HC 172 Outcomes of the UN Rio +20 Earth Summit
Written evidence submitted by Alliance for Future Generations (World Future Council; Intergenerational Foundation; Planetary Boundaries Initiative; and Foundation for Democracy and Sustainable Development)
Part A: Introduction:
A.1 The Alliance for Future Generations (www.allianceforfuturegenerations.org) is a group of individuals and organisations who have agreed to work to ensure that long-termism and the needs of future generations are brought into the heart of UK democracy and policy processes.
A.2 Sustainable development, as defined by the Brundtland Commission (1987) is "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." Yet the needs of future generations have been greatly overlooked.
A.3 The International Trade Union Confederation Global Poll of 2012 (see http://www.ituc-csi.org/IMG/pdf/120604_-_ituc_poll.pdf) asked adults in Belgium, Bulgaria, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Greece, Japan, Indonesia, Mexico, South Africa and the United States whether future generations were ‘worse off than their own generation’. 66% said yes. In the UK, US, Japan and Belgium this ‘vote of no confidence’ in the prospects for future generations was about 78%. In France it reached 93%. The socially positive driving force of a belief that the future will be better looks dangerously absent in many parts of the world.
A.4 Rio+20 could have been an opportunity to agree to new and innovative solutions and policies to safeguard the Earth and secure intergenerational justice. Members of the Alliance are disappointed that this opportunity was not fully realised during the Rio+20 process or at the Summit itself.
A.5 The submission which follows contains a number of subsections which have been prepared individually by four of the Alliance for Future Generations’ members. Each reflects the perspective of an individual member of the Alliance on an issue of concern to the Alliance as a whole.
B. World Future Council: High Commissioner/Ombudsperson s for Future Generations
C. Planetary Boundaries Initiative: Planetary Boundaries
D. Intergenerational Foundation: youth unemployment
E. Foundation for Democracy and Sustainable Development: topic: democracy is essential for sustainable development
Part B: World Future Council: High Commissioner/ Ombudspersons for Future Generations
B.1 Members of the Alliance for Future Generations, along with organisations such as the World Future Council (a member of the Alliance which works globally) and the Major Group for Children & Youth, proposed the establishment of a High Commissioner for Future Generations as a mechanism to safeguard long-termism and the needs of future generations at the global level.
B.2 At the regional, national and sub national levels, we consider that sustainable development itself demands that every individual nation as well as regional groupings, such as the European Union, commit themselves to setting up strategies, mechanisms and institutions, e.g. Ombudspersons for Future Generations, to promote long-termism and give due consideration to the needs of future generations.
B.3 The needs of future generations are a crucial aspect to be taken into account when achieving sustainable development. The European Union negotiating bloc was the main driver of this proposal (called a ‘High Level Representative for Sustainable Development and Future Generations’ in the negotiating text), along with support from other UN Member States, both northern and southern, and from civil society during the Rio+20 process. Our research points to the value of an independent voice, an Ombudsperson or Guardian for Future Generations. Often appointed by the national Parliament, such institutions would have the job of helping to safeguard environmental and social sustainability by speaking up authoritatively for future generations in all areas of policy-making.
B.4 This is a simple, innovative institutional solution designed to break through layers of bureaucracy and provide long-term interconnected responses to challenges of unsustainable development. Current policy incoherence often leads to unintended negative consequences and costs in redressing these, which integrated thinking and long-term time horizons can help avoid. A small office of 3-4 multi disciplinary staff, working in cooperation with existing institutions, agencies and stakeholders is a small cost compared to the savings that would be made by more efficient policy-making.
B.5 Examples from around the world, including Canada, New Zealand, Hungary and Wales show how effectively this position can work. It would be an active advocate, using long-term integrated analyses to highlight how apparent short-term economic costs can be vital investments for future risk prevention.
B.6 We encourage the government and members of the Committee to give full support and attention to the proposal for an ombudsperson or guardian for future generations, in the first instance by prioritising time for full discussion in Westminster. An Ombudsperson or Guardian for Future Generations at all governance levels could bring the leadership skills, moral authority and vision to help the UK Parliament and the government of the day to navigate the challenges of today, for current and for future generations.
B.7 Paragraph 86 of the Rio+20 Outcome document, "The Future We Want" in Section IV: Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development, Part B on strengthening intergovernmental arrangements for sustainable development, contains a decision to launch "an intergovernmental and open, transparent and inclusive negotiation process under the General Assembly to define the format and organizational aspects of the high-level forum (...)." The Paragraph goes on to invite the UN Secretary General to present a report on "the need for promoting intergenerational solidarity for the achievement of sustainable development, taking into account the needs of future generations."
