The voice of future generations matters – The Balearic Islands have passed laws to ensure that government decisions do not have a negative impact on future generations

Tags: future generations, Spain, Wellbeing Economy
Published on June 15, 2023

Written by – Neus Casajuana, WEALL Iberia hub, Revo Prosperidad Sostenible

The Balearic Parliament has approved a very relevant Legislative People’s Initiative and it could have an enormously positive effect on society, the environment and on Balearic politics if it is applied correctly. It’s called the  law for the Wellbeing of Present and Future Generations, and aims to make compulsory assessments of each policy and it’s potential impact, positive or negative on the ecological, economic and social wellbeing of present and future generations in political decision-making processes. This law will apply to new regulations, plans, strategies or investments.

Although it is surprising, the assessment of the impacts of public policies is not usually carried out in a generalised manner and in the cases in which an analysis of this type is conducted such as a cost-benefit analysis, to evaluate the opportunity of an investment with public money, or to assess priorities when money does not reach all needs, it is often not always possible to assess the impact of public policies. It often happens that in these analyses, the impact on the economic sector outweigh the impacts on other sectors that are more difficult to assess, either because they are difficult to measure in monetary units, or when the impact on people’s well-being must be assessed with an important subjective component (e.g. the impact of noise due to traffic) or because, due to the complexity of calculation or the lack of knowledge of the long-term consequences, these impacts are not sufficiently valued correctly. This is the case, for example, in the environmental and climate field. The result of these shortcomings is obvious. The climate crisis and the loss of diversity, that are putting our very survival at stake, are due to this failure to study and anticipate the negative impacts of human activity and the policies that drive them.

The fact that the assessment of impacts is complicated does not exempt the need for their determination. In fact, there are some countries that have been applying this mandatory assessment of public policies for some time. Some already have considerable experience in assessing subjective or qualitative impacts because they have been researching and collecting information on these issues for years. The best-known example is that of New Zealand, which already dares to carry out state “welbeing budgets” according to these criteria for assessing the expected impacts of the actions of the different ministries.

Other countries that are not so advanced in these calculations to be able to translate qualitative and subjective impacts of all kinds into a numerical value, opt for a qualitative assessment. The simplest is the compilation of the expected positive or negative impacts of each ministry’s actions on the rest of the ministries in the social, personal, environmental, economic, health, etc. The mere fact of taking these impacts into account already helps to assess which actions will be more beneficial to society as a whole and which will not. Canada is one such country where policy evaluation is applied in this way. But it is not the only one. I am sure many will have heard of the Happiness Index calculated by a country as remote as Bhutan. They also apply their qualitative table of impacts of sectoral policies on the happiness of their population.

Finally, I would like to talk about the case of Wales, which in 2015 passed the Well-being of Future Generations Act, creating the figure of the Future Generations Commissioner, a body that ensures that government policy decisions do not have a negative impact on the well-being of future generations, in a similar way to the Balearic law. Given that this Welsh rule is now several years old, it is beginning to be known whether it has had any significant results. One of the examples we already know about the application of this law is that the government decided not to build a planned road axis, because the negative impacts outweighed the positive ones. Surely the decision was controversial, but if we want to face the climate emergency and the environmental crisis, we should expect more difficult and controversial decisions in our country as well. Just imagine how to evaluate some political proposals such as the expansion of the Barcelona airport, or some highways and other investