With democracy becoming an endangered species, is sustainability in peril? | A reflection by Sara Parkin, November 2018

In 2008, Sara Parkin wrote a provocation for the FDSD: “Are Political Parties getting in the way of the sort of collaborative democracy we need to tackle sustainability? If so, what can we do about it?” Ten years later, she revisits her thinking, “in the light”, she says “of the corruption of our current democratic systems”.

Download full paper in pdf.

The Future We Want: Shaping Environmental Politics | Networking event, London 26 Oct 2018

The Future We Want: Shaping Environmental Politics, London 26 Oct 2018

CC.0 :: Thomas Lambert / unsplash.com

We are delighted to invite you to a joint networking event with the PSA Specialist Group Environmental Politics, GreenHouse, Policy Connect and FDSD on 26 October 2018 in London. Designed as a space for policymakers, academics and environmental NGOs to discuss environmental policy-making in a shifting political landscape, the programme will feature a keynote speech from Amelia Womack, Deputy Leader of the Green Party; and a set of roundtable discussions — one of which to be facilitated by the FDSD.

Led by FDSD trustee Andrea Westall, the focus of our session will be the role of social and environmental justice in the transition to a sustainable society, and how to ensure widespread public and stakeholder participation to improve design, take-up and acceptance of change.

The event will be held from 10:00-16:30 at Woburn House, 20 Tavistock Square, London, WC1H 9HB. More details can be accessed on the PSA website.

The event is free of charge. Please register your attendance via Eventbrite. For enquiries, please contact psa.environment@gmail.com.


Protecting the Interests of Future Generations — Drawing Lessons from Practice | Paper by Victor Anderson, CUSP

A new paper by the Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity, authored by FDSD associate Victor Anderson, considers possible reforms to UK constitutional and political arrangements intended to help overcome the problem of a lack of representation of future generations.

Drawing lessons from existing initiatives in Finland, Hungary, Wales and elsewhere, recommendations include the establishment of a House of Lords Committee for Future Generations, the reform of the National Infrastructure Commission, and the appointment of a UK Commissioner for Future Generations.

The full paper can be accessed on the CUSP website.


Why we need a Committee for Future Generations in the House of Lords | Blog by Graham Smith

The Foundation for Democracy and Sustainable Development has proposed that the House of Lords establish a Committee for Future Generations to review legislation. It is hoped that such a body would reduce the short-termism that can creep into legislative and executive decision-making. In his blog for The Constitution Unit at University College London, Chair of FDSD Graham Smith explains why this Committee is needed and how it could work in practice.

The full post can be accessed on constitution-unit.com

Image: Copyright House of Lords 2015 / Photography by Roger Harris.

Bringing Future Generations into Today’s Politics | A workshop summary by Andrea Westall

On 19th April 2018, FDSD jointly held an event with the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries to ask “Will the Future Blame Us?” and how do we bring future generations into today’s politics.

The audience, a mix of actuaries, academics, policy-makers and civil society, heard from three speakers – Dr Joerg Tremmel, Editor-in-Chief of the Intergenerational Justice Review, Clare Moriarty, Permanent Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and Louise Pryor, member of the IFoA’s Council and Chair of the Resource and Environment Board.

Joerg reminded us that “our political institutions … were designed in and for the Holocene”; in other words, for a time when humans’ impact on the planet was negligible. The ‘Anthropocene’ is the name given to today’s geological time period, one in which people’s activities and lifestyles change the geology and climate. In this Age, he argued: “the need for more statesmen is imperative”. As Winston Churchill’s said: “the difference between a politician and a statesman is that the politician thinks about the next election while the statesman thinks about the next generation”.

Drawing on the work of Defra, Clare Moriarty talked about the long-term thinking and planning that government in fact does, for example, the Thames Barrier or the 25 Year Environment Plan with its commitment to “leave the environment in a better state than we found it: to improve the environment in a generation, for future generations.

She also pointed out that science changes. Forty years ago, we talked about ensuring people-free habitats; then a focus on nature despite people (for example, species loss). This approach was superceded by one stressing nature for people (in other words, ecosystem services). Today, discussion is all about people and nature, with a focus on ‘resilience’. These different framings might prioritise strategies and policies that affect future generations very differently.

Clare also noted a difference between the European approach – ‘hazard-based’ or adopting the precautionary principle; compared with that of the UK – more risk-based, balancing the needs of the environment with that of the economy.

Louise Pryor talked about the actuaries’ role in advising on risk and long-term implications. She said that she rarely talks about ‘expected’ (or average) outcomes, but rather ‘possible’ outcomes and their likelihood.

Louise thought that it was important to think about the probability of failure, and to consider what you are willing to accept and how to achieve that, for example, through insurance or capital holdings in banks. She also highlighted the work that the IFoA had already done on intergenerational justice, three bulletins on pensions; health and social care; and on climate change.

