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World Future Council: Defending the rights of future generations

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By Judge C. G. Weeramantry, Ashok Khosla, Dr. Scilla Elworthy

Today, vast factory trawlers are vacuuming every living thing off the floor of the oceans. Toxic wastes are being dumped on poor communities whose governments turn a blind eye. Millions of acres of irreplaceable primeval forest are purposely being burned every year, to make way for cattle ranches.

Art work by students of Brooks Crossing Elementary School, South Brunswick, NJ, USA

These are crimes against the future, crimes that are happening today, in large numbers, all over the world.

These are crimes that will not only injure future generations, but destroy any future at all for millions of people. And today, there is no institution or person in most countries with the task of defending the rights of those future generations.


The World Future Council brings the interests of future generations to the centre of policy-making. Its 50 eminent members from around the globe have already successfully promoted change. The Council addresses challenges to our common future and provides decision makers with effective policy solutions.

The World Future Council is calling for Ombudspersons for Future Generations. These would be guardians appointed at global, national and local levels whose task would be to help safeguard environmental and social conditions by speaking up authoritatively for the future generations in all areas of policy-making.

This could take the shape of a Parliamentary Commissioner, a Guardian, a Trustee or an Auditor, depending on how it best fits into a nation’s governance structure. This person would facilitate coherence between the separate pillars of government to overcome single issue thinking, and hold government departments and private actors accountable if they do not deliver on sustainable development goals

Such a post already exists in Hungary, filled by the redoubtable Sandor Fulop, who has managed, with support from community groups, to protect several major environmental patrimonies in his nation. The Israeli Knesset also appointed a judge as Commissioner for the Future Generations. New Zealand established a Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment as an independent environmental ombudsperson, the Welsh Assembly recently appointed a Commissioner for Sustainable Futures.

The Rio+20 Summit in June this year will have as a major theme ‘Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development’. The Zero Draft – Rio’s official outcome document – contains reference to “an Ombudsperson or High Commissioner for Future Generations to promote sustainable development”. However, a number of countries are currently trying to remove this concept from the draft. Why would any nation be against such a win-win proposal?

Their main concern seems to be about proliferation of bureaucracy and a drain on existing limited resources. However the opposite is likely to be the case, since an Ombudsperson would actually bring more coherence to policy making. Current, narrowly defined policy-making approaches often lead to unintended negative consequences and unnecessary costs in redressing these. Integrated thinking and long-term time horizons can help avoid these, often even in the short term.

A small high level office with a cross-sectoral mandate working in cooperation with existing institutions, agencies and stakeholders can save a nation considerable costs quite quickly and avoid a lot of grief soon after.

Another worry appears to be that an Ombudsperson might favour the future over the present. Given that we humans already live well beyond the carrying capacity of the earth, an environmentally restorative change is essential if lives and livelihoods are to be maintained and cultivated.

Translating the interests of future generations into policies and actions simply means choosing more sustainable solutions today. Everywhere Industrialized countries, with ecological footprints in most cases exceeding five times their biocapacity, urgently need an institutional mechanism to help reorient their economies to ensure sustainable futures even for their present generations.

Developing countries and their negotiating groups such as the G77 can take credit and ownership of such an initiative since it arises from a large part of the wisdom of traditional cultures like theirs, that have flourished in harmony with nature for thousands of years, demonstrating the value of an institution of moral authority or conscience keeping in creating policies and taking decisions geared to the needs of a sustainable future.

On retirement, great political leaders voice their regret that they had no time to think, no time to reflect on the consequences of their decisions, particularly with respect to the state of the world they are leaving for their grandchildren. The appointment of Guardians for the Future, by whatever name, would not only remove the reason for such regrets, it could leave behind a legacy that future generations would honour.

The authors are members of the World Future Council. Judge C.G. Weeramantry is former Vice-President of the International Court of Justice. Ashok Khosla is President of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Co-President of the Club of Rome. Dr. Scilla Elworthy is Founder of the Oxford Research Group and of Peace Direct.

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  1. Very noble intentions, but could one be very optimistic given the disrespect shown by rulers to the norms of life and governance? Only a world terrible disaster dessimating the population would leave the nature alone for a while. Greed and exploitation of one another keep the nature being destroyed.

  2. im from the philippinesfor me it is inrtpoamt that we control global warming as early as today but controlling global warming is a task that is so expensive that here in the philippines it is not practical.Solar technology,wind turbine technology,other research technology is so expensive that i think we here in the philippines rather tackle more upfront problems like poverty and corruption.yes i think we should contribute but i think all we can do here is to minimize waste and acts with global warming on our minds.it is somewhat laughable to me that some politician here push for global warming technology when thousand of Filipinos are starving and uneducated.if i were a politician i would rather focus on education and welfare first but also promote simple habits that could help the cause ” global warming ” like1. Not using paperbags or plastics on grocery stores ( they should have a permanent bag for it )2. banning straw in cups ( only using straw when sipping thru a bottle )3. charging people for using plastic cups or paper cups ( encourage to bring own non disposable cups plus the extra charge will be good for other projects )4. requiring companies to recycle their own products ( Milk carton , Cell phones parts etc )5. more tax on companies that recycle less than 40% ( plastic companies ,paper companies Cellphone companies etc etc) 6. more tax again for companies that use plastic or paper ( i can call it global warming tax )that is just some of the solution that i think is within reason here in the Philippinesif the philippines do this not only that the budget will not be hurt by green technology but also we can use the extra tax for green technologysorry for my english

  3. I’m not so sure that I’d go along with your idea of leaving it for futrue generations. Many of the people alive today are only here because past generations decided to deal with the problems they were faced with, most notably perhaps with diseases such as smallpox.Ignoring the problem is like seeing your house is on fire then waiting an hour to call the fire department. The longer we leave the problem the worse it gets, the more damage is done and the harder it becomes to control.We’ve faced potential environmental disasters in the past which were dealt with at the time – air pollution, ozone depletion and global cooling are three examples. Had they not been dealt, with then today’s world could be considerably different from what it is.The most thorough report into the economics of global warming (The Stern Report) found that each year global warming is costing us $600 billion. In 40 years time the cost will have risen to $4 trillion a year – that would be the same as going through the current economic crisis once every 6 months. We’ve already witnessed the effects of climate change in the form of increased flooding, more frequent and intense storms, more droughts etc. In parts of Asia and Africa millions of people have had to leave their homes because the land has been permanently flooded, lost to the sea or has turned to desert. Each year these effects get worse but fortunately the western world has, so far, been spared many of the worst effects.

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