Sophie Howe is unique—the world’s only Future Generations Commissioner. What, you might well ask, is a Future Generations Commissioner. Her function, according to her website, “is to provide advice to the government and other public bodies in Wales on delivering social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being for current and future generations and assessing and reporting on how they are delivering.”
Her role was created by the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. The Act requires “public bodies in Wales to think about the long-term impact of their decisions, to work better with people, communities and each other, and to prevent persistent problems such as poverty, health inequalities and climate change.” It sets out seven goals: a Wales that is prosperous, resilient, equitable and healthy with cohesive communities, a vibrant culture and that is globally responsible. Affected public bodies must aim at achieving all of the goals.
What an idea, legislation committed to ensuring that government policy contributes to an equitable, healthy, sustainable society for its future citizens. No other country has such legislation, but it is attracting interest from around the globe, including from the United Nations. The UN secretary general is considering a special envoy for future generations along with a Declaration on Future Generations. Ms. Howe is one of the advisers on the project. As she says, this could ”trickle down to every country in the world.” Let’s hope it does.
Ms. Howe is essentially an advocate for those yet unborn. She refers to herself as the government’s conscience, saying to legislators, “Hang on, how have you thought about future generations when you’re doing that?” She refers to this as “the good ancestor test.”
Consideration of future generations is, of course, something governments always ought to include in their policies, but unfortunately something the election cycle often precludes.
In addition to challenging public bodies to adhere to the Act, Ms. Howe’s group offers advice and shares examples of good and bad practices. They also seek public input on “big ideas” to consider via roundtables and meetings with experts and partners.
A Well-being of Future Generations Act sounds like an idea whose time has come—legislation committing us to being good and thoughtful ancestors for future citizens. Might Canadian legislatures be encouraged to get on board?