World Future Council
  • Date submitted: 1 Nov 2011
  • Stakeholder type: Major Group
  • Name: World Future Council
  • Submission Document: Download
Keywords: Biodiversity (1 hits),

Full Submission

World Future Council contribution to Rio+20 Outcomes

Theme II, Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development
Ombudspersons for Future Generations:

Tackling Sustainability Implementation Gaps
October 2011


In 1992 world leaders and civil society met in Rio de Janeiro, concerned and keen to address how human development and environmental protection continues in a harmonious way. They acknowledged that planet Earth is not only a resource, but the home for a wealth of Biodiversity, ecosystems and natural cycles, upon which our security and wellbeing depend. They saw that the policies we had in place risked destroying the means for providing healthy and fulfilling lives for future generations:

?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 A farsighted declaration with principles and recommendations for sustainable development and intergenerational equity was formulated for all countries of the world. Twenty years on and despite numerous international processes and agreements, unsustainable trends continue at an alarming rate and scale. The multiple crises in food, fuel, ecosystem destruction and economic instability are the visible symptoms, rapidly closing down the preconditions for fulfilling lives in the future, even for those economically wealthy today, let alone the marginalised and impoverished.
The future generations that the Brundtland Commission was concerned about are now 23 years old. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) speaks of them as a ?lost generation? because of record numbers in youth unemployment (13% globally). Even in the most developed countries, child poverty has reached 30% (UK), and over 25% of children in the US lived off food stamps in 2010, double the percentage of adults. Most countries face rapidly increasing wealth inequality in their societies (the Gini coefficient in China has moved from 0.3 to 0.5). In some cases we have reached the highest inequality levels on record (US). In a world of 60 trillion USD of global GDP, around 1 billion people live in chronic hunger. Meanwhile, the planetary boundaries within which humanity can safely operate have been reached or overshot ? with a clear rising tendency.


Our existing institutional and governance structures have proved inadequate to meet our rising sustainable development challenges. Our core policy formulation, economic thinking and motivations remain consistently detached from our broader sustainability concerns. Monitoring and enforcement of agreed sustainable development strategies at all governance levels are weak and many central sectors and policies operate entirely without a broader sustainability overview. Since electoral cycles and business models of reporting increasingly define decision-making, short term gains take precedence over future and long term interests. Meanwhile, citizens and civil society appear disconnected from the core of policy-making. Without full representation of their needs, citizens are left without an adequate voice, or a legitimate means by which to question or present their concerns. We lack adequate mechanisms to facilitate accountability, access and monitoring of all sustainability policy decisions and their effective implementation.

Considerable evidence demonstrates that as long as sustainable development remains separated from core policy formulation and economic thinking, and as long as gaps in implementation are not secured, sustainability challenges will not be met.
?Relevant lessons for sustainable development include recommendations to build on existing institutions; promote collaboration, coherence, efficiency and effectiveness in partnerships; and ensure meaningful and equitable public access to international forums related to sustainable development by adapting and structuring their processes and mechanisms in a way that they promote transparency and facilitate the participation of those groups that might not have the means for participation without encouragement and support.? Synthesis Report, UN Secretary General, 2011
?....governance accountability can be strengthened when stakeholders gain better access to information and decision-making, for example through special rights enshrined in agreements, charters and codes, and stronger participation in councils that govern resources, or in commissions that hear complaints. International environmental, developmental and economic institutions must adopt such novel accountability mechanisms more widely.? The Earth System Governance Project Policy Brief, Sept 2011 Proposal Recalling the two themes of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development: a Green Economy in the Context of Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication and the Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development:
We call for the establishment of Ombudspersons for Future Generations at national and international levels as a concrete proposal for the conference, under the Institutional Framework for Sustainable

Development (IFSD) theme.

This institution is designed to safeguard economic, environmental and social conditions for the benefit of current and future generations by undertaking their institutional representation in all areas of policymaking. The institution provides the necessary checks and balances to help overcome the structural short-term orientation of our democratic institutions and brings the sustainable development agenda to the heart of governments and policy-making. The Ombudsperson (which could take the shape of a Parliamentary Commissioner, Guardian or Auditor depending how it fits best into each nation?s governance structure) facilitates coherence between the separate pillars of government, to overcome single issue thinking, and holds government departments and private actors accountable if they do not deliver on sustainable development goals.

[UNDESA/DSD: Please download the original document to read the full submission]

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