Ombudspersons for Future Generations – Time to Change Course

Sustainable development, if implemented, is capable of meeting the needs of present generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Progress has been made in this regard since the UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992 – for example, on sustainable development metrics and Councils. Yet, unsustainable trends continue. 

The declared objectives for the UNCSD 2012 are therefore: securing renewed political commitment for sustainable development; assessing the progress to date and the remaining gaps in the implementation of the outcomes of the major summits on sustainable development; addressing new and emerging challenges. 

Drawing on the Synthesis report compiled by the UN Secretary General, it is clear that for as long as sustainable development remains separated from core policy formulation and economic thinking, sustainability challenges will not be met: 
103. Systematic institutional and governance reforms at national, regional and international levels are essential to achieve sustainable development. 

104. Relevant lessons for sustainable development include recommendations to build on existing institutions; promote collaboration, coherence, efficiency and effectiveness in partnerships; and ensure meaningful and equitable public access to international forums related to sustainable development by adapting and structuring their processes and mechanisms in a way that they promote transparency and facilitate the participation of those groups that might not have the means for participation without encouragement and support. 

One reform that would meet these lessons and therefore foster the implementation of the outcomes of the major summits on sustainable development, and to address new and emerging challenges, is the establishing of an independent institution to be known as an Ombudsperson (or Commissioner or Guardian) for Future Generations. This institution can be installed on all governance levels. 

The term Ombudsman originates in Old Norse and refers to an independent official or institution acting as a representative of public interests with regard to implementation flaws in the structure and work of governmental administrations. 

As a strengthening of Sustainable Development Councils where in existence, an Ombudsperson for Future Generations would provide a systematic official champion for sustainable development. It would enjoy legal functions to balance short-term economic and political interests with the long-term interests of society, to bring authority to agreed sustainability goals across all governing departments, to make sure sustainability policies work in synergy and are effective in practice, to hold governing bodies and private actors accountable for not delivering on them, and to connect citizens and civil society with the core of policymaking – improving monitoring, accountability, access, and sensitivity for new emerging issues.

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