Value of Intergenerational Conservation Partnerships

Communication is our playing field, and it is important for CEC members to start thinking on how best to communicate governance, and specifically, intergenerational justice within international conservation. The World Parks Congress, particularly the stream on inspiring a new generation, is one way in which CEC is supporting other conservation partners in ensuring international partnerships in the field of environmental governance. This stream in particular advances the CEC vision and mission by speaking to experts across generations about the role of communications in intergenerational justice.

It is not in doubt that humanity ushered in the 21st century encumbered with numerous global challenges: global environmental challenges being on the fore. For a long while, since the Industrial Revolution, humanity has developed in an unprecedented manner, building upon transformational innovations. However, it is now becoming apparent that continued growth based on the same economic model bears a significant cost on the integrity of life-support systems of the Earth. Scientists have now confirmed that the Earth is entering a new epoch, Anthropocene, one in which human activities are the main driver of global environmental change.

Despite the growing complexity of global environmental change, a postulation of the temporal spectrum reveals a much greater concern. As the growing body of scientific evidence indicates that we are already overstepping planetary boundaries, such as loss of biological diversity and global climate change, the issue of intergenerational equity automatically comes into play. Are we so obsessed with achieving sheer economic growth without due regard to the irreversible damage we impact on crucial life-support systems of the Earth, such as ocean acidification through human-induced greenhouse gas emissions? Well, concerns over these challenges were raised a while back, most notably in the classic publication, Limits to Growth as well as the landmark Brundtland Report on Sustainable Development; the latter defined sustainable development as ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. Contextualizing these issues, a study by the authors of this op-ed, which is under review for publication, reveals alarming rates of loss of biological diversity and species extinction, despite well formulated and articulated legal and policy frameworks governing intergenerational equity and sound environmental conservation in Kenya.

It might be tempting to regard the issue of intergenerational equity as far-fetched at present; however, this is not the case. This concept is codified in international law, with the UN Charter, UN Convention on Biological Diversity, UN Framework Convention on Climate change among others making provisions for intergenerational equity. As well, this provision has been firmly anchored in well-developed, tried, and tested concepts such as the Planetary Trust doctrine, which brings a legal dimension to the concept of intergenerational equity. With the world currently grappling with rising global temperatures, which have subsequently led to dangerous climatic changes, battle lines are being drawn to determine the planetary legacy of the current and subsequent generations. For instance, a group of non-governmental organizations have launched a series of lawsuits in the United States, suing the government for failure to effectively deal with climate change through effective reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. This is an unprecedented and monumental case, since it has been observed that the US judiciary system has never confronted a legal challenge of this nature. But, this is not an isolated case; for instance, there is an interesting proposal on how to secure votes for future generations.

However, an interesting aspect of these interventions in the quest for intergenerational equity as regards earth system governance is that they are characterised by intergenerational partnerships. Young people and senior citizens alike are working together to ramp up action to address global climate change. In the aforementioned case of the US lawsuits, a number of leading senior scientists published a report laying the scientific basis for the cases, that human-induced climate change was a clear and present threat to current and future generations. 

Despite these challenges, it is encouraging to see the rise of concerted efforts aimed at effectively addressing global environmental change. Intergenerational equity undoubtedly plays a key role. The recent developments - where the UN Secretary General appointed an envoy for youth; one of the streams of the once-in-a-decade World Parks Congress 2014 being devoted to inspiring a new generation and; the recently concluded Colombo Declaration of Youth identifying the need for intergenerational partnerships in the quest for sustainable development – are for sure a beacon for humanity to work together to solve the global environmental challenge. 

As leaders in conservation, IUCN has been making impressive strides in supporting intergenerational partnerships, particularly the adoption of Resolution 008 at the 2012 World Conservation Congress on ‘Increasing youth engagement and intergenerational partnership across and through the Union’. This followed the unique appointment of young people to co-chair IUCN Commissions, and a young person in the council between 2010 and 2012. The growing Task force on Intergenerational Partnerships for Sustainability within IUCN members, commissions, member and the secretariat not only address the policy aspect of intergenerationality, but has also opened up opportunities for conservation efforts to impact positively on the future generations.

For experts in the IUCN, and more specifically, Commission on Communication and Education (CEC) family, we see this an opportunity to explore and develop mechanisms of communicating intergenerational justice in conservation in much more vigour, not just at the policy making level, but also at the grassroots level where conservation efforts are carried out. 

The questions we ask are: Do we have the best communication strategies to ensure that intergenerationality moves beyond rhetoric and is incorporated in the vision and mission of our institutions? How well can we communicate intergenerational partnership to conservation partners? 

* Be on the look out for part two of this article.

About the Author

Kennedy Liti Mbeva is a member of CEC Young Professionals Network, a UNEP-Bayer Young Environment Envoy (2010), the founder of GreenBits Initiative and a Masters student at UNEP-Tongji Institute of Environment for Sustainable Development.

About the Author

Grace Muthoni Mwaura is a IUCN CEC Steering Committee member, a co-convener of the TaskForce on Intergenerational Partnerships for Sustainability, Advisor to the African Youth Initiative on Climate Change and a doctoral student at the University of Oxford on Youth, Livelihoods and Politics in Africa.

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