Elements Paper for the Declaration on Future Generations

· 4 min read

Future generations are fundamentally disempowered: they will inherit the planet and society we leave for them, yet they have no say in how our societies are governed. They cannot vote, and they are not considered by our justice systems. Yet future generations - our future children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and the thousands or millions of generations that humanity could become in the future - all matter. This blog post lays out an important step forward made by the UN with regard to future generations, and explains SI’s involvement.

The last few years have seen a growing interest in improving the representation of future generations in our systems of governance. In 2021 the UN Secretary-General, as part of the ‘Common Agenda’ report, proposed a ‘Declaration on Future Generations’. Two co-facilitators (Fiji and the Netherlands) were appointed by the President of the UN General Assembly to create an Elements Paper that would offer guidance on a Declaration to be made at the Summit for the Future in 2024. Over the course of 6 months, they ran consultations and accepted written input.

Like the UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights that came before it, a Declaration on Future Generation could be a powerful statement of humanity’s moral priorities and consideration of our descendants. It could also offer the impetus for the creation of concrete institutions to protect the rights of future generations, such as the UN Special Envoy for Future Generations proposed in the Our Common Agenda report. 

SI contributed extensively to the Elements Paper process, bringing to bear our expertise in the field of future-proof policy and existential risks. In July 2022, SI Policy and Strategy Associate Jacob Arbeid spoke at a UN consultation on the elements paper. He emphasised the moral urgency of governing for future generations. Even for this century, there are more people yet to be born than are alive. He also argued that concern for future generations makes salient specific policy issues, such as the need to build resilience to existential risks.

In August 2022, SI was one of 75 contributors to the co-facilitators’ call for written input on the Elements Paper for a Declaration on Future Generations. The contributors were drawn from a diverse lineup of member states, NGOs, think tanks, academia, regional organizations and organizations specialized in the representation of Future Generations.

SI’s written input emphasized three substantive issues: the moral value of future generations (a concept for which there is precedent in all the world’s cultures); the need to distinguish between future generations flourishing and their existence (the latter being necessary for the former, making existential risk reduction a priority); and the importance of concrete institutions such as a UN Envoy, which can serve as catalysts for a ‘whole-of-society’ approach to future generations in national and international governance and jurisprudence. Click here to read the full text.

On Tuesday 13th September 2022, the Elements Paper was released to civil society partners. SI was glad to see the inclusion of several themes we had argued were key for a substantive Declaration:

  • A meaningful distinction between youth and future generations (the Elements Paper defined Future Generation as ‘all those generation that do not yet exist, are yet to come and who will eventually inherit this planet’)
  • A recognition of the need to identify, monitor and manage existential risks as key to ensuring that Future Generations can benefit from the full range of measures identified in the Sustainable Development Goals
  • The incorporation of long-term strategic foresight to anticipate the impact of policies on Future Generations and to design policy with them in mind
  • The need for concrete institutions to safeguard the interests of future generations and ensure that they are not disenfranchised by our justice systems

The full text of the Elements Paper can be found here. We are looking forward to working with the next set of co-facilitators to continue this progress towards a substantive and impactful Declaration on Future Generations, that we hope could become a cornerstone for the protection of their rights.