The Rights of Future Generations

Vermont Law School, a burgeoning hub of commons-oriented legal thinking, has released a major report that should be of interest to natural-resource commoners. Recalibrating the Law of Humans with the Laws of Nature: Climate Change, Human Rights, and Intergenerational Justice explores a new frontier in law: the rights of future generations to inherit a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment.

This concept has its most obvious and timely application in dealing with climate change. The report identifies three core obligations that each generation has to the next:

* Ensuring that future generations have the ability to make choices about how

* Passing on a world that has not been damaged by our actions, and a related

* A right of equal access to public resources, both to our neighbors today and

These principles amount to an Intergenerational Golden Rule: When making decisions about our world, we should do unto our children as we wish our parents had done unto us.

The Climate Legacy Initiative report was written and edited by Burns H. Weston of the University of Iowa and Tracy Bach of Vermont Law School. It consists of sixteen legislative, regulatory and judicial proposals and a number of essays that elaborate on the proposals. Among the recommendations:

—That states adopt constitutional amendments implementing environmental rights for future generations and to pass state laws to enforce them.

—That Congress enact a National Environmental Legacy Act that would define in concrete terms the environmental legacy that should be left to future generations and providing a mechanism to ensure it.

—That Congress and state legislatures create “Environmental Stakeholder Trusts” such as “sky trusts” to safeguard and make clear the shared ownership of our environmental commons.

—That governments institute cap-and-trade regulatory strategies.

—That governments establish offices of “legal guardians” to act on behalf of the ecological rights and interest of future generations.

—That the United Nations General Assembly adopt a declaration formally recognizing the atmosphere as a global “commons” shared by present and future generations.

Professor Weston said the Climate Legacy Initiative will spend the coming months discussing their policy proposals with public policy organizations, think tanks, citizens groups, scholars, political and government leaders, faith-based organizations and others. The full CLI report can be downloaded here as a pdf file.

One essay that may be of special interest to commoners was written to support Recommendation No. 1, Define and Develop a Law of the Commons for Present and Future Generations. (Click on Recommendation No. 1. under Appendix B.) The essay was co-authored by Carolyn Raffensperger, Burns H. Westen and David Bollier.