The audience discussed incentives which support short-term thinking, whether by government or individuals, as well as areas where government did indeed enable the long term, for example, through the Climate Change Act or auto-enrolment in pensions. Suggested ways forward included: consideration of whether or not artificial intelligence (AI) might be used to embed long-termism; ensuring all spending decisions include a long-term test; more forward-looking rather than retrospective policy auditing; regular policy reviews to respond to changing scientific evidence; promoting integrated reporting for business; and a role for the House of Lords champion the long-term.

A final challenge was to create narratives that enable people to feel connection with past and future generations.

The rich discussion arising from the different audience perspectives, showed how important it is to bring different people together and adopt a multi-disciplinary approach to tackling present and future challenges.


The presentations of the individual speakers can be downloaded in pdf (381KB).

Image © Linda Geßner / kultur.work

FDSD calls for a Committee for Future Generations in the House of Lords

© House of Lords / Flickr


For the first time in 25 years, the House of Lords Liaison Committee is reviewing the structure and function of committees in the second chamber. FDSD is making the most of the opportunity to propose a new Committee for Future Generations to bring long-term thinking more systematically into the workings of Parliament.

More than 30 peers already back our proposal, reflecting a growing recognition in the House of Lords of the need to establish new mechanisms that can reach across party divides and enable better thinking, planning and acting for the long term.

Triple function

The proposal outlines three potential functions of the committee:

  1. Examining current and draft legislation with a long-term perspective, to consider the impact on future generations and suggest amendments to protect their interests.
  2. Carrying out reviews like a select committee inquiry to explore specific issues with an eye to the long term and the interests of future generations.
  3. Publishing an annual report on long-term trends, which includes recommendations on how Parliament and Government should respond.

Fit for purpose

The House of Lords is well placed to bring the long view to Parliament. Relatively insulated from electoral cycles, it has more capacity than the House of Commons to think about the long-term impacts of new bills. The second chamber has a reasonably strong track record in taking the long view and has always provided a partial counter-balance to the short-termism inherent in democratic politics.

We believe that a Committee for Future Generations can strengthen the House of Lords’ position as a key player in intergenerational dialogue and debate. It is not a ‘silver bullet’; but, with strong commitment and support, could go a long way to embedding long-term thinking in the legislature.


You can download our full proposal for a Committee for Future Generations in pdf (520KB).

Update 2 May 2018

The FDSD proposal has now been accepted by the Liaison Committee, our evidence submission is published on the Government’s website.

All parties for tomorrow: A new APPG for Future Generations

Image (CC.0) Willian Justen de Vasconcellos / unsplash.com


A new All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Future Generations, launched in January 2018, aims to raise the profile of future generations amongst UK parliamentarians and others. Chaired by Daniel Zeichner, MP, the new group will “​raise awareness of long-term issues, explore ways to internalise longer-term considerations into decision-making processes, and create​ ​space​ ​for​ ​cross-party dialogue​ ​on​ ​​combating​ ​short-termism​ ​​in​ ​policymaking.”

The group’s secretariat, which is based at the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER) at Cambridge University, is planning a series of activities over the next 12 months to further its aims. These include speaker​ ​events​ ​and​ ​discussion​ ​roundtables, briefings on catastrophic risks, and networking events for parliamentarians,​ ​academics,​ ​industry​ ​stakeholders​ ​and​ ​other​ ​APPGs. It has already informally supported FDSD’s proposal for a House of Lords Committee for Future Generations.

Research roots

The APPG emerged, in large part, from CSER’s 2017 research paper on Rights and Representation of Future Generations in United Kingdom Policy-making. The paper, which was edited by Natalie Jones and co-authored by ​Mark​ ​O’Brien​ ​and​ ​Thomas​ ​Ryan, widens the traditional analysis of long-term issues beyond environmental and social challenges. It includes the need to consider ‘existential and catastrophic risks’ such as potential pandemics or those arising from technological advances such as artificial intelligence or geo-engineering.

The paper’s authors also set out implications for political systems in the United Kingdom. They point out that there is a tendency in England to focus on short-term environmental hazards such as flooding or coastal erosion rather than broader stewardship and resource management (as is the case in Wales). They also note that, given the rate at which economies are growing and technologies advancing, unless we change our political and policy-making capacity to consider the long term “we are more likely to anticipate an obstacle too late and suffer the consequences than past generations”.

The authors present a case for respecting the rights of future generations—not simply because we are obliged not to restrict possible futures, but also because it is important to ensure that any new legal rights arising from anticipated “technological, risk-based or moral developments” are created and can be fulfilled.

A good place to start

Creating an APPG for future generations was the first of seven recommendations made by the CSER researchers, which they presented as a good starting point to explore the potential of further changes.

Other recommendations included:

  • obliging all legislation to include an assessment of long-term risks,
  • creating an expert advisory panel to assist policymakers,
  • increasing public engagement, and
  • incorporating intergenerational rights in any proposed Bill of Rights.

