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Chapter: Future Responsibilities
Author # Title:  Click to visit article
Emmanuel Agius 1 Excerpts from 'Obligations of justice towards future generations: A revolution in social and legal thought'; Future Generations & international law; Earthscan Publications Ltd., London; page 3.
Rachid Driss 2 Excerpts from 'The responsibility of the state towards future generations';; Future Generations & international law; Earthscan Publications Ltd., London; page 21.
Ajai Malhotra 3 Excerpts from 'A commentary on the status future generations as a subject of international law'; Future Generations & international law; Earthscan Publications Ltd., London; page 39.
  4 Watch this space for new additions!
  5 Watch this space for new additions!
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Que sera sera ... we can only dream of a world free of want: where the promise of science is fulfilled; where knowledge is unleashed as a social force. We would like to believe that such a future is on the horizon of Bengal. However, to seize this vision, it must be taken up, struggled over, articulated, popularized and made into a material force.

But what can 'Future Vision' do? For too long, the debate about social change has been focussed around old world concepts of a world fast disappearing. We must pose the proper questions, not just towards understanding the world we live in, but towards changing it. New ideas are needed to annihilate the accumulation of exhausted ideas.

Hopefully, 'Future Vision' will contribute to that effort. Join us ... send us your contributions and thoughts: mailto: sankalpatrust@hotmail.com.
Bon voyage!

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1. Excerpts from 'Obligations of Justice towards Future Generations: A revolution in social and legal thought', by Emmanuel Agius; in 'Future Generations & International law'; Earthscan Publications Ltd., London; page 3.
Rawls' concept of justice between generations:
In 1972, John Rawls published 'A Theory of Justice' as a base for our responsibilities towards future generations.

Rawls' theory of "justice as fairness" gives due consideration to the question of justice between generations ... He claims that a theory of justice has to apply to all members, whether they are now living intratemporarily or intratemporarily. In other words, he claims that the theory of justice has to apply to not only one group of people, or to one generation, but to all generations. Rawls lists three rights which all generations can claim from their predecessors. All generations have the right to

  • an appropriate rate of capital saving, to
  • the conservation of natural resources and the natural environment, and to
  • a reasonable genetic policy.
Given that all generations have equal rights and that no generation has stronger claims than any other, how does Rawl's theory of justice approach the issue of rights of future generations and the obligations which every generation has towards the future? To what extent is the present generation bound to respect the claims of posterity? How far in time does the pattern of rights and duties between the present and future generations, arising out of the relationship of justice as fairness, actually extend? Are the claims of all generations protected? In other words, does the concept of justice as fairness and its corollary notions of rights and duties extend to all generations? One would expect that the pattern of rights and duties apply to all the contracting members of the original position.

Rawls formulated the "just saving principle" in order to explain the relationship of justice between generations. According to this principle, what every generation is expected to do is to hand on to its immediate posterity a somewhat better situation than it inherited. Anything less than this would be unfair to them, anything more would be unfair to the present generation. In extending the theory of justice between generations, Rawls has difficulty imagining the contracting parties being members of different generations. Therefore he assumes that they are contemporaries but do not know their position in time. Thus each generation lies behind a "veil of ignorance", not knowing whether they are living in a resource-rich world or a polluted world or a technologically advanced world ... He assumes that the only "rational self-interest" which can be relied upon to transcend generations is concern for ones own children ... his explanation of inter generational justice in terms of the just saving principle has in a way restricted transgenerational moral relationships only to overlapping generations ... The just saving principle supports obligations corresponding to the rights of the immediate one or two generations, but beyond that, there is no motivation to do that. This short time scale interest in the future is unable to justify any moral concern about the effects of actions with long-range effects, such as those resulting from genetic engineering and nuclear energy.

