Civil society urges Rio+20 to create the Ombudsperson for Future Generations

(Photo: Gabby DC/Flickr/CC)

Future generations can’t control the present. They need international institutions that defend their rights. The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) to be held next year in Rio de Janeiro gives the opportunity to create them, agreed representatives of civil society from all over the world in their contributions to the Social Watch Report 2012, that will be launched in New York on Friday 9.

The proposal fits the concept of sustainable development defined by the Brundtland Commission as a set of policies that “meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” The definition was adopted by the Rio 1992 Earth Summit.

“The ‘right to a future’ is the most urgent task of the present,” wrote in the overview of the Report Roberto Bissio, coordinator of Social Watch and editor-in-chief of the study. “It is about nature, yes, but it is also about our grandchildren, and about our own dignity, the expectations of the 99% of the world’s 7 billion men and women, girls and boys that were promised sustainability two decades ago and have found instead their hopes and aspirations being melted into betting chips of a global financial casino beyond their control.”

“Citizens around the world are demanding change and this report is only one additional way to make their voices heard. The message could not be clearer: people have right to a future and the future starts now,” added Bissio in the prologue titled, as the whole Report, “The right to a future”.

“We support the recommendation to establish the institution of an Ombudsperson for intergenerational justice/future generations,” stated in a chapter of the Report the Civil Society Reflection Group on Global Development Perspectives, comprised of members of Social Watch, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, terre des hommes, Third World Network, Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation, DAWN and the Global Policy Forum.

“The appointment of Ombudspersons for Future Generations could bring the sustainability agenda straight to the heart of governments and policy-making,” added the Group. “The Ombudsperson could engage directly in the policy-making process and assesses the long-term effects of policies from an integrated perspective. Only an independent body without the requirement to be re-elected by current voters can fully focus on the long-term analysis and represent it without any hesitation.”

The proposal follows the line of the global conferences of the 1990s on human rights, social equity and environment that had their climax in the Millennium Declaration of 2000, when UN member states committed themselves “to uphold the principles of human dignity, equality and equity at the global level” as “a duty to all the world’s people, especially the most vulnerable and, in particular, the children of the world, to whom the future belongs”.

That pledge entails to change “the current unsustainable patterns of production and consumption […] in the interest of our future welfare and that of our descendants,” added the Reflection Group in its statement.

“The future of the world, its 7 billion people and the generations to come will be determined by the way in which we respond to the significant challenges that confront our planet. Our current practices are threatening our very existence,” remarked Eurostep, a network of European non-governmental development organizations that operate in more than 100 countries.

“Sustainable development is about improving the well-being of both present and future generations, and is concerned with not only environmental but also social, economic and intergenerational justice,” noted Eurostep in a chapter of the Social Watch Report 2012.

C.J. George, regional coordinator for South Asia of terre des homes, explained that “intergenerational justice is an integral part of such concepts as sustainable development, social justice, children’s and youth rights, global warming and climate change. It is the concept of fairness or equitable rights between generations, children, youths, adults and survivors and also between present, past and future generations.”

Although the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) of 1989 guarantees “just and fair treatment to all children and is now ratified by almost all countries to include the future generations as well,” George warned that “this commitment […] is still far from being adequate.”

“In some sense the present generation exercises power over the future ones, and has the possibility of using up resources in such a way that it negates the rights of the future ones,” he added. “The future has no way of controlling the present. Moreover the present generation even has power over the very existence of the future ones.”

“The challenge now is not only to reiterate these commitments to future generations from the position of justice but also to rebalance the economic and social concerns,” wrote George. “Rebalancing would mean bringing the State back to the social and regulatory realms of political action by assuming responsibilities both to make services equitably available and to regulate free-market approaches. Markets are inherently competitive and follow the logic of survival of the fittest which is contrary to the concept of equity that is a necessary condition for sustainability.”

The regional coordinator of terre des hommes remembered “the proposal from World Council for Future to appoint a ‘legal representation or a Guardian’” for future generations. “Some of the countries have such institutions already. Setting up of an international Ombudsperson or calling for such arrangements nationally can be a concrete outcome of Rio 2012 towards sustainability and enabling of the future, which amounts to guaranteeing intergenerational justice.”

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