B.8 The report proposed in paragraph 86 and its subject matter are of great importance for sustainable development. We urge the UK Government to take an active role in ensuring robust terms of reference and adequate resourcing, and subsequently in contributing actively to discussions on the report.
B.9 Members of the Alliance for Future Generations would welcome the opportunity to work with the UK government as it prepares any input to the report. We are committed to fostering continued public awareness for the agenda that the report will address. We see great potential for synergies between the different Rio outcomes, ranging from the intergenerational dimension of the new measures for development that the UN Development Programme is preparing for the formulation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to the final functions and form of the proposed high-level political forum.
Part C: Planetary Boundaries Initiative: Planetary Boundaries
C.1 In 2009, 29 scientists published a paper putting forward the planetary boundaries concept (see http://www.nature.com/news/specials/planetaryboundaries/index.html). The concept posits that there are nine critical Earth-system processes and associated thresholds that we need to respect and keep within, in order to protect against the risk of irreversible or even catastrophic environmental change at continental to global scales. These scientists believe it is necessary to define these boundaries in order to keep the planet resilient and human society safe  .
C.2 Scientists claim that human activities have developed to a point where our actions impact not just on other people and our local environment, but the whole planet and the conditions of life for centuries to come. By recognising and respecting critical earth systems society could create a safe operating space for humanity, within which human economy and society would be able to play out. According to the concept’s authors, three of the nine suggested thresholds have already been crossed (climate change, biodiversity and the nitrogen cycle).
C.3 During 2012 new thinking from Oxfam considered the planetary boundaries concept from a human development perspective and argued that the concept of a safe space had to be linked with universal human rights - creating a social floor to be respected for all humanity (see http://policy-practice.oxfam.org.uk/publications/a-safe-and-just-space-for-humanity-can-we-live-within-the-doughnut-210490).
C.4 The planetary boundaries concept was acknowledged by the Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability when stating its overall goal is "To eradicate poverty and reduce inequality, make growth inclusive, and production and consumption more sustainable while combating climate change and respecting the range of other planetary boundaries." It was also referred to in the Global Environmental Outlook Report 5 (GEO5) published during the Rio+20 conference.
C.5 The concept has important implications for future governance systems, a fact advocated by the Planetary Boundaries Initiative (PBI) throughout the Rio+20 conference with the submission of a Planetary Boundaries Declaration (see http://planetaryboundariesinitiative.org/?page_id=18) and Draft Declaration on Public Participation in Planetary Boundaries (http://planetaryboundariesinitiative.org/?page_id=397).
C.6 The concept appeared briefly in some of the early Rio+20 text but was soon removed throughout the negotiating period. As a result, the final Outcome document does not include text requiring any global review at regular intervals of the state of the planet or of the emerging science on the earth's biophysical limits.
C.7 Instead, the Outcome document is much the poorer in its long term vision for the protection of the environment and the safeguarding of humanity. The Outcome document makes much of the need for a set of sustainable development goals (SDGs) to emerge that will measure and accelerate human progress - but to what end?
C.8 The planetary boundaries concept would mean that SDGs are developed to ensure that economic development furthers the universal realisation of human rights (the social floor) and respect critical natural boundaries. We urge the UK government, and David Cameron as Co-Chair of the Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on post-2015, to ensure that they do.
C.10 The UK government failed to grasp the importance of what scientists have to say regarding planetary boundaries and therefore did not take up the challenge at Rio+20 of delivering new and transformative governance to the world for a safer, fairer and more just society. The SDGs process offers one opportunity, among others, to address that failure.
Part D: The Intergenerational Foundation: Youth Unemployment
D.1 The Intergenerational Foundation was pleased to observe that 9 of the clauses in Rio+ 20 outcome document, "The Future We Want", make reference to reducing youth unemployment (24, 31, 43, 50, 58, 62, 148, 152 and 155). It seems to have been accepted by all those in attendance at the Rio+20 summit that tackling youth unemployment is a vital element of any attempts to make societies more just and sustainable.
D.2 Youth unemployment is a global problem of huge significance, which has been exacerbated by the economic downturn. Across the OECD, nearly 20% of 15-24 year olds are unable to find work, while in Britain there are more than 3 people out of work in this age group for every unemployed person aged 25-54. Youth unemployment has severe economic costs, both in the short term through welfare payments and lost productivity, and in the longer term, as young people who suffer unemployment are likely to earn less when they grow older. It also imposes social costs on society, as young people who can’t work are less likely to feel they have a stake in our society.
D.3 The UK government needs to do more if it is to realize the aim expressed in "The Future We Want" of reducing youth unemployment. Clause 62 stated that governments need to ensure the interests of young people are accounted for when pursuing sustainable development policies, which would mean making it easier to get planning permission for new homes and businesses, in balance with preserving the natural environment for future generations. The government also needs to do more to prepare young people for the world of work, both inside and outside the formal education system, and seriously examine more aggressive job-creation policies if we are to give our young people a stake in the future of our society.
