Response to Our Common Agenda Policy Brief 1: “To Think and Act for Future Generations”

· 5 min read

The Executive Office of the Secretary-General (EOSG) of the United Nations is publishing a series of policy briefs to inform the Our Common Agenda processes. On March 9th 2023, EOSG published its first two policy briefs on Future Generations and The Emergency Platform.

The Simon Institute for Longterm Governance teamed up with Riesgos Catastróficos Globales to review the policy briefs and provide substantial input to contribute to the impact of these efforts. 

On the general principles for Future Generations

The common denominator across cultures, regions, and time is that future generations will inherit what we leave behind. Care for future generations cuts across all domains: human rights, environmental protection, technological progress, etc. By working towards protecting future generations, we are building upon a shared vision to improve our world for today and tomorrow. 

We appreciate the emphasis in this policy brief on the intrinsic link between sustainable development and future generations. Everyone should consider the impact of our current policies and development plans on the future to create programs that have long-lasting positive impact. Indeed the relationship between the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and future generations goes two ways: the SDGs inform how to preserve future generations, and future generations inform how to implement the SDGs. 

The international system must preserve the welfare of future generations by preventing global shocks from escalating into global catastrophic risks. Furthermore, it should prevent existential catastrophes (catastrophes that would lead to the extinction of humanity) through risk-informed development and adequate stewardship of emerging technology, as existential risk is increasingly likely to occur due to technological development.

To implement the principles, we need future-proof policymaking approaches

We need institutions that are fit for purpose and capable of handling long-term challenges, thus safeguarding and improving future generations’ capacity to thrive. For institutions to be considered fit for long-term governance, they must:

  • Act globally while coordinating at local, national, and international scales. 
  • Act in a timely manner by preventing and responding quickly when threats manifest. 
  • Make balanced and deliberate decisions under uncertainty and complexity. 
  • Consider and represent the interests of current and future generations.    

We also need design tools that allow us to future-proof policies:

  • Future-proofing is the process of improving institutions, policies, and processes to improve humanity’s long-term survival and flourishing, notably by accounting for the interests of future generations and addressing existential risk. 
  • Concretely, decision-makers must build policies that consider future generations as stakeholders in the policy design, assess the policy’s effects on the world over an extended timeframe, and put in place systems that allow for enough flexibility in the policy design for it to be adapted over time.

Practical steps we recommend to preserve the rights of future generations

  1. Appointing a Special Envoy for Future Generations

Appointing a Special Envoy for Future Generations would be instrumental in giving a voice to future generations within the United Nations system. We envision their role as a dedicated advocate of the interests of future generations, as well as a key advisor to the different institutions in implementing policies that are future-proof and mindful of future generations.

We need to recognize that certain low- and middle-income countries are lacking capacity to institutionalize considerations for future generations. The Special Envoy for Future Generations should develop best practices for protecting the interests of future generations when institutional capacity is lacking, by involving the civil society as stewards.

We recommend Member States to swiftly nominate a candidate for the Envoy for Future Generations to be appointed at the preparatory ministerial meeting. With a dedicated voice for future generations ahead of the Summit of the Future, the Envoy would build momentum and ambitions around the objectives of the Summit in 2024.

  1. Building ambition for the Futures Lab

The United Nations Futures Lab should inform all of the other Our Common Agenda processes by uniting the United Nations’ foresight capacity.

The Futures Lab should also lead the substantial work on capacity building, knowledge synthesis, and monitoring needed to implement future-proofing and foresight for future generations at the multilateral level. It should support the development of government-funded infrastructure for implementing future-proofing at a national level.

We recommend that the Futures Lab collaborate with forecasting institutions such as the Good Judgment Project or Metaculus, which have extensive knowledge and experience in informing decision-making through expert forecasting.

We also recommend that the Futures Lab collaborate with leading strategic foresight institutions such as the OECD foresight unit to conduct a rigorous exploration and analysis of possible future scenarios relating to global catastrophic and existential risk in order to inform strategic decision-making in the face of uncertainty.

  1. Adopting a Declaration for Future Generations

The Declaration for Future Generations should be the moral foundation underlying the Pact for the Future.

Following the recommendations from Hale et al. (2023) the Declaration for Future Generations should include

  • A recognition of the moral value of future generations and of the duty of present generations to protect their interests and preserve their rights and integrity.

  • A clear definition of future generations as those not yet born who will eventually inherit our planet. 

  • A recognition that protecting the rights of future generations that includes:

    • Ensuring a sustainable planet
    • Responsible stewardship of emerging technologies
    • Monitoring and preventing existential risks
    • Fostering long-term development 
  • A commitment to review and reaffirm the principles once per generation.

We recommend that a full draft of the Declaration for Future Generations be developed by the preparatory ministerial meeting on September 18th, 2023, to allow for sufficient time to refine its content before adopting the declaration at the Summit of the Future.