Intergenerational Equity and the Future Ombudsman – An interview with Luke Kemp

Intergenerational Equity and the Future Ombudsman

–      An interview with Luke Kemp

By Jonathan Lindholt

In December 2015 I travelled to Lima in Peru in a mission to learn and report about the climate change conference, COP20. This was a remarkable experience that showed me how the world leaders are gathering to discuss how to prevent the world from a global climate disaster. In the midst of high level talks and beaming heat I met a group of people united by the name ‘INTEQ’, or ‘Intergenerational Equity’. I was told that this group worked towards the just and equitable distribution of the planets resources, not just between nations, but also between generations: to ensure that future generations had their resources ensured. I was immediately intrigued and decided to join this group for a further investigation. There were many interesting and admirable people in this group, but one person that certainly is on a mission to save the world stood out more than others. His name is Luke Kemp, he is a doctoral candidate at the age of 25, and he is fighting for both your and future generations wellbeing.

In the aftermath of the convention I kept contact with this bright young man, and I realized that more people should get to know him and his mission. In an interview over Skype earlier this month I got to have a nice talk and ask him some questions. Following is the highlights of this conversation.

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So, Mr. Kemp, what is INTEQ and why are you working on it?

“First of all, I guess I helped to establish it and so I feel committed to it, but more importantly, I think it’s the best and most effective way to promote future generations rights.

It all started when I was in the Rio+20 convention working on the establishment of a World Environment Organization, a specialized body to protect the environment. It was a great experience as I got to see the myriad number of young people fighting for their planets future. I was at that stage made aware of the campaign for a high commissioner for future generations. It was a advocacy point for youth since the UN lacked any representative for future generations, despite the fact that representing future generations was a cornerstone in ensuring sustainable development. Such a commissioner was a post that could safeguard future generations and their interests in numerous affairs, and not just environmental ones. To me it made sense to have an organization that would do this. The idea of an ombudsman for future generations has spurred out from this.

There needs to be a voice in governance representing the future people on the planet. We have to leave the Earth in at least as good a condition to our children as we have access to today. As climate change is the most pressing issue of our time I realized that rightist was a blind spot in existing advocacy. A constituency to represent future generations is highly needed in the UN climate negotiations. Together with other delegates I started creating a document that would ensure that the principle of international equity could be enshrined into the next climate agreement. We put this forward to the UN Youth constituency (YOUNGO) and for the first time in a long time there was a unanimous vote in YOUNGO on a new and radical set of policies, and Intergenerational Equity (INTEQ) was born.”

“We have to leave the Earth in at least as good a condition to our children as we have access to today.”

One important element of INTEQ is the element called discount rate. Could you please, in simple wording, explain what you mean by this?

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“The discount rate is a tool in economics to give the value of a future cost a present value. Economists make the assumption that that economic growth always will occur and that objects in the future are inherently worth less than things in the present. It is an economic tool based on both faulty moral reasoning and the massive assumption that the future will continue to be richer than the present.It may seem illogical, but it is perfectly normal in society and economics. We are valuing stuff, money, and people more today than the future notion of it. Our society is built upon valuing the present over the future. For example, would you like a chocolate now or in a year’s time? Most people would take it today and think of the future one as less valuable. This example could be expanded to natural resources as well. So, due to that preference and the assumption of continued economic growth economists have decided to discount a resource over time, making it less valuable over time. It may make sense when it comes to certain abstract issues, but when it comes to actual lives and livelihoods this does not make sense. In the case of climate change the discount rate is essentially saying that the lives of people today are more worth than people in the future. To me this is morally repugnant. We should rather have a positive discount rate that would value the future resources more than today or at least close to equal. This is especially relevant as it is reasonable to believe that climate change is going to be a wrecking ball for the economy in the long term.”

“We are basically saying that the lives of people today are more worth than people in the future. Which to me is morally repugnant.”

So that is the basics of INTEQ, but how do we operationalize this and ensure that the world’s resources are not squandered?

“Well, we got the wording of Intergenerational Equity into the preamble of the new agreement. This is really important as it would mean that governments would have to recognize that there is future generations and their interests that need to be taken into account in an equitable manner. We are also trying to create an UN constituency that would carry INTEQ forward. This would be called FUNGO.

We might also have to go outside the climate change negotiations in order to get the momentum needed for an expansion of the INTEQ

If the Paris agreement collapses or doesn’t provide the desired result we might still have a chance of creating future ombudsmen around the world in a more bottom-up fashion. We need to think broadly and put pressure on individual countries and encourage organizations like Spire to keep pushing for intergenerational equity and the Framtidsombud”. (Yes, he knows the Norwegian word)

Speaking of that, what is the status of future ombudsmen in the world today?

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“Well, Norway, Bolivia and Japan are actually the only countries with a mention of future genereations rights in their constituency. This is a good start but should be expanded widely. Spire is a good example of an organization that is fighting for this to happen, and hopefully many more will follow. A key point is that an ombudsman or guardian for future generations needs to have a clear constitutional footing and legal foundation to carry out their work. A representive for future generations needs that permanence and certainty in order to work effectively. This is what Inteq is all about: it’s about providing a clear moral and legal basis for mechanisms such as creating an ombudsman for future generations and changing the discount rate. We need to go back to basics, we need to make sure our constitutions and international agreements are built upon the principle of Inteq. Only then can we ‘future-proof’ our societies and achieve justice across generations.”

Do you think the climate crisis could be a political game changer that unites and bring us to the resilient and sustainable economy we so desperately need?

“Yes, I think climate change is the perfect storm that will awaken modern society to our most fundamental flaw: that we are too focused on the short-term. Unfortunately it tends to takes a crisis to catalyze change. Just as the destruction of world war II laid the foundation for new global institutions such as the UN and World Bank, I think the catastrophe of climate change could provide the opportunity to recreate our societies into the future-proof, long-term thinking governance systems that we need. Crisis after all, is both a risk and an opportunity. The same goes for the climate crisis.”

What is your expectations for the upcoming COP21?

“I don’t have high hopes for Paris. Even if Inteq and other important mechanisms, such as a long term goal for the phase out of fossil fuels makes it into the text, it is unlikely to be legally binding or have a strong structure in many ways. After many years of being involved in this process I have lost some degree of faith. But I think that the way that civil society and youth react to the outcome of the summit is just as important as the legal outcome. Regardless of what world leaders agree upon, we can make sure that this is the beginning of a brave new world for climate policy, rather than a second Copenhagen. We need to use Paris as a launching platform for renewed action at all levels, rather than pin all of our hopes upon Obama or another world leader coming to the rescue in our final hour.”

So you see, dear reader, there are hope in the world. People like Luke Kemp and thousands, perhaps millions of people, are working for a better world. I think that we have to intensify our work on establishing a Framtidsombud in Norway and around the world. We cannot let this be a case that gets forgotten. Our children´s wellbeing depend on it.

As a final question I asked Luke if he would be interested in working as a Future Ombudsman. His answer was “Definitely, that is the dream!”

Written by: Jonathan Lindholt

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From the silent demonstration in Lima. With this we signaled that the future generations have no voice but should still be recognized.

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Luke Kemp with a suitable t-shirt for the occasion

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