Justice and Future Generations: Achieving Intergenerational Equity in Paris and Beyond

By Olivia Sánchez Badini

Today I attended one of the 200+ official side events that are taking place over the next two weeks: a panel on intergenerational equity. Many youth experts on the legal, economic, and policy dimensions of intergenerational equity took the stage, including the UN Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth, Ahmad Alhendawi, who called for youth solidarity and the need to consolidate this global justice movement for it to be a strong part of the new agreement on climate change.

But what does intergenerational equity actually mean? In the environmental context, it refers to the fairness in the distribution of resources, and the rights to their exploitation, not only over space, but over time. In a way, it is one of the theoretical underpinnings of the concept of sustainable development, with the implicit need to recognize the rights of future generations. UNFCCC includes this language in its principles, and it is therefore expected the new agreement will also incorporate it.

From an economic perspective, there are serious issues resulting from a lack of intergenerational equity. As Timothy Damon from SustainUS explained, the benefit-cost analysis of climate change mitigation does not look favourable – in part because these analyses do not give equal weight to what will happen in the future, and don’t take into account the cost of inaction.

There is a bias for the present, and current economic structures are discounting future generations – Timothy Damon

The concept of intergenerational equity that is often presented, however, and the one that youth are currently advocating for to be included in the new agreement, is very much part of the mainstream Eurocentric political discourse, according to Nimra Amjad, founder of Pakistan Sustainability Network. It does not incorporate the knowledge of indigenous peoples, the Global South, and other underrepresented people.

It’s time to take action. Let’s push the boundaries of what that action really means – Nimra Amjad, about setting the legal precedent and taking legal action against governments violating the rights of future generations

The youth in the Global South have a huge stake at play in the new climate agreement: the majority of the population in these regions that will be disproportionately affected is under 25. “Be our allies”, stated Nimra Amjad, “we really need more voices representing the Global South”. A statement on behalf of youth from Fiji reinforced these ideas, calling the world to stand with the people from small island developing countries,  which will feel the impacts of climate change the most.

To everyone and anyone listening, hear our voice and stand with us – Fiji Youth

How can we challenge this notion and these concepts surrounding intergenerational equity; how can we change our language to be more inclusive? What role does intergenerational equity play in forest management, forest policies that affect land use change, and forestry education? How can negotiations and discussions related to forestry better include the youth perspective, and the perspective from youth from the Global South and other underrepresented communities?

Please let us know your thoughts in the comments below!



Timothy Damon, SustainUS. Photo: Olivia Sánchez Badini


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