“Are Future Generations at Risk?”: Successful chat addressed institutional approach

Panel of experst answering question in the context of the Future Generations Facebook Chat

A Panel of five experts from DESA’s Division for Sustainable Development (DSD) and UNICEF interacted with a global audience and answered questions about Future Generations and Intergenerational Solidarity. These concepts raised questions from social media users from countries as diverse as Maldives, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Pakistan and Ghana. Many of them were concerned about what kind of institution should be established to protect Future Generations’ rights.

The chat was held on Monday, 15 July and was organized to inform about the report of the Secretary-General on promoting intergenerational solidarity for the achievement of sustainable development, taking into account the needs of future generations.

This report will be launched at the end of August 2013, but because it will be the first UN report of this kind, DSD decided to open up the discussion through the chat. In addition to the chat, an online consultation was held between 26 June and 10 July 2013. Both activities were carried out to learn more about people’s opinions and ideas about these two concepts.

Are Future Generations at Risk?

The title of the chat was “Are Future Generations at risk?”. Friedrich Soltau, Sustainable Development Officer and one of the experts who was on the panel, said that the aim of the chat was to “get to know how our users approach the concept of Future Generations. We wanted to feel the pulse of stakeholders about this issue, and the chat was a great way to do this”.

A question that came up was the possible trade-off between current generations and those who are going to live in 400, 500 and more years in the future. Can we, as current generation, take care of the upcoming ones, when we face so many problems of our own today?

Friedrich Soltau was surprised to see that most users did not raise the question of possible trade-offs, preferring to focus on institutional issues. He noted that some users had clearly put considerable thought into their questions.

Participants from 10 countries

Hailing from countries as diverse as Philippines, Maldives, India, Sri Lanka, Russia, Bangladesh and Ghana, the participants asked questions about the concept of Future Generations and its link to several issues. The main concern was institutional: Should we create an organization or advocate who would represent the needs and advocate for the interests of Future Generations? Should it be within the UN System? Should it be an ombudsman? What would be the role of NGOs and other non-governmental organisations in this institution? Others raised questions on how to engage youth effectively in international deliberations on issues that affect them, also on such sustainable development as how to ensure food security, to address population and environmental pressures, and on the role and responsibilities of companies in taking care of future generations’ needs, and possibilities to create global citizenship.

The experts answered about 50 questions during two hours of live chat.

“The chat was very refreshing. Exchanging ideas in real time is a great way to learn what young people all over the world are thinking, and they are thinking about their future”, said David O’Connor, Chief of the Policy and Analysis Branch, Division for Sustainable Development of DESA.

An institution for Future Generations

Many questions focused on a possible institution for the protection of Future Generation. Thomas Kiesgen asked the experts’ opinion on whether a commissioner for future generations would be located within the UN system. The UN experts answered that there is currently no agreement on the creation of such a commissioner position, and that it is premature to speak about where it would be located.

Rohan Nuttall wondered how it would be possible to ensure the effectiveness of such an institution, if it were to be created. The panel answered that many factors could contribute – a high profile personality to lead the office, institutional back-up and support from the rest of the UN system, careful strategy and engagement, and support from civil society, which is very important for this topic.

Future resources

The availability of natural resources for future generations was also a main concern of the chat users. Nicholas Donev asked the experts if future generations will have enough resources to survive. The experts answered that it depends on how we manage existing resources, how consumption and production patterns evolve and on demographic trends which change only slowing, and that’s the reason why it should be taken into account in the present.

Massimo Fortunate focused his question specifically on food. He asked if there are plans to ensure food security for present and future generations. The experts answered that the world food system is already under strain, so additional stresses, such as the impacts of climate change, could have quite negative consequences. Also, they said that, at the international level, there is an awareness of the need both to sustainably intensify agricultural production and to cut food losses and waste, estimated at up to 40% of production. Also, at the national level, many countries have taken concrete steps to ensure food security, for example India.

Youth and education

A third major approach of the users of Future Generations was youth and education. Rohan Nuttall asked how to involve youth in Future Generations thinking through education. The UN experts answered that a good quality and relevant education is a critical contribution to upcoming generations. But what is quality? We need to define and re-define this in light of the changing demands of the future; what was good for our grand-parents may not be good enough for tomorrow. Some key elements would be respect for diversity, human rights, and instilling in students an interest in life-long learning.

On the same subject, Alyn Ware asked if national education curricula should include education not only about the past but about the future. The experts answered that education will play a vital role in ensuring inter-generational sustainability. Developing curricula ensuring good comprehension of sustainable development in schools will be key to ensure that today’s children have the knowledge and skills to promote and implement sustainable development.

To read all of the questions and answers submitted in the course of the chat, have a look at DSD’s Facebook page. (Link below)

Panel of experts

The panel of experts who answered participant’s questions was composed of David O’Connor, Chief of the Policy and Analysis Branch, Division for Sustainable Development , DESA; Friedrich Soltau, Sustainable Development Officer, DESA; Katia Vladimirova, Division for Sustainable Development, DESA; Marta Roig, Economist and demographer by training, Division for Social Policy and Development, DESA, and Martin Evans, Economic & Social Policy Analyst, Child Poverty at UNICEF.

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