New study identifies key trends in worldwide climate change litigation

A new global study published by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law has found that the number of lawsuits involving climate change has tripled since 2014, with most of climate change litigation cases being carried out in the U.S.

Over the last decade, laws codifying national and international responses to climate change have grown in number, specificity, and importance. Individuals and nongovernmental organizations have now begun to hold governments accountable for their climate-related legal commitments. And it’s not just coalitions of NGOs and citizens – as seen in recent European cases outlined in the report – that are using the courts in efforts to overturn government decisions seen to exacerbate climate change. The report describes how, in September 2015, a Pakistani lawyer’s case against the national government for failure to carry out the National Climate Change Policy of 2012, resulted in the designation of climate change focal points to several ministries to help implement the framework and the creation of a climate change commission to monitor the government’s progress.

“Judicial decisions around the world show that many courts have the authority, and the willingness, to hold governments to account for climate change,” said Michael Burger, Executive Director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law.

The report predicts that more litigation will originate in the Global South as developing countries look to the law to address the growing threat of climate change. Furthermore, it is expected that the number of human-rights cases filed by “climate refugees” will increase, as a direct result of climate-driven migration, resettlement and disaster recovery.

The full report can be accessed on the UNEP website (PDF, 4MB).

Participation and foresight on openDemocracy

Thanks go to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies for this image from a foresight session.


The last week of April, FDSD Trustee and Director of the School of International Futures, Cat Tully, was invited to guest edit openDemocracy on the theme “Participation and foresight – putting people at the heart of the future”.

Twenty contributors from across the world shared their thoughts on this topic, drawing on examples from villages and cities, workplaces and schools, the young and old, refugee camps and across regions – and finishing off looking at the role of government in stewarding the future. As Cat argues “the act of developing stories together about a collective future is a deeply political act”.

“Foresight is not just a dialogue for the elite or decision-makers. It should aspire to give voice to the excluded, whether marginal views in organisations, or those in refugee camps and rice fields. And those voices need to be given space to be heard… Citizens across the world are asking for more participation in deciding their future.”

Allie Bobak, SOIF coordinator, and Cat have invited several of their colleagues and collaborators to co-create “this passionate and analytical journey”. The articles and comments are available on openDemocracy.


Audit Committee report on Government’s lack of ambition on SDGs

(CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0) UN Photo/Rick Bajornas


The House of Commons Audit Committee recently published its report Sustainable Development Goals in the UK. The Committee is critical of the Government’s lack of ambition in embedding the SDGs. As the report argues:

The Sustainable Development Goals represent a positive and ambitious commitment to develop sustainably from this generation to the next. We will only achieve the Goals if the Government provides strong leadership and a high level of ambition from the very top – something which has been lacking. There is no voice at the top of Government speaking for the long-term aspirations embodied in the Goals and the interests of future generations.

Throughout the report, the Committee refers to recommendations from the evidence provided by FDSD, particularly on the need for Cabinet-level leadership, partnership working and transparent reporting.


A Future Generations Commissioner for the UK? Watch the video!

On April 11th, FDSD, in collaboration with the the Centre for the Study of Democracy (CSD) and the Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity (CUSP), organised an event to discuss the potential to establish a UK-wide Commissioner for Future Generations. We heard from two speakers with intimate knowledge of the work of Commissioners and Ombudsman around the world – both of whom are FDSD trustees:

  • Peter Davies, formerly the Sustainable Futures Commissioner in Wales
  • Sándor Fülöp, formerly the Parliamentary Commissioner for Future Generations of Hungary

Provocations were then offered by Andrea Westall (FDSD) and Victor Anderson (CUSP). These were followed by discussions amongst the audience on the opportunities and challenges to introducing a Commissioner at the UK level and/or within the nations of the UK, building on the pioneering work of the Welsh Government.

We will produce further reflections on the outcome of the meeting and continue to advocate for new forms of democratic governance that challenge short-termism and the failure to account for our impact on future generations. A video of the presentations and responses to audience questions can be found below. Visual minutes of the meeting were created by Raquel Durán.

Please get in touch at or use the comment section below if you would like to work with us, share examples, or want to keep in touch about similar events in the future.

Open Government Network Wales | A report from the launch by Jetske Germing

Jetske Germing, Open Government Wales Officer at WCVA*, was at the launch of the new Open Government Pioneers project in Wales and in this guest blogs shares her insights. (The report first appeared on the WCVA blog page.)

Only a short while into the project we feel grateful to have had a high profile opportunity to launch the Open Government Pioneers project in Wales on the 7th March at the gofod3 event.