Mankind includes future generations
Does the term mankind, used in international documents on environmental policy mean only the present generation, or does it also include those yet to be born? It is interesting to note that those documents which employ the term mankind have direct references to present and future generations. This reveals the the term mankind denotes more than the present population and hence more than a present collectivity. It encompasses a collectivity which includes both present and future generations ...

It is reasonable to suggest that, in our search for grounding our obligations to unborn generations on sound ethical principles, we have to recast two concepts of traditional social ethics, namely common good and social justice, in the light of the community of mankind as a whole extending over time and space. Thus, the vision of an inter generational community challenges us to reconceptualize the notions of common good and social justice by adding to them a time dimension. These two social principles justify relations of justice between present and future generations.

The common good of the Human Species
During the 1960s the concept of common good evolved from a national to a supranational level. This was the result of the newly awakened sense of interdependence which led to the notion of the family of nations. During the late 1970s the concept of common good was redefined from a broader perspective. Environmental issues have shown that the good of a particular society cannot be separated, first from the good of the world community, and second from the good of the human species as part of the finite world. Traditionally, the common good has been defined as that order in the community by virtue of which, every member of society can experience an adequate quality of life. Recent ecological awareness has made it quite evident that the concept of common good must include also the natural resources of the earth ... Humans as species hold the natural environment of the earth in common both with other members of the present generation and with other generations to come ... In the use of these common heritages, we have therefore to consider the interests of the human species as a whole.

Social Justice and the Weaker Members of the Human Species
Human beings have differed greatly in the accounts they have given of the concept of justice. They have spelt out the meanings and the practical implications of such phrases as "giving everyone his due" in many different ways. But they have always agreed on a number of basic points.

  • the first is that justice is essential to human conviviality;
  • second, that justice is not merely a matter concerning the relations between one individual and another - in traditional terms, commutative justice; it also implies duties of the individual towards the community or communities to which they belong - in traditional terms - social justice;
  • thirdly, the concept of justice is logically connected with the concepts of equality and proportion; hence the requirement that an individual contribute to the welfare of the community has particular relevance to the question of proper conduct towards the needier and weaker members of humankind.
Because its aim is the actualization of the common good, social justice has the task of ordering the community. Social justice, therefore, refers both to the duty of every member to contribute to the common good of the community, and to the responsibility of the community to all its members, with particular regard to those in a disadvantaged situation. Social justice demands the respect of everyone's right to share in the common good. This cannot be achieved without the cooperation of every member. Inter generational justice may be defined as that principle of ordering of the community of mankind which will make it possible for every generation, by virtue of its own effort and responsibility, to secure a proportionate share in the common good of the human species. Social justice appeals to the principle that a community has the moral duty to give particular help to its handicapped or weaker members - not in terms of desert or reward for their contribution to the productive process, but simply because of human solidarity. Future generations can also be seen as handicapped, and the claim to reserve resources for their quality of life is based on similar ground to that on which it is argued that the state is bound in justice to make welfare provisions for the aged, the physically and mentally handicapped, and so on ...

The resources of the earth belong to all generations. Our ownership of these resources is only ours inasmuch as we form part of the species. In the use of this heritage, we are bound in justice to consider the good of the species as a whole ... Social justice forbids any generation to exclude other generations from a fair share in the benefits of the common heritage of humankind.

[Reminder from Essem: This presentation is only an extract. Please read the full article for a more comprehensive understanding of the subject.]

Comment # 1: Received from:

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2. Excerpts from 'The responsibility of the state towards future generations', by Rachid Driss; published Future Generations & International law; Earthscan Publications Ltd., London; page 21.
When George Orwell wrote Animal Farm, he did not anticipate the perestroika which put a final point to the nightmare of planetarian collectivisation in 1985. George Orwell's vision seemed, up to recently, perfectly obvious: prepare future generations to live in an utopic collectivism, with prevailing equality, where science and technology would shape the world. Moving towards this end seemed unavoidable. But as Fukuyama observed, history (the Marxist episode) ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Capitalism has been rehabilitated and freedom recovered its splendor. The generations living since 1984 experience many  contradictions and are even victims of history. Only the impact of technical instruments and the sophisticated computers could help them adapt to the new society. Today's world is very different from the one at the beginning of the century, but it is not an Orwellian nightmare ...

