable rights of access to the legacy of past generations and should conserve this access for future generations.

An updated institution will also need a new vision and common purpose that informs judgments about the just allocation of opportunities and the responsibilities to maintain them.

Using empathy for the children of 2050 to build this new view of justice may ease a transition from an individual to a more relational perspective. Future Justice Starts Today The pioneering solutions described above are evidence that we may actually have learned something in the last two decades.

Building understanding of what is at stake and encouraging individuals to trust in joint action have proven crucial, as has the strategic issuing of information to orchestrate consensus.