The aim of the Open Government Pioneers project is to link civil society networks across the UK to help share tools, techniques and resources to engage better with governments, around the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which in Wales will focus on the Future Generation Goals.

The panel discussion chaired by Anna Nicholl, Director of Strategy and Sector Development at WCVA started with an introduction to the panel’s work in relation to Open Government and their hopes for the Open Government Pioneers Network in Wales.

Caren Fullerton, Chief Digital Officer at Welsh Government told us about the three main parts of Welsh Government’s journey regarding Open Government: 1) to modernise Information Technology; 2) to modernise Welsh Government’s Digital Services and 3) around data. To date there are a number of examples of the work Welsh Government already undertake, such as publishing 200 datasets. Caren explained that the problem is that no one knows they are there. The Open Government Action Plan 2016-18 aims to change this and Welsh Government recognises the need to engage with civil society groups for the next series of commitments.

Kevin Davies, Head of Engagement at National Assembly Wales explained that engagement for the Assembly is about performing, involving and empowering. The Assembly have changed to a participatory model, and direct engagement. This makes scrutiny more robust, giving better quality and better legislation. Kevin explained that although the Assembly is not covered by the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act it recognises its importance, especially around involvement and collaboration. The Assembly aims to make content and data easier to access and source and to increase capacity of civil society to mobilise more democracy.

In terms of the Open Government Network for Wales, Kevin hopes the network will work towards providing citizens with greater access to information, and increase capability and capacity within civic society to reflect and represent the views of citizens so that people feel closer to the democratic institutions which works to serve them, and to mobilise a more democratically active society.

FDSD trustee Peter Davies,


Peter Davies, Chair of WCVA, Trustee for Foundation for Democracy and Sustainable Development and Chair of the Customer Challenge Group, Dwr Cymru, reminded us that Wales has strong participation levels, with a million active volunteers. He explained that this does not however automatically translate in democratic activity. Peter believes that we need to put users at the heart of services and have a gap to fill in mobilising citizen led activity. He also emphasised the need to work cross-sector and to learn from other sectors, i.e. the customer challenge group he chairs for Welsh Water.

Owain Ap Gareth, Electoral Reform Society explained that the Open Government agenda works across different levels, from participation to direct democracy and a host of policies. The work of the Electoral Reform Society is focusing on increasing the capacity of Assembly Members, and alongside this it is essential that people get involved to succeed. Owain highlighted how citizens need to be active, by explaining that as Wales is such a small country this means that not only do we need to do the ‘nice bit’ around participation, also we need to ‘get as much out of people as possible’. He highlighted that we are part of a wider UK Open Government Network that is joining the dots on what is happening elsewhere already.

The questions following the presentations showed the appetite for Open Government within the room:

  • We need to find a way to harness community data.
  • How do we include people with learning disabilities to have a say within our communities?
  • How do we ensure the user is taken into account in big picture scenarios?
  • What capacity is there for organisations to work in new ways and experiment?

In response Caren highlighted that her team have moved on from ‘the risk of using open data’ to ensuring data is considered fully. She answered that there is capacity with Welsh Government to experiment with working in different ways.

Kevin echoed this by saying that National Assembly Wales has the capacity to trial, and is actively seeking views. He’s keen for the network to share good and bad experiences.

It was evident during the other sessions at gofod3 that there is appetite for groups and individuals to get involved. Throughout the day participants expressed their feelings in clear language, such as ‘volunteering is addictive’ and ‘social care is not very social at the moment’, showing the importance of getting individuals or groups throughout society involved in planning for the future.

Perhaps now more than ever, with Brexit and the related pressures on budgets we need to find ways of engaging all sectors to work together for future generations to prosper.

If you are interested in being part of the Open Government Pioneers Network Wales, please get in touch with the team:

*Wales Council for Voluntary Action

A Future Generations Commissioner for the UK | London, 11 April 2017

(CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) Códice Tuna Colectivo de Arte / Flickr


+++ The video of the event is available here. +++

FDSD, in collaboration with the Centre for the Study of Democracy and the Centre for Understanding Sustainable Prosperity is organising an event on Tuesday 11th April to explore the potential to establish a UK-wide Commissioner for Future Generations.

The event will hear from Peter Davies (formerly the Sustainable Futures Commissioner in Wales) and Sándor Fülöp (formerly the Parliamentary Commissioner for Future Generations of Hungary), both of whom have intimate knowledge of the work of Commissioners and Ombudsman around the world.

Time will be given to considering the opportunities and challenges to introducing a Commissioner at the UK level and/or within the nations of the UK, building on the pioneering work of the Welsh Government. Government decision making is often short term, failing to account for the impact on future generations. In policy areas such as climate change, social care, infrastructure and pensions, long-term considerations are often overlooked as short-term political dynamics take priority.


