Intergenerational equity, sustainable development and Human Rights

By   May 20, 2015

The theory of intergenerational equity and sustainability is a principle that is deeply embedded in international law. Amongst others, The United Nations Charter, the Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights contain a notion of a fundamental belief in the dignity of all members of human society and in an equality of rights that extends not only in space but also in time and therefore across generations.

Looking to the major religious, cultural and legal traditions of the world, evidence of the notion of intergenerational equity is also present. For example, Islamic law regards man as having inherited “all the resources of life and nature” and having certain religious duties to God in using them. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, God gave the earth to his people and their offspring as an everlasting possession, to be cared for and passed on to each generation. This has been carried forward in both the common law and the civil law traditions. The same sentiments can be found in buddism, hinduism and many tribal cultural traditions around the world. It appears to be clear that the idea that we should aim for a the sustainability of our society and natural resources is unequivocal in terms of the great cultural traditions of the world.

Further, by no means is this support for human rights and the associated values of sustainability, intergenerational equity and human dignity limited to those that believe in some form of god. Atheism, most commonly in its Humanistic form adopts the values of human rights because in the absence of a God, human rights are a method of asserting the agency and value of human beings both individually and collectively. Human beings have both rights and responsibilities which can include the the rights of generations as yet unborn and even the rights of ancestors or at least the need to show respect for those that came before us through the notion of heritage and legacy.