Envoy for future generations

Campaigners are hopeful that their long-held dream for the UN to embed consideration of future generations in decisions by creating a special envoy role will come true this year.

The World Future Council (WFC) has been campaigning for the move for more than a decade when the idea was first discussed at the UN’s Earth Summit in 2012. 

The UN has progressed work on the issue over the years, and in 2021 published a report recommending that a Special Envoy should be created to ensure that policy and budget decisions take account of the impacts on future generations. 

Global

Though decisions made today have consequences for ten billion people yet to be born this century, no mechanism exists at the global level to advise decision-makers on the intergenerational impacts of decisions, the UN pointed out.

The UN already has a UN Envoy on Youth, but while this post advocates for the needs of today’s young people in terms of education, employment and rights, an envoy on future generations would be far broader, and not focussed on a particular generation. 

An envoy could represent and advocate for future generations; raise awareness of intergenerational impacts of decisions; and facilitate collaboration on the issue. 

They could then report on progress every year to the UN General Assembly, the main policymaking body of the UN where leaders of member states meet to discuss global priorities.

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Neshan Gunasekera, international lawyer and policy advisor to the WFC’s Future Justice Commission said: “We must act now, at the UN, and at all levels of governance, to protect current and future generations on our planet home, so that the human species can realise its full potential in harmony with all sentient beings. 

“This may be one of the last opportunities we get this century.”

The idea of a Special Envoy for Future Generations will be discussed at the upcoming UN Summit of the Future, to be held alongside the UN General Assembly in New York in September. 

World leaders attending the summit will be asked to agree a “Pact for the Future”, which is being drawn up in advance of the summit and discussed at a series of events throughout 2024, including the UN Civil Society Conference in May and a political meeting on the UN Sustainable Development Goals in July. 

There will also be a political declaration, which is expected to contain endorsement for establishing the new post. 

A draft of this is expected to be published in early April, following consultations with stakeholders from youth and indigenous groups; UN agencies, funds and programmes; NGOs and research institutions and academia, and the private sector. 

Historic

A summary of responses so far published by the UN reveals strong support for the idea of the appointment of a special envoy, as well as an annual report on future generations to inform policy making; a call for recognition of the rights of future generations; underscoring the importance of the right to inherit a healthy environment and calls for collaboration with the private sector, civil society and academia.

The WFC is also calling for a number of other changes through this process, including the representation of future generations at international, national, regional and local levels, with authority to design and review policies to safeguard their rights; the elevation of intergenerational equity in legal and political systems and processes; and the strengthening of legal obligations to protect future generations including through the campaign to take climate change to the International Court of Justice.

Gunasekera is hopeful that UN member states will agree to establish a special envoy, given the support so far shown by civil society organisations and the governments of Germany, Namibia, the Netherlands and Jamaica who are co-chairing negotiations on the pact and political declaration respectively.

“There is confidence that this recommendation will be adopted and a historic opportunity realised, which we further hope will inspire innovation in governance at all levels,” he concluded.

This Author

Catherine Early is a freelance environmental journalist and chief reporter for The Ecologist. She tweets at @Cat_Early76.

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