Notes: Future Justice

As a concept, “future justice” is theoretically vast, for it encompasses all the rights of all the people (and nature, as some countries have begun to recognize the rights of ecosystems) living in the future. If all goes well, the people of the future will greatly outnumber all the people alive today. Their rights to clean water, a stable climate, and a world free from oppression and war should therefore count greatly in our decision making.

In practice, however, the topic of future justice is frighteningly small, occupying no more than a few small pixels on the great screen of the world.

The early years of the 21st century saw a sudden growth of interest in future justice, and several countries began experimenting with the creation of new governmental commissioners or “ombudsmen” whose job was to safeguard those rights. Most often, the initial focus was on the environment; but issues of human rights were also in the picture. Hungary, the Philippines, and Namibia have functioning ombudsmen, with varying degrees of autonomy and authority, ranging from the ability to prosecute environmental crimes to advisory and educational activities. Perhaps the most prominent and well-functioning such office is Future Generations Commissioner for Wales.

Future justice is also a catch-all term for legal proceedings brought on behalf of children or future generations, such as lawsuits against governments for not acting on the threat of future climate change or other environmental threats. A few of these lawsuits have been remarkably successful, including a landmark decision in 2015 that forced the government of the Netherlands to accelerate its action to reduce carbon emissions. (The government is appealing that decision. A good summary of what is happening internationally, as of early 2018, was published in English by Germany’s DW, a development media organization.)

An early draft of the United Nations agreement from the 2012 “Rio+20” summit, The Future We Want, proposed the creation of a United Nations High Commissioner for Future Generations, a global role similar in authority to the  high commissioners for refugees and human rights. But the proposal — which advocates criticized as weak — did not survive the negotiating process and was dropped from the final text.

As of 2018, several non-governmental organizations continued to promote the concept of future justice generally, and the role of independent commissioners and ombudsmen specifically, including the World Future Council and the Network of Institutions for Future Generations. (For a 2-minute video on the concept, see below.)

It is surprisingly difficult to get up-to-date information on the status of these institutions, because the NGOs that promote them appear to be understaffed, or at least slow to update their websites. Nor is there a relevant Wikipedia entry. (These are just two indicators that the movement is still, as noted above, “frighteningly small”.)

But some information be gleaned through these two portals:

FutureJustice.org – Global view of mechanisms recognising future generations. Includes an interactive map that shows where institutions exist, or where reference to the rights of future generations (e.g. rights to a clean environment) are included in official national documents. Not all the links are working or are updated (as of Mar 2018).

Network of Institutions for Future Generations – Members List. Provides web links to a number of relevant national institutions, which take varying forms (at least one, Israel’s commissioner, is listed as “former”). The website does not seem to have been updated since early 2017.

Video on the argument for creating a UN High Commissioner, by the World Future Council (posted March 2016):

 

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