Another longer-term goal is the creation of a formal Select Committee on Future Generations spanning both the House of Lords and House of Commons. This would be similar to the Joint Committee on Human Rights. This idea is, in many ways, an extension of our proposal for a House of Lords Committee for Future Generations. While our proposal fits into a wider discussion about the development of the second chamber itself, a Joint Committee provides another way to embed and ensure greater long-term thinking within our political system.

We look forward to working with the APPG over the coming months and years.

To find out more about the APPG, including how to get involved, contact the group directly at: secretariat@appgfuturegenerations.com


Partnership and participation: Welsh plans reflect FDSD priorities

Sophie Howe, Future Generations Commissioner for Wales


Sophie Howe, the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, has published her Strategic Plan to cover the period 2017-2023. We are delighted to find that we are on the same wavelength: the plan explicitly highlights the importance of effective partnerships and public involvement and engagement – two themes that we emphasised in our response to the commissioner’s consultation process (PDF, 190KB).

In particular, the Commissioner commits to:

  • Build strong effective partnerships and develop a movement for change within the public sector, where people champion the Wales approach to sustainable development.
  • Champion effective public involvement and engagement, challenging ourselves and others to better understand the needs of our communities, our people and their influence on the decisions that affect them.

Both commitments are made as part of the commissioner’s pledge to work with others, which is one of four broad ‘organisational purposes’ defined in the strategic plan:

  1. Highlight the big issues, challenges and opportunities facing future generations
  2. Support and challenge public bodies to think about the long-term impact of the things they do
  3. Work with others to drive the changes needed
  4. Walk the talk – challenging our team to be the change we want to see in others

FDSD welcomes the plan and continues to work with the Office of the Commissioner to build its capacity to promote partnership and participation across the public sector in Wales – and to ensure that the Commissioner ‘walks the talk’ in her own activities.

Will the Future Blame Us? Bringing Future Generations into Today’s Politics | London, 19 April 2018

Fearless Girl Statue by Kristen Visbal (Image: Anthony Quintano / Flickr.com – CC-BY 2.0)


The FDSD and the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries are delighted to invite you to a joint evening event on 19 April 2018 in London.

Bringing together experts from the policymaking community with academics and those from the actuarial profession and elsewhere in financial services, the interactive evening will examine the potential legislative levers for encouraging the explicit consideration of intergenerational issues in policymaking, including consideration of those not yet born.

he subject of intergenerational fairness has been steadily creeping up the political agenda in recent years, becoming a key battleground in the 2017 General Election. Parties across the political spectrum have pledged to repair the social contract between current generations, and invest for the benefit of future generations. But short-termism remains rife in politics. The many competing demands of modern society and economics mean that politicians are understandably consumed by the immediate needs and 5-year electoral cycles often mean that issues of sustainability are overlooked.

But what if there was some way to entrench sustainability into policymaking? How could we bring more long-term thinking into policymaking to manage risks and uncertainties that transcend generations? What would this mean for democracy today?

There are also lessons to be learnt from overseas, and examples from closer to home, where jurisdictions have created institutions to explicitly promote the long-term interests of future generations in the form of commissioners and ombudsman for future generations.

Confirmed contributors include:

  • Jakob von Uexkull, Founder, World Future Council
  • Clare Moriarty, Permanent Secretary, Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs
  • Joerg Tremmel, Editor-in-Chief of the Intergenerational Justice Review


5.00 – 5.30 Registration
5.30 –  7.15 Programme
7.15 – 8.00 Networking


This event is fully booked, but we have a waiting list for tickets. Please email policy@actuaries.org.uk with your name and professional affiliation – we will email you as soon as a place becomes available again.

Governing Geo-Engineering? | New Report by ETC Group, BiofuelWatch and Heinrich-Böll Foundation

© Dru Jay / ETC Group


“It is much easier for us to imagine the end of the world than a small change in the political system”, Slavoj Zizek famously said. The same is true for altering the earth climate system according to a recent report by the Canadian ETC-Group, BiofuelWatch and the German Heinrich-Böll-Foundation: The Big Bad Fix (PDF, 1.5MB).

The Paris Agreement from 2015 agreed to limit the increase of the global temperature to “well below 2 degrees” and to “pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels” before the end of this century. But instead of advancing necessary measures (real emission cuts, fundamental change of the energy matrix, industrial production and consumption patterns), the concept of “negative emissions” – the idea that it is possible to avoid cutting GHG emissions drastically if emissions are offset by different technological (or other) means – has gained traction. The buzz word is Geo-Engineering, a techno-fix for climate change. And unsurprisingly, the potential for harm is significant.

Thus, the prospect of controlling global temperatures raises serious questions of power and justice: Who gets to control the Earth’s thermostat and adjust the climate for their own interests? Who will make the decision to deploy if such drastic measures are considered technically feasible, and whose interests will be ignored? The briefing begins to unpack these critical questions.

Download the full report on the ETC Group theme page.