Protecting the Future

This article was written by João José Fernandes, executive director of Oikos – Cooperação e Desenvolvimento. The text originally appeared in the Portuguese newspaper Publico.

Thinking four years ahead is a luxury, thinking about 2040 is for dreamers; thinking about our 22nd-century descendants is science fiction. Don’t our children and grandchildren deserve more of our care?

Being a good mother or a good father is not only about educating and nurturing our children but also about being “good ancestors”. A child born today into a middle-class family in Portugal will most likely be alive and 75+ years old by the end of the century. A six-year-old child could be a parent by 2040 and their children could live until the middle of the next century. Being a good parent is intrinsically linked to caring for future generations and long-term political thinking. This is a statement that we cannot fail to realise at a time of planetary crisis, marked by climate change, the loss of biodiversity and an upsurge in wars with the potential for destruction and death.

With the European elections and those in several Member States, such as Portugal, approaching, I wonder about the proposals of our political parties in relation to the rights of future generations. The outlook is bleak! Thinking four years ahead is a luxury, thinking about 2040 is for dreamers; thinking about our 22nd-century descendants is science fiction. Don’t our children and grandchildren deserve more of our care? Is it legitimate to base an election campaign on the discussion of policies that could allow for GDP growth, if this is achieved at the cost of “stealing the future” from our children to “sell” it in the next four years?

You might ask me, “Is it legitimate to worry about tomorrow if there is so much poverty in Europe and the world today?” But this is a misleading question. In fact, thinking and acting with future generations in mind is an effective way of combating the most flagrant inequalities and reducing the transmission of poverty between generations. The intergenerational transmission of inequalities and poverty, including gender inequalities, is well documented scientifically. The same can be said for perpetuating the international order that prevents more harmonious development between countries.

It is in this context that, as citizens, fathers, and mothers, concerned about the present and future of our children and fellow citizens, Oikos – together with other global, European and national civil society organisations – has become involved in promoting an “Initiative for Future Generations” (IFG). This initiative brings together efforts from the international, European, and national dimensions, with specific approaches in the spheres of political, legal and socio-technical action.

On the international front, we are trying to accompany and make efforts to ensure that the Summit of the Future, promoted within the United Nations at the initiative of its Secretary General (September 2024), establishes firm guidelines and commitments to accelerate the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as well as the necessary reforms at UN and member state level to place future generations as an essential pillar in the design and implementation of development policies and programmes.

On the European front, Oikos joined several civil society organisations in launching the Future Generations Initiative for Europe campaign (FGIE), led by the Jesuit European Social Centre and The Good Lobby, which was joined, in addition to Oikos, by the Laudato Si Movement, Philea, Generation Climate Europe, Pax Christi International, the European Youth Forum and the Network of Institutions for Future Generations (NiFG). The European initiative proposes the discussion and implementation of an Interinstitutional Declaration on the Rights of Future Generations; the establishment of a Commissioner for Future Generations, as Vice-President of the Commission; and the revision of the “Better Regulation Guidelines”.

In Portugal, our challenge to the parties running in the elections, and to Portuguese civil society, is to: Debating and approve a “Declaration or Manifesto for Future Generations”; and set up a (permanent) Parliamentary Commission to evaluate the Declaration/Manifesto for Future Generations and scrutinise public policies and their long-term impacts; establishing Visions for the Future Day, a day when the opposition and the government can debate with society, in a Public Forum, the impacts of policies on future generations; the creation of an Independent Council for the Future (similar to the Public Finance Council), which produces reports on long-term trends and the impacts of policies; the definition of a battery of Long-Term Performance Indicators; and the definition of National Guidelines for Better Lawmaking and Regulation, including as a central axis the obligation to assess the impacts of legislation and regulation on future generations.

Although this process will be driven by civil society, we don’t necessarily want to lead it (or lead it alone), but we do demand the right to effective participation. We believe that this will be the best way to guarantee and encourage the proper involvement of young people and the most vulnerable sectors of Portuguese society, who usually have no voice.

The future is built every day, so we have to remember that decisions made today will have consequences long after the four-year cycles that cloud the short-sightedness of political decision-makers.