  • Peter Davies, formerly the Sustainable Futures Commissioner in Wales
  • Sándor Fülöp, formerly the Parliamentary Commissioner for Future Generations of Hungary

With provocations from:

  • Victor Anderson, CUSP
  • Andrea Westall, FDSD

The event is free to attend. Please register your seat via Eventbrite.


11 April 2017


The Boardroom
University of Westminster
309 Regents Street
W1B 2UW London

For further questions, please email

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Trump, sustainable development, and the J-curve

CC-BY 2.0 :: Mike Licht, / Flickr

CC-BY 2.0 :: Mike Licht, / Flickr


John Lotherington is an FDSD Trustee. He’s the Program Director with Salzburg Global Seminar (SGS).

The election of Donald Trump as President of the Unites States, and his early actions as President – so reminiscent of his reality TV performances, but now with real and potentially destructive impact – have significance for the whole world, but they are of course the latest iteration of a populist trend which has been growing across the developed world. While there have been many local variations and complexities in all this, and no doubt more to come, the root cause is to be found in the arc of neo-liberalism: 20 years of growth up to 2008, but growth which was inequitable and unsustainable, and which inflated expectations bound to be disappointed, as the crash ensued.

Growth up to 2008 – remember the ‘third way’? – had in effect become a substitute for politics. The response to the 2008 crash was then business as usual but in austerity mode. That has created a revolutionary mood, which the political class across the developed world by and large failed to recognise or just hoped could be managed. It’s a commonplace of political science that revolutions are not necessarily the product of uniform, continuing misery or oppression. Revolutionary impulses can gather among the vulnerable middle classes, just as much as among those lower down the income ladder, when rising expectations are sharply cut back – represented by the J-curve, the rise and fall shown in an upside down J on a graph. This pattern was repeated before and after 2008 because of a failure before the crash to negotiate sustainable goals with different constituencies and interest groups, instead substituting unsustainable growth. For a time that seemed to work like palliative care – it took away the pain of regular politics with promises of all things to all people. Then, after the crash, there was a corresponding failure to engage with the frustration which emerged but which had been simmering for much longer, those feelings of being stuck and neglected.

Liberal democracy has flourished as a system because of its resilience, its ability to absorb shocks and negotiate tensions within a polity. But it is currently failing, at least so far. The emergence of Trump and right-wing populists across Europe offers immediate relief from frustration, by junking negotiation and offering divisive, hostile solutions to shared, common problems. And it may appear to bring some short term success – protectionism could succeed in temporarily restoring some rust-belt jobs, for instance. But this will not bring lasting economic success nor will it moderate social injustice, with the costs of Trump’s policies likely to be borne from massive debt rather than progressive taxation. And there will be lasting environmental damage both direct, with a likely surge in the re-development of fossil fuels, and indirect, with the erosion of regulatory institutions, which for many voters have appeared to be technocratic and remote from real life problems.

The danger now for liberal democracy is that the established political classes may hope that Trump and his ilk will self-destruct and go away, or that they need to be accommodated and imitated, say, in boosting nativist rhetoric, as evidence that politicians are listening. But this will not answer the underlying problem. If ‘listening’ is going to be more than a further palliative exercise or a mirroring of anger, it needs to be focused on engagement – the long, hard slog of bringing citizens directly into the debate about the essentials of sustainable and equitable economies , identifying goals, working on local issues, recreating a narrative about the future, about what will make a good life for us now and for our successors. Any such narratives about the future will of course be contested, but they must lie at the heart of an inclusive democratic debate.

Sustainable development has often been mocked as a fluffy add-on for the metropolitan liberal elite. It’s not, it’s the only route to enduring peace and prosperity. We don’t know how exactly the present political bind will play out. It could be very grim, with anxieties heightening, yearnings unabated for the ‘strong man’ to save us, and the right-wing populists searching ever more desperately for scapegoats. Or maybe unsustainable growth will tick up again and crucially benefit people through rising incomes, and the political situation will calm down. But, if it does, there shouldn’t be any complacency – or we’ll go through the cycle all over again. We need an enhanced liberal democracy, with voting coming at the end of closer, creative engagement with citizens, not voting as a howl in the night when things have gone wrong.

1st Newsletter 2017 | Improving Water Governance: to avoid conflict and increase sustainability

Water is arguably our most essential resource, but its availability and quality is increasingly at risk, with the related danger of international conflict. This newsletter explores how water can become an ‘enabler and connector’ between sustainability goals, and how it raises profound questions about Where, How, and With Whom we make decisions.

