The Goa Guidelines on Intergenerational Equity

While Goa is setting new precedents in the implementation of Intergenerational Equity, it has a longer history with the idea. Intergenerational equity became a part of the discourse with the Brundtland Commission report “Our Common Future” in 1987. At the same time, Edith Brown Weiss headed a six member Advisory Group set up be the United Nations University. The six members, who acted in their personal capacity, were Edith Brown Weiss, A A Cançado Trinidade, A.-Ch. Kiss, Lai Peng Cheng, E.W. Ploman and the then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India, R.S. Pathak. The final meeting was held in Goa, and on 15 February 1988, they issued the following statement:

The Advisory Committee established to the United Nations University Project on “International Law, Common Patrimony and Intergenerational Equity” adopts on the basis of the major study undertaken, the following statement.

The increasing concerns over the depletion of natural resources and the degradation of environmental quality and the recognition of the need to conserve natural and cultural heritage have evoked responses at all levels: national, regional and international; governmental and nongovernmental. These concerns have been expressed in new political initiatives, in incipient economic adjustments and in significant developments in the legal field.

One innovative response to these concerns is represented by the present project which attempts to introduce for the first time in a systematic and comprehensive manner, a long-term temporal dimension into international law as a complement to the traditional spatial dimension.

The temporal dimension is articulated through the formulation of the theory of intergenerational equity: all members of each generation of human beings, as a species, inherit a natural and cultural patrimony from past generations, both as beneficiaries and as custodians under the duty to pass on this heritage to future generations. As a central point of this theory’ the right of each generation to benefit from and develop this natural and cultural heritage is inseparably coupled with the obligation to use this heritage in such a manner that It can be passed on to future generations in no worse condition than it was received from past generations. This requires conservation and, as appropriate, enhancement of the quality and diversity of this heritage. The conservation of cultural diversity is as important as the conservation of environmental diversity to ensure options for future generations.

Specifically, the principle of intergenerational equity requires conserving the diversity and the quality of biological resources, of renewable resources such as forests, water and soils which form an integrated system, as well as of our knowledge of natural and cultural systems. The principle requires that we avoid actions with harmful and irreversible consequences for our natural and cultural heritage and that we dispose of nuclear and other wastes without unduly shifting the costs to coining generations.

Planetary rights and planetary obligations follow from the principles of equity governing the relationship between generations. These pertain to valued interests of past, present and future generations, covering natural and cultural resources.

They will become enforceable as they find expression in customary and conventional international law. In case of violations, claims should be raised on behalf of present and future generations. There is a complementarity between recognized human rights and the proposed intergenerational rights.

To implement intergenerational rights and obligations, the following strategies are proposed: (a) representation by States not only of present but also of future generations; (b) designation of ombudsman or commissioners for protecting the interests of future generations; (c) monitoring systems for cultural and natural resources; (d) conservation assessments giving particular attention to long-term consequences; (e) measures to ensure use of renewable resources and ecological systems on a sustainable basis; (f) commitment to scientific and technical research to advance the purposes set out above and (g) programmes of education and learning at all social levels and age groups especially the young generations. It is particularly important to give attention to the proper functioning and maintenance of facilities and services. It is crucial not only to establish services and facilities for conserving natural and cultural resources but also to take appropriate measures for maintaining them.

National institutions and decision-makers and international organizations concerned with the conservation and development of natural resources and cultural systems should be encouraged to integrate as a matter of course the intergenerational perspective in their activities and in the elaboration of international principles and agreements respecting our common heritage.

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