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Special report on Intergenerational Equity: what does it mean and how can we achieve it?

10 December 2009 Beatrice Mosello 5 Comments

If you have the chance of being inside the Bella Center these days, one thing that you have surely noticed is the astonishing number of young and colorful people attending the meetings and walking on the side of distinguished negotiators. If you are a ‘new entry’ in the world of UN negotiations, you will think this is normal. Indeed, this is not normal at all, let me tell you. Therefore, let’s try to find an explanation for this unusual phenomenon of the extraordinary participation of youth in COP 15 negotiations. Very simply, the answer lies in the concept of intergenerational equity. This afternoon, I attended n inspirational event organised by the European Youth Forum, which specifically addressed the questions of what does it mean to have intergenerational equity, and how can it be implemented in concrete terms? The fantastic panelists stressed in particular the following points. First of all, we have to realise that intergenerational equity is not (yet) a legal obligation in the sense that it is not explicitly embedded within international, national or regional legal instruments. Nevertheless, it is and remains a moral obligation: we indeed feel morally compelled to leave to the next generation, that of our sons, the same or a better range of natural resources than the one we have today, of the same or a better quality, and over which they will have public access. This is called intergenerational equity, and it is a concept that should lie behind all our actions here in Copenhagen and beyond. At the same time, we also realize that the decision-making process is not in our hands yet, so what can we do? HOW do we translate words, ideas and commitment into action?

One example is the great work done by AIESEC (one of our G-1 Billion partners!!!), as well as other amazing youth-based and composed organizations that are here present in Copenhagen and/or exist all over the world. Aman Jain, President of AIESEC, the world largest organization being entirely composed of students and young adults, rightly pointed out that one of the most important variables that need to be in place for intergenerational equity to be addressed and fought for is that intergenerational collaboration exists. We would not be all here in Copenhagen today if the ‘older’ generation did not discover and investigate (and eventually cause) the problem of climate change, we would not be all here if we did not have their expertise on which to build our own talents and organizations, we would not be all here if they had not teach us the fundamental values of sustainability, solidarity, cooperation, equity and fairness. Indeed, a recent survey carried out by AIESEC shows that among 3,119 respondents, only a few blame the previous generation for the current situation: the majority is still convinced cooperation is essential, while at the same time being strongly aware of the fact that climate change represents to today’s society an even bigger threat than wars or terrorism. The need is hence for an increasing intergenerational involvement: we, the youth of today, have to work hand in hand with our parents and grand-parents, and with our children and grand-children when it will be our turn to be ‘on the other side’ of the fence. But once again, the how question is pending: how do we achieve this needed intergenerational involvement? Aman Jain suggested four means towards this fundamental goal. First of all, we should increase our use of social media networks to involve our friends into our efforts against climate change and to spread the world as much as we can. Secondly, we should work towards developing the infrastructure that is required for engaging in a ‘climate smarter’ lifestyle. Help, commitment and support from companies, policy-makers and organizations is absolutely fundamental. And finally, education (whether on-line or in schools) can e used as a means through which expand the network of young people that are aware of what climate change is and wants to do something to address it. 

Now, what does all this reflection tell us? I believe two ideas are important and should be kept in mind for driving our future efforts as a young generation. Intergenerational equity does not only mean we require our predecessors to take measures now to address the problems they have cause in the past, but it means that we take measures ourselves to ensure we do not commit the same mistakes towards the generations to come. This basically involves we move our lifestyle away from comfortable consumptive patterns towards a more aware and informed behavior that is first and foremost conform to morality and nature. Also, we have to remember that it is not sufficient to ask here for our concerns and voices to be heard: we also have the fundamental task of demanding that our concerns and voices are responded to during COP 15 negotiations and beyond. Our legitimacy does not only derive from the fact that we will be the leaders of tomorrow: it must also come from our role as leaders of today, side by side with our parents and teachers.

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  • Monique said:

    Very nice Beatrice!! I really enjoyed the session too and I am glad that you could sumarize it in such good and inspiring words! :)

  • changhuan said:

    I love ur Article!!!

  • Tiago said:

    The concept of intergenerational justice is a prerequisite to addressing the issues raised in Copenhagen. As I haven’t arrived in Copenhagen yet I am glad to hear that there is a much larger youth presence then in other meetings, that in itself can only be a good thing.

    However, we must also not loose sight of the grave intragenerational injustices which already exist. Both have to be tackled head-on and simultaneously.

  • Beatrice Mosello (author) said:

    Thanks guys :) Tiago, totally agree with you. Actually, another point that was made in the talk related to the fact that the concept of intergenerational equity and justice is just another way of talking about sustainability: and since sustainability supposedly SHOULD be one of the pillars of COP 15 negotiations, intergenerational equity forcefully needs to be addressed too. Let’s see if this is the case…

  • Jharna said:

    I like the way you ended it:
    “Our legitimacy does not only derive from the fact that we will be the leaders of tomorrow: it must also come from our role as leaders of today, side by side with our parents and teachers.”


    Proud to say, I Am an AIESECer!

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