Now for the long term – for the next generation

“Reform” is a word often heard in global governance debates. And it’s hardly surprising, as negotiations stall along issues as far ranging as climate change to trade rules, it’s almost universally recognized that we need to do things differently.

Through UNICEF’s Conversations with Thought Leaders, we had an opportunity to engage with those at the forefront of these debates. At the beginning of May, Chair of the Oxford Martin Commission for Future Generations, Pascal Lamy came to UNICEF to present the Commission’s recently-published Now for the Long Term report.

It is the result of a year-long consultation process with 19 eminent leaders from around the world, including Michelle Bachelet, Lionel Barber, Professor Roland Berger, Professor Ian Goldin, Arianna Huffington, Dr. Mo Ibrahim, Luiz Felipe Lampreia, Minister Liu He, Professor Kishore Mahbubani, Minister Trevor Manuel, Julia Marton-Lefèvre, Minister Nandan Nilekani, Lord Patten, Baron Piot, Lord Rees, Professor Amartya Sen, Lord Stern and Jean-Claude Trichet.

The Now for the Long Term report stands out from a multitude of similar recent efforts, by taking the interests of the future generation as its starting point. At the heart of the report is the notion that global negotiations are driven by political short term interests rather than long term strategy. It provides a welcome opportunity to take a step back and examine how our actions (or inactions!) today will impact the next generation, and to think through what institutional arrangements will allow us to build a more sustainable and equitable future.

The report starts with identifying global mega trends that will define the world of the future generation, outlining the environmental, technological, demographic, and socio-economic landscape. It then looks at the past for lessons on tackling complex global issues – why it worked in some cases (ozone layer, Y2K, and HIV/AIDS), and failed in others (financial regulations before the crisis, oceans, and climate change).

Finally, the Commission puts forward 15 recommendations, which as Mr. Lamy stresses, are practical and doable. Mr. Lamy suggested that he and the Commission would be willing to put their energy and support to those recommendations which gain a foothold in some part of the complex landscape of global governance. In different ways, several recommendations have gained traction, including:

    • A Coalition of the Working between countries, companies and cities to counteract climate change. Recognizing that the current dialogue on climate change at the international level is failing, the Commission calls for a different type of coalition to lead the charge. Calling it “inclusive ‘minilateralism’”, the so-called C20-C30-C40 Coalition would include only (1) the critical actors and (2) those who are ready to take action. This means the 20 countries that are the largest emitters (the G20), 30 multinational companies affiliated with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, and 40 big cities (building on Bloomberg’s C40 initiative).

 

  • ‘Fit cities’ – a network of cities to fight the rise of non-communicable diseases and share practices to minimize the costs they inflict on the health systems – would focus on the availability of healthy food, quality of health education, and effective mechanisms to enhance healthy lifestyles in the world’s rapidly growing cities.

And where exactly is the next generation in the report? One recommendation particularly stood out: Attack poverty at the source or break intergenerational persistence of poverty through social protection measures such as cash transfers. From UNICEF’s perspective, we could not agree more. Evidence shows that child poverty can destroy the future potential of individuals, communities and societies.

UNICEF works with governments and other partners across the world to develop child-sensitive social protection systems and other programs targeted at the eradication of child poverty. Yet, much more remains to be done, including through a greater emphasis at the global level, particularly in the context of the next set of global goals – hence, UNICEF’s call for prioritizing child poverty within the post-2015 agenda.

It is encouraging to see the prominence the Commission attaches to child well-being and investing in the next generation. It is today’s children who will suffer most if we fail to come together to address challenges from climate change to communicable and non-communicable diseases. Putting the next generation at the center of how we tackle global challenges is our best chance for creating the future we want. Now – for the long term.

Pascal Lamy, former head of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and current Chair of the Oxford Martin Commission for Future Generations, joined UNICEF for our Conversations with Thought Leaders event on 1 May 2014. Mr. Lamy presented the Commission’s report Now for the Long Term and its key recommendations with UNICEF’s staff.

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