Sophie Howe is the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales. In this contribution to IF’s Worldwide Blog Week, Sophie explains how the office of the Commissioner is helping to lead Wales out of the COVID-19 pandemic sustainably
The world we live in is like a game of chess. Get your strategy wrong and you lose the game. Right now, the world does not even have a strategy. We are too concerned with reacting to immediate danger, playing the defensive, protecting the here and now, and only thinking one or two moves ahead. With no plan for long term success.
Politicians and institutions
Our politicians and institutions are caught up on making the “popular” decisions that keep them in power, creating solutions that may bring immediate relief but failing to calculate the bigger picture and the knock-on consequences of their decisions.
This is not to say that our present is not important. But we have to understand that our present and our future co-exist. We should not look at them separately.
The well-being of our current generations should not be side-lined in favour of those yet to be born, but if the generations of our past had prepared more for the issues of today, we could be living in a world not plagued by a mental health crisis or in the shadows of climate emergencies. If perhaps we had prepared for the predicted pandemic pawn, we would not be in the situation we find ourselves in now.
What we cannot do, is ignore the Climate Queen on the horizon. While we continue to focus on what we need today and make decisions based on political wins rather than the health of our planet in the long run, the Climate Queen is plotting its route to take us out of the game altogether. And the sad thing is that we are letting it happen.
Our strategy now must be proactive in staving off the problems we will otherwise be leaving behind for our children, grandchildren, and future generations to come.
Wales has a strategy
Here in Wales, we are starting to put this strategy in place. The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act, which imposes a legal duty on our government and public bodies to pursue sustainable development, forces and inspires us to make decisions that ensure the needs of the present are met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
It leads us to challenge the idea of growth and the corrosive values system which has put economic growth at the heart of every decision we make. Instead, the act instructs us to use well-being as the marker for success.
By setting out in law a new definition of prosperity – a productive, innovative, and low carbon society which uses resources efficiently and proportionately, and acts on climate change – we have removed ourselves away from the toxicity of growth for growth’s sake.
It asks us to make decisions that are holistic. It asks us to realise that we cannot win with just one piece on the board. Instead, we need an integrated effort that takes into consideration the connected nature of our world.
That is why we now have a Climate Ministry in Wales which brings the environment, energy, housing, planning and transport portfolios together, recognising the need for integration. And it is why even on the ground we have hospitals creating sites for restoring nature and new regional parks being established to support social prescribing for health.
And it creates a guardian of future generations – the Future Generations Commissioner, in order to keep Wales’s decision makers in check (mate).
This way of thinking is having real impact: Wales is now ranked 2nd in the world for recycling; the welsh parliament is the first parliament in the world to declare a climate emergency; the nation is leading the way by announcing a moratorium on road building; it has committed to zero waste and zero emissions by 2050; and is on the verge of introducing a universal basic income to ensure nobody is left behind.
The Covid-19 pandemic has in some ways reset the game and increased the significance we give to the pieces on the board. The pandemic has made us realise what is important to us – our health, our environment, and our communities.
We must use this opportunity of enlightenment to change the way we see the world and recover in a way that is green and just, rather than reverting to the status quo, by creating a new standard for wellbeing.
Template for other countries
What Wales needs to do for future generations is to provide a tried and tested game plan for other nations and show what can be done. We are already seeing a movement for change, with other countries picking up the mantle of future generations, but for this to work there must be a worldwide shift.
The more players we have in the game, playing with the same vision and the same strategy that puts the world first, the better chance we have of a healthy plant for our future generations. But it must be now, before it is too late.
And do not forget, it is really not a game.
Help us to be able to do more
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