Time goes on and history does not actually end but acquires new surprising elements and we have to ask ourselves what kind of environment we want to offer our future generations. A child born today will be approaching 20 in the year 2015. What will the world look like? Are international efforts sufficient to achieve in 20 years' time the goals elaborated by consensus, by the international community:

  • control population growth and the deterioration of the environment
  • clean the waters
  • preserve the forests
  • prevent nuclear threats
  • eradicate AIDS and similar diseases ..
Are international efforts able to insure that development, human as well as material, create enough jobs for young people and prepare cultural conditions where ethics and tolerance prevail? Could international efforts safeguard the next generations in the near and distant future?

Individually, we have a responsibility towards forthcoming generations ... Society as a whole has its responsibility, but individuals cannot fulfill the task by themselves. State support and cooperation is needed to carry out this important task.

First of all we have to give an appropriate definition of the concept of state today and what it may be in the next century in the new international order. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union we live in disarray. One of the objectives of the Marxist ideology, on which the Soviet Union has been based, was the disparition of the state as a form of power, replaced by a community of men. Nevertheless, nowhere was the state as powerful as it was in the Soviet Union. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, it became apparent how important the state was for organizing the whole life of a nation or a group of nations. The state was a factor of stability and it could bear great consequences when it did not fulfill its responsibility. Upon its collapse the state ruling the Soviet Union was not replaced by communities, but by federal or national states. The state as a ruling structure did not disappear but continued to fulfill its functions.

Nevertheless, we are not to ignore what is frequently said by some commentators that the nation-state has failed to fulfill its objective, especially in countries liberated from colonialism. During the struggle for freedom, people nourished the hope that their independent state would solve all their problems. In spite of partial achievements and lack of means or mismanagement, states could not do so. At the same time, welfare states are under heavy attack. Financial costs make their task difficult if not impossible to sustain. However, the state remains the most adequate structure to rule a country. The efforts to unite several states into a community or a union like the European Union (formed in Maastricht) are often retarded by the attachment which politicians and the public in general give to their national sovereignty. Several nations, divided by religion, ethnicity and culture are strongly opposed ti unity. Whatever will be the evolution of the states, under the economic, ethnic, security or cultural needs, it will be the product of historical evolution and will remain the best form of organized power. To reject this fact is very easy. To find another structure to organize nations, to form a humane society is a challenge that one cannot overcome. That the state is the best policy making instrument has been proved by many experiences of governance.

But what is exactly a state? Is it land with a population? Is it an anonymous apparatus with a mysterious power? Is it a mere concept, a kind of screen behind which the authorities hide themselves in order to prevent the citizens to reach them in their quest for justice? Is it a ghost that frightens people and keeps them under control? In any case the State is not a government [My emphasis: Essem]: governments may change due to political changes but a state is a permanent structure, equipped with executive, legislative and judicial powers. It has diplomatic ties with other countries. It negotiates and concludes treaties and conventions. It participates in international organizations dealing in several fields - political, economic, social or cultural. A state is a sovereign entity. It may leave part of its sovereignty through treaties or conventions, but a state has international commitments with other states. A state is the guardian of the values and survival of a nation with other states [My emphasis: Essem].

Ibn Khaldoun, a Tunisian historian and philosopher (1332-1406 AD) said that a state, like its individual members, is born, grows and dies, but its life can be a very long one, guaranteeing for a long period of history the fulfillment of its objectives, and also playing a decisive role in the progress of human civilization. The state is at the same time a guardian of the past and the future of a nation. Even in the case of dismantlement or collapse, it leaves behind traditions and memories, which are carried through from generation to generation.