Part E: Foundation for Democracy and Sustainable Development: democracy and sustainable development
E.1 The 2002 Johannesburg Declaration on Sustainable Development (see http://www.un.org/esa/sustdev/documents/WSSD_POI_PD/English/POI_PD.htm) which is one of the documents that emerged from agreements at the 2002 World Summit for Sustainable Development argues powerfully that:
".. unless we act in a manner that fundamentally changes their lives the poor of the world may lose confidence in their representatives and the democratic systems to which we remain committed, seeing their representatives as nothing more than sounding brass or tinkling cymbals."
E.2 "The Future We want" makes even stronger links between democracy and sustainable development. Its language is potentially groundbreaking as a policy guide. In paragraph 10, UN member states state:
"We acknowledge that democracy, good governance and the rule of law, at the national and international levels, as well as an enabling environment, are essential for sustainable development..."
E.3 Following this lead, a commitment to nurture and strengthen democracy must be part of any sustainable development strategy. It is time that the UK government started to make very clear links between democracy and sustainable development both in UK-wide policy and practice, and in efforts to strengthen democratic governance for sustainable development through the work of UK Aid. Respect for both present and future generations, as well as the government’s existing commitment to the long-termism inherent in ‘Horizon Shift’ (See http://www.libdems.org.uk/news_detail.aspx?title=Nick_Clegg_speech:_Horizon_shift&pPK=f8f7b543-d586-40e2-b4c9-e7be68970bf3), demand it.
E.4 A thriving democracy depends upon sustainable development as much as sustainable development depends on democracy. There are significant risks that the impacts of challenges such as resource scarcity (linked to high energy prices, for example), climate change and the UK’s growing and ageing population could exacerbate existing stresses and strains upon our system of democracy.
E.5 The extent of the existing stresses and strains can be seen clearly in the 2012 Democratic Audit (Wilks-Heeg, S., Blick, A., and Crone, S. (2012) How Democratic is the UK? The 2012 Audit, Liverpool: Democratic Audit. Online: http://democracy-uk-2012.democraticaudit.com/book/pdf/root/1/toc/1/footer/0). The 2012 Democratic Audit notes, among other conclusions that "almost all available indicators suggest that representative democracy is in long-term, terminal decline, but no viable alternative model of democracy currently exists".
E.6 Recent discussions in the House of Commons over House of Lords reform are very far from exemplifying the quality of the deliberative discussion that is needed to craft that alternative – in the interests both of democracy and sustainable development. As Alliance for Future Generations member Rupert Read writes in an open letter to Nick Clegg in Open Democracy, here was a situation where "On the one hand, an overwhelming majority of MPs supported the end: radical reform. On the other hand, it was clear (from the ‘timetabling’ vote) that they are not ready to will the means. Thus the extraordinary situation: that, while reform was overwhelmingly backed, it could not happen." (see http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/rupert-read/what-next-after-cleggs-lords-reform-open-letter-to-deputy-prime-minister)
E.7 In another area, the government needs to devote much greater attention to the distributional effects of its commitment to localism. Localism without boundaries; without a clear blueprint at national level for how distributional choices or trade-offs between adjoining communities are to be made; is a recipe for further erosion in representative democracy, and does not provide adequate guarantees that a genuinely participatory democracy will follow. This is a concern that is as relevant to planning decisions as to traffic-calming, as relevant to major infrastructure development or housing as to investment in job creation.
E.8 For advocates of sustainable development – the government with its commitment to be Greenest Government Ever among them - there is a pressing imperative, if democracy is to thrive and survive the pressures that lie ahead, to invest now actively to nurture democracy and co-create the urgently-needed alternatives to our existing system of representative democracy. Institutional innovations for future generations should be part of the mix.
E.9 For its part, the Foundation for Democracy and Sustainable Development has launched a process to develop a Manifesto on Democracy and Sustainable Development (www.fdsd.org/manifesto), with consultations ongoing until the end of November 2012, and projected launch in early 2013. We want the manifesto to provide a platform for action around the world to ensure that democracy is properly equipped to deliver sustainable development outcomes. We would welcome an opportunity to share insights from the consultation process with members of the Environmental Audit Committee.
28 August 2012
 The nine are climate change; rate of biodiversity loss (terrestrial and marine); interference with the nitrogen and phosphorous cycles; stratospheric ozone depletion; ocean acidification; global freshwater use; change in land use; chemical pollution; and atmospheric aerosol loading. Their analysis suggests that three of these - climate change, rate of biodiversity loss and interference with the nitrogen cycle – have already transgressed their boundaries (also known as thresholds).