Welsh Water – a different way of doing business

Welsh Water at the Royal Welsh Show 2016, © Welsh Water, 2016

Welsh Water at the Royal Welsh Show 2016, © Welsh Water, 2016

Peter Davies is an FDSD Trustee and Chairs Welsh Water’s Customer Challenge Group.

Where I was born in Pembrokeshire in south west Wales, 61 years ago, our water came from a well. Piped water arrived only after my father dug a ¾ mile trench to connect to the mains. The majority of people around the world still have this very direct relationship with their supply of water. But for those of us fortunate to have water provided as an essential public service, we simply expect high quality water to flow when we turn on the tap, and for waste water to be taken away. This shift from active involvement to being passive receivers has provided huge improvements in quality of life, but also creates challenges for how we better manage our water resources for the long term. One way this can happen is by incorporating stakeholders and customers directly in the business model.

Water and sewage provision in England and Wales

In England and Wales water supply and sewerage services were privatised in 1989. They are now managed through 32 private, monopoly water and sewerage companies operating in a highly regulated sector and providing services to over 50 million household and non-domestic customers. Customers are the life blood of any business, and should be the focus for every public service. However, in regulated sectors (and in public services in general) it is easy to think of customers as passive receivers of utility services.

This lack of consumer involvement was behind Ofwat’s decision, as the economic regulator for the water industry, to: “put current and future customers at the heart of the way companies run their businesses.” Since 2013, Ofwat has required each water company to create an independent Customer Challenge Group (CCG) as a key means to deliver this vision. Each CCG has the responsibility for ensuring that the company engages customers in its business planning process and that their views are properly reflected in the company plans submitted to the regulator.

The CCG is not representative and should not be confused with the statutory role of the Consumer Council for Water. It is however independent and brings together a range of expertise and networks that work alongside the company to ensure that the company’s business plan meets the needs of all its customers. It has a particular responsibility to reflect the needs of vulnerable customers, who find it most difficult for their voice to be heard, and for those future generations of customers who do not yet have a voice, but whose needs will be met by decisions the company takes today. The independent CCG brings together a range of relevant expertise and reference points to ensure the company is both challenged and supported to ensure that its customers are at the heart of how the company operates.

I have the important task of chairing the CCG for Dwr Cymru Welsh Water, providing independent challenge, scrutiny and advice on the:

  • quality of the company’s customer engagement and involvement
  • extent to which the results of this engagement are reflected in the company’s decision making, business planning and operations.
  • return of value to customers

This task has a different context in Wales as we are proud to have a very different delivery model with a very different relationship with its consumers to that in England. The vast majority of our water services are provided through Dwr Cymru Welsh Water − a not for profit company.

Dwr Cyrmu Welsh Water

Welsh Water is the sixth largest water and sewerage business in England and Wales and, since 2001, it has been owned, financed and managed by Glas Cymru. Unique in the water and sewerage sector, Glas Cymru is a company limited by guarantee and as such has no shareholders. It operates as the only not-for-profit water company with all financial surpluses used for the benefit of its customers. Its corporate governance functions are the responsibility of its Board, which has a majority of independent non-executive directors. These roughly 70 members are appointed following a process undertaken by an independent membership selection panel. They cannot be representatives of outside stakeholder groups but rather are unpaid individuals whose duty is to promote the good running of the company, in the best interests of its customers.

Dwr Cymru Welsh Water therefore has a different relationship with its customers than the other water companies in England and Wales. The business model enables customers to help decide how the company should reinvest its financial surpluses. Over 12,000 customers were involved in last year’s consultation on how the company should reinvest its approximate £30 million profit. However, the fact that well under 50% of customers currently realise that their water company is not-for-profit, indicates the size of the challenge to really involve customers.

Increasing consumer power

We are seeing huge changes as technology empowers people making them smarter, better informed and more demanding than ever. Despite our largely passive relationship with waste water and supply, the water industry is not exempt from these changes. The UK Government is introducing competition into business and retail markets giving consumers some element of choice of service. However, in reality it is largely illusory as competition only applies to retail services such as billing, as opposed to the core business of water supply. The industry itself is collaborating to provide consumers with comparative performance data on the core business via

Ofwat has made it clear that company business plans need to be based on customer views in the next price review. The real goal is to move from consultation to active involvement. The Dwr Cymru Welsh Water business model provides some advantages in that customer trust increases significantly when they are aware of the not for profit business model. However the task of moving customers from passive receivers to active participants focused on the long term wellbeing of future generations remains a real challenge.

Encouraging people to participate in co-creation has the potential to deliver far better solutions that businesses or public bodies can achieve alone. In developed countries this may not now require digging your own trench, or going to the well, but it is critical that we reconnect consumers practically and emotionally to the governance of how we manage such a vital asset.

