Channel 4 News speaks to a man working for children yet to be born, as new research finds that 67 per cent of British people think the government plans too little for the needs of future generations.
In an opinion poll carried out by Ipsos-MORI for the newly established Intergenerational Foundation and the Foundation for Democrary and Sustainable Development, over two-thirds of almost 1,000 questioned said that the government does not consider future generations enough when making decisions today.
Almost half felt that ‘a healthy planet’ was the most important thing to hand down to those future generations – a much higher proportion that those choosing ‘a healthy economy’ (9 per cent), despite the current economic situation.
The Coalition Government claims it has adopted a ‘horizon shift’ towards long-term thinking. As our research shows, the public thinks they are failing. Halina Ward, FDSD
Halina Ward, director of the Foundation for Democracy and Sustainable Development said: “The Coalition Government claims it has adopted a ‘horizon shift’ towards long-term thinking. As our research shows, the public thinks they are failing. We need new institutions and policies to safeguard future generations, not just fine words.”
But are these utopian demands? Not if you ask Dr Sandor Fulop, who became Hungary’s first Future Generations Ombudsman (FGO) in 2008. His role as a Parliamentary Commissioner was created in the heady days after the collapse of communism to safeguard the right of hungarian citizens to a healthy environment.
Dr Fulop, who is in London to speak at a conference on Intergenerational Justice and Sustainability recognises that the global economic crisis has had a direct impact, with environmental considerations being taken less seriously.
“At first only in the case of some priority investments (highways etc), but lately in more and more types of cases, our legislation has reduced the rigour of environmental requirements,” he said.
But he is proud of the work done by his office to enshrine environmental protection within the new Hungarian constitution. “Starting from almost zero – in the first official drafts of the Constitution even the right to healthy environment was not mentioned – our proposals and lobby activity…broke through, so the Hungarian Constitution of April 2011 is dealing with the protection of the interests of future generations in a quite detailed way.”
He concedes however that some areas of public policy are harder to influence than others.
Noise pollution near airports is a case in point, Dr Fulop says. “The so-called ‘protective zone’ around the airports are actually not protecting the dwellers living in the vicinity but rather the airport itself, because the airports are exempted from keeping the noise emission standards.”
The threat posed to the environment by heavy industry was made all too clear in October 2010 when a reservoir of toxic red sludge near the Danube started leaking, engulfing houses in the neighbouring village of Kolontar. At least four people died and some 120 were injured. It was Hungary’s worst ever environmental disaster.
Dr Fulop’s report into the tragedy found at least five relevant authorities had failed to do their jobs in relation to inspections of the reservoir. Since then the government has spent a large amount of money rebuilding houses and compensating residents, but Dr Fulop warns that a large area of what was previous classified as arable land of the highest quality will probably never return to that status again.
Most of the complaints crossing Dr Fulop’s desk are about more prosaic issues such as urban sprawl, rising traffic levels and the consequent pollution
In much less traditional areas, Dr Fulop has also urged his government to be more rigorous in assessing the environmental impact of events such as the Formula 1 races at the Hungaroring, and has successfully campaigned against allowing stunt planes fly under Budapest’s 160 year old Chain Bridge during the Red Bull Air Race.
But most of the complaints crossing his desk are about more prosaic issues such as urban sprawl, rising traffic levels and the consequent pollution. His role in advising the government means that he has not only acted as an ombudsman to resolve these cases, but has also put forward proposals for changes to the law that can help make cities more liveable.
Visiting London on Universal Children’s Day, Dr Fulop is confident the idea of a Green Ombudsman can, and will, spread around the globe: “Global warming, biodiversity loss and loss of fertile soils – these are the major problems that have reached their tipping points globally. Since we are faced with a system of environmental crises, I think humankind should develop systematic solutions, too, including the creation and reinforcement of global institutions, financial means and international environmental law.”