Younger generations, in addition to being economically worse off than their parents, face a future of unprecedented environmental breakdown. Damaging human impacts on the environment go beyond climate breakdown to encompass most other natural systems, from soil to biodiversity. These impacts have reached a critical level, driving a complex process of overall environmental breakdown that threatens social and economic stability. Younger and future generations will disproportionately bear the burden of having to rapidly transform economic systems in order to decelerate environmental breakdown while withstanding its increasingly destabilising consequences. This is an unprecedented challenge. Leaders in older generations are failing to act and so younger and future generations face a toxic inheritance: a future of compounding environmental breakdown and destabilisation.
In response, many young people are already leading the discussion on the threats of environmental breakdown and the need for action. This leadership should be better recognised, including through formal representation of the interests of younger and future generations in decision-making systems. Using the UK as a case study, we recommend that the government adopt a Future Generations Act that protects the interests of future generations and their right to a stable environment throughout policymaking. The voice of current younger generations should be formalised by enfranchising 16- and 17-year olds, alongside reducing the discount rate – a financial tool that affects the attractiveness of different projects in which governments and businesses consider investment. These measures should form part of accelerated action by government to respond to environmental breakdown and to help younger and future generations realise a more sustainable, just and prepared world.
This discussion paper explores the unprecedented challenge imposed by environmental breakdown on younger and future generations – both those who do not currently have significant decision-making power in society and those yet to be born. It shows how younger generations will disproportionately bear the burden of having to rapidly transform economic systems in order to decelerate environmental degradation while withstanding its increasingly destabilising consequences; an unprecedented challenge. Younger and future generations are set to receive a toxic inheritance: a future of compounding environmental breakdown and socioeconomic destabilisation. This paper concludes by exploring a number of major policies that should be enacted now to protect the inheritance of younger and future generations and support them in responding to a future dominated by environmental breakdown.