What might the world look like today if every country had a law protecting future generations?
The UK’s first 'guardian of the not-yet-born’ is encouraging other countries at COP27 this week to protect future generations from the climate, nature and cost of living emergencies by law.
Wales became the first country in the world to legislate in the interests of future generations in 2015 with its Well-being of Future Generations Act – inspiring the UN’s vision for a Special Envoy for Future Generations.
Sophie Howe, the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, has joined global leaders and activists at the major climate conference in Egypt from November 7 with her call for all nations to put the protection of our children and grandchildren’s interests into law.
The Well-being of Future Generations Act places a legal responsibility on policy makers in Wales to create holistic solutions to improve the nation’s cultural, social, economic and environmental well-being via seven well-being goals, including an ambition for a healthier and environmentally-resilient society.
An example includes Wales’ new plan for a new renewable energy company, using land owned by the Welsh Government to generate clean energy with profits going back into the public purse.
One of the biggest successes of the Act was when the Commissioner’s intervention led to a £1.4bn motorway being scrapped by the Welsh Government. The Commissioner argued the plan to tear through a nature reserve would not help Wales meet its well-being goals. The move was the start of a change to transport planning policy in a landmark moment for Wales’ transport system, pledging to move away from an over-reliance on private car use. The country later became the first in the world to hold a moratorium on new road building.
Wales’ future generations legislation requires that the way the country reaches its climate goals also improves long-term well-being, and Ms Howe recently worked with Public Health Wales and Futures Literacy researchers (FLiNT) to publish Communities and Climate Change in a Future Wales, on how under-represented people at greater risk of climate harm can be involved in decisions affecting their future.
The Commissioner has also set out five long-term policies that she says could future-proof against further cost of living emergencies, from free public transport for young people to a national food strategy and a major programme to retrofit homes and end fuel poverty.
Ms Howe will be keynote speaker at COP 27’s Blue Zone launch of the Resilience Frontiers Pavilion on November 8, where she will take Wales to the world, sharing our learnings with decision makers. Later that day, she will join Vladislav Kaim (UN Secretary General Youth Advisor on Climate Change) and Dr Omnia El Omrani, the first Youth COP Envoy, among others* at The Climate-Health Nexus – where the commissioner will talk about how the well-being Act can help tackle the interrelated global threats of climate change and declining public health.
She will later contribute to Youth Voices For Food, led by Oatly and ProVeg, an event bringing global youth representatives together to highlight the role food plays in fighting the climate and nature emergencies, with a focus on regional solutions.
Ahead of COP, UNICEF released its Children and Climate Risk Index, and found Egypt is in the ‘extremely high risk’ category. With an estimated 5.3 million children exposed to heatwaves in a country where average temperatures have increased by 0.53 degree Celsius per decade over the past 30 years, Egypt will be a poignant host for this year’s Climate Conference.
Sophie Howe said: “Climate justice must be on the top of the agenda at COP27. For example, In Africa, one of the most vulnerable regions in the world, 17 million people are estimated to be facing food insecurity in East Africa because of drought. This is just one example that climate change is not a ‘future issue’ anymore and it’s affecting those most vulnerable, and crucially, those who least contribute to climate change.
The perils of climate change are also hitting closer to home. In Wales, we are seeing increasingly frequent flooding and powerful weather events leaving over 245,000 homes and properties at risk from flooding and coastal erosion, that’s 1 in 8 homes; a number that will only increase as sea levels rise.”
“Green energy, clean transport and food sovereignty should be enjoyed by every global nation if we’re to stand a chance of leaving a liveable home for our children and grandchildren.
“The climate and nature crisis is here, it’s now – that’s why every country in the world needs a future generations act to limit the impact. We all have a duty to protect people not born yet, from the harm they’ll suffer without serious climate action.
“Because even though the priority at COP will be increasing and importantly acting on the number of commitments countries make to reducing emissions, at the core of governance across the world is a system which discounts the interests of future generations.
“Every country, every politician every business should be required to demonstrate how their decisions affect the future – we have a framework to do that in Wales which the rest of the world can learn from.”
NOTES TO EDITORS
* Climate-Health Nexus delegates: Vladislav Kaim, UN Secretary General Youth Advisor on Climate Change / Dr Omnia El Omrani, President- COP Envoy on Youth / HE Mariam bint Mohammed Saeed Hareb Almheiri, UAE Climate Change Minister / Dr Calae Philippe, Senior Medical Officer, Climate Change & Health Focal Point- Bahamas Ministry of Health and Wellness / Tracey Cooper, CEO- Public Health Wales
You can download press images of Sophie Howe, Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, HERE.
Interviews available (before, during and post-COP):
Sophie Howe, Future Generations Commissioner for Wales; Jacob Ellis (Welsh speaker), lead changemaker at the Office of the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales.
For more information and to set up pre-COP27 interviews, please contact the Office of the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales:
- Rachel Everington: email@example.com
- Claire Rees: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Emma Wolski: email@example.com
To set up an interview with Sophie Howe or for more information while you are at COP27, please contact the commissioner’s accompanying official, Jacob Ellis, senior change maker, Office of the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, on firstname.lastname@example.org (Nov 7-11.)
What is the Well-being of Future Generations Act?
Wales’ Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act is a world-leading piece of legislation which puts a legal obligation on public bodies in Wales (including Welsh Government, local councils and health boards) to act today for a better tomorrow via seven interconnected national well-being goals.
Passed in 2015 in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, the WFG Act is about improving the social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being of Wales. Each public body covered by it must carry out sustainable development – by meeting today’s needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own.
Public bodies should think more about the long-term, work better with people and communities and each other, seek to prevent problems like climate change and inequality and take a more joined-up approach.
Wales is the only country in the world to have put the UN’s SDGs into statute and in September 2021, Scotland announced it was joining Wales and appointing a Future Generations Commissioner.
UN Special Envoy for Future Generations
In September 2021, the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, endorsed a proposal for a special envoy for future generations who will be tasked with representing the interests of those who are expected to be born over the coming century – taking Wales’ future generations approach to the world.
Who is the Future Generations Commissioner?
Sophie Howe is the first Future Generations Commissioner for Wales. Her role was created in 2016, to act as the ‘guardian’ of future generations, by promoting the sustainable development principle, in particular to act as a guardian of the ability of future generations to meet their needs and encourage public bodies to take greater account of the long-term impact of the things they do.
A mother-of-five who lives in Cardiff, Wales, before this role, Sophie was deputy police and crime commissioner for South Wales, for four years. Sophie has previously worked for the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and Equal Opportunities Commission where she led on sex discrimination and equal pay claims. Before that, she became the youngest councillor in Wales at aged 21.
Her TED Countdown talk, Lessons on Leaving the World Better Than You Found It, has been viewed more than 1.7 million times.
Children and young people at COP
For the first time ever at a UNFCCC Conference, children and young people will have a dedicated space at COP27. Designed to amplify children and youth voices within global climate policymaking, the COP27 Children and Youth Pavilion in Egypt will be led by young people and has been co-created and run by influential child and youth networks.