Taking the Needs of Future Generations into Account: the Case of Wales
The issue of long-term governance is gaining attraction around the world. Many governments are looking into mechanisms that could be helpful in integrating the needs of future generations better into the existing political processes. Discussions have also take place at international forums. At the UN, for example, a report by the Secretary-General titled ‘Intergenerational Solidarity and the Needs of Future Generations’ (2013) recommends the establishment of an office of the Commissioner for Future Generations.
The latest government to take action is the Welsh Government. The Well-Being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 was passed by the parliament in March, and it received Royal Assent in early May.
The aim of the Act is to strengthen existing governance arrangements for improving the well-being of Wales, and to ensure that present needs are met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
The Act sets a range of goals, which – if realised – will improve the well-being of Wales in a sustainable manner. The Act also demands that each public body takes all reasonable steps to realise these goals, and makes public statements and annual reports on the progress.
One important institutional reformation that came with the Act was the establishment of a Future Generations Commissioner. The Commissioner acts as a guardian for the interests of the future generations, and supports the public bodies listed in the Act to achieve the set Well-Being Goals.
The Future Generations Commissioner carries out research, conducts reviews into how much bodies are taking into account the long-term impacts of their decisions, and makes recommendations. Also, one year before Assembly elections, the Commissioner publishes a report assessing the improvements public bodies should make to achieve the Well-Being Goals. The Commissioner’s work is supported by an expert advisory panel.
With the Well-Being of the Future Generations Act Wales joins a group of governments – such as Hungary and Finland – that have in one way or another integrated the needs of future generations into their governance structures.
Of course, the passing of the Act marks only a beginning, and much hard work still remains to be done. Now the focus will turn to the setting of more specific goals and indicators. But altogether, the passing of the Act should be considered as a landmark step to the right direction. Wales has shown leadership, courage, and ability to break away from short-term oriented governance. Other governments should follow its lead.