The first ever ‘summit of the future’ will be staged by the United Nations in September 2024. This brings to mind Mahatma Gandhi’s insightful comment: “The future depends on what you do today.”
The UN website calls for a summit “to forge a new global consensus on multilateral solutions to current and future problems.” The summit is a most timely initiative as we face unprecedented challenges, both in their globality and in their vast time horizon.
As never before, our decisions are affecting not just the next century or two, but millennial or even geological time spans. How can we protect the future from the unprecedented pressures of the here and now?
Let us trust that the UN’s intentions are ambitious enough, with many alarm signals flashing globally. The multiple, global ecological and social emergency facing us is probably the greatest challenge ever faced by humanity.
It is up to all of us to assure that the UN Summit comes up with an appropriate, action-oriented Pact for the Future, striving for justice between present and future generations.
What is the state of play? In preparation for the Summit, a 60-member UN commission has drawn up and published the Maastricht Principles on the Human Rights of Future Generations. The 21-page text summarises existing, binding legal obligations of states and other actors.
“The foundations for international law to address the rights of future generations are established in international instruments in an array of subject areas spanning nearly a century; in constitutions and legislative acts adopted by the majority of the World’s States; in the laws, traditions, and cosmologies of Indigenous Peoples from every continent; and in the doctrine of major faith traditions representing the majority of the world’s people.”
So far so good, but in reality we see little effort to protect future generations from the onslaught of the here and now, particularly regarding environmental impacts. Will the summit try and get to grips with the actual causes of the existential crisis facing humanity?
Critically, the Maastricht Principles state that: “Human development must be decoupled from the destruction of Nature and the overconsumption of natural resources to achieve the realization of the human rights of present and future generations and the integrity of nature and natural systems.”