... the state cannot disassociate itself from its responsibility towards future generations ... its new responsibilities towards future generations:

  • A multiform education, including the most sophisticated techniques, allowing them to face and imagine the future to be built.
  • A new education, giving precedence to a democratization of social relations, promoting a culture of peace and a sense of ethics in order that the environment be conserved, threatened patrimony be protected. Our thoughts must be future oriented.
  • A self promoting education, enabling each one to build his own way of thinking, projecting his future with the help of these new tools.
Let us be clear however. Although the state, through government and constitutional institutions can act to promote and enforce laws, organize education and safeguard the environment, this is not sufficient. Action must be supported and completed by the efforts of non governmental organizations and the population as a whole.

The role of the media is primordial. Our children watch television and from it learn about good and evil. Television often has more impact on them than parents or school. The responsibility of the State to protect children and the new generation against violence and drug abuse as shown on television, can only be achieved if a new international order includes a consensus amongst states on a common policy. The problem of the media is our problem, arising from the rapid changes in our society. Let us be very clear on this question. By a common policy we do not mean the control or censorship of information and programs. The objective of a common policy is to evaluate the present situation and develop guidelines to improve it by reducing, at least, the intensity of violence and crime and encouraging the less violent and more ethical and human aspects.

... Responsibility towards future generations should be considered not only in the materialistic sphere but also in cultural and moral debates ... We should not neglect the cultural heritage we have inherited from our ancestors. Culture and values have to be preserved and enriched by our own efforts. We have the duty to transmit these values, universally, to future generations ...

[Reminder from Essem: This presentation is only an extract. Please read the full article for a more comprehensive understanding of the subject.]

Comment # 1: Received from:

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3. Excerpts from 'A commentary on the status future generations as a subject of international law', by Ajai Malhotra; published in Future Generations & international law; Earthscan Publications Ltd., London; page 39.
An issue that arises in exploring the status of future generations under international law relates to the problem of satisfactorily defining future generations ... A generation could be loosely described as a body of individuals or a set of persons born at about the same time. While no established practice exists in this regard, a generation has usually been computed as covering a 25 or 30 year period ...

... Irrespective of whether future generations presently possess specific legal rights under international law or not, there exists an indisputable responsibility towards them. Accordingly, it would be desirable for the present focus of attention to be on responsibilities towards future generations, rather than their rights.

... Over the last decade or so it has been widely accepted that, for the first time in the history of humankind, human activity has the potential to irreversibly alter our world on a massive scale. This concern was well brought out in the context of future generations by the following inclusion in the Brundtland report:

    "Many present efforts to guard and maintain human progress, to meet human needs, and to realize human ambitions are simply unsustainable - in both the rich and poor nations. They draw too heavily, too quickly, on already overdrawn environmental resource accounts to be affordable far into the future without bankrupting these accounts. They may show profits on the balance sheets of our generation, but our children will inherit the losses. We borrow environmental capital from future generations with no intention or prospect of repaying. They may damn us for our spendthrift ways, but they can never collect on our debt to them. We act as we do because we can get away with it: future generations do not vote, they have no political or financial power; they cannot challenge our decisions. But the results of the present profligacy are rapidly closing the options for future generations."
It is now widely acknowledged that global environmental issues and (linked) developmental issues are a matter of common concern since damage to the environment could ultimately affect all - nations and individuals, rich and poor, present and future generations ... Environmental protection, pollution control and a whole range of other environmental and linked developmental measures agreed to at the international level and being pursued now by and within states also contribute towards fulfilling responsibilities towards future generations. Some of the recently negotiated multilateral agreements (for example, the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer (1987) and its  London Amendments (1990), the Framework Convention on Climate Change (1992) could, in fact, be viewed as being less a response to harmful events affecting the present as addressing primarily a future related concern, the tackling of which required early conscious adoption of precautionary corrective measures on a global scale ...
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