Integrated Management at local scale to achieve global Sustainable Development Goals

Dimple Roy is Director, Water, International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD).

When it comes to safeguarding the future of our natural habitats, natural resources, livelihoods, and economies for future generations, we now have the guidance of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These are a set of seventeen aspirational ‘Global Goals’ aimed at ensuring all countries collaborate towards a sustainable future for all.

Although the SDGs are thematically focused goals, the suite itself defies viewing sustainable development in silos, promoting integrated approaches. Indeed, this is how the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), has addressed its work on sustainable development.

For example, IISD’s Water program has taken a more broadly encompassing approach to management of fresh water, through the Water-Energy-Food (WEF) nexus model. More than just freshwater management itself, it is vital to consider these three vital components of human well-being, and how they are interlinked (with action in one area impacting two or three of these areas), when developing the most effective policy options for decision-makers.

In Canada and further afield, we have been championing and providing guidance on how to implement the WEF approach in various contexts and in different ways. Outlined below are two ways that IISD has spearheaded integrated WEF management; one in Canada and the other in Suriname.

Figure 1. Algal blooms on Lake Winnipeg. Source: Greg McCullough

Figure 1. Algal blooms on Lake Winnipeg. Source: Greg McCullough

Lake Winnipeg, Canada

Lake Winnipeg is the 11th largest freshwater lake in the world, and has a basin that encompasses parts of four Canadian provinces and four American states. This large basin supports large and small communities and faces issues including algal blooms, floods and occasional drought. The Lake Winnipeg Basin provides drinking water for communities, fisheries, recreation, agriculture, and is fundamental to water, energy, food security as well as economies for the region and for Canada.

Using a somewhat organic, bottom-up WEF approach, we envisioned a healthy Lake Winnipeg, where a diverse landscape provides a range of benefits, including reliable water, energy and food, including thriving rural economies, nutrient recycling, water storage and protection from floods and droughts, etc.

First, we looked at the problem of nutrient overloading and algal blooms. We found that wetland plants absorb nutrients very well from water systems. These plants can be harvested to remove excess nutrients from the system. Working with a diverse range of partners, we developed a set of fuel pellets from these harvested plant materials to be used as clean, renewable sources of energy. Combined with phosphorus recycling for agricultural fertilizer, this addresses the WEF nexus.

WEF security through the Lake Winnipeg Watershed

In Canada, in the context of the Lake Winnipeg Basin, watershed managers are looking at excess biomass to see how they can use ditch maintenance and wetland management as ways to not only reduce nutrients, but also develop carbon credits, and localized energy while recycling phosphorus for use as agricultural fertilizer. Over the past decade, we developed this idea while working with watershed manager, farmers, entrepreneurs and government officials.

Next stage? We are developing an atlas to map biomass resources in the province in developing a regional bioeconomy. This atlas will help understand the costs and logistics to replicate and scale-up this successful management approach and prove an invaluable tool for a range of stakeholders including farmers, resource managers and government.

Maripaston, Suriname

In a more formal, systematic application of the WEF nexus, we worked in the country of Suriname. Suriname’s economy relies strongly on mining, and there was a desire to understand the interactions between a mine in Maripaston, and its relationships with water, energy and food. The goal was to consider how they might impact one another within that context. We developed and pilot tested a tool (the WEFsat-Mining tool) to aid decision makers in understanding “triple wins” for water-energy-food security through investments in specific underlying systems.

We defined WEF security as determined by availability, access to supporting infrastructure and supporting institutions and policies. Two workshops in Paramaribo, Suriname’s capital, convened representatives from local communities, government departments, mining companies, non-governmental organizations, academics, etc. to identify key aspects of WEF security and to validate findings around how WEF security could be maintained and even enhanced through mining activities.

Framework used to develop the WEFSat-Mining tool. Source: IISD

The goal was to understand, monitor and incorporate WEF security into decision making processes, on the mine site and in the region. The tool now allows other countries facing similar challenges to unpack and manage integrated challenges around mining development and towards meeting broader goals.

Together these two different approaches provide a few lessons. Firstly, that that while the WEF nexus provides one way of integrating between SDGs, such integration is complicated and requires a fair bit of effort through interdisciplinary teams. Second, that there is no silver bullet and these approaches are context specific. Other lessons highlight the role of data and good indicators for adaptive management, as well as continued efforts and investment in integrated efforts.

Finally, our experience underscores that the role of the honest broker, played by organizations such as IISD cannot be underestimated, as integrated solutions require strong partnerships and these must be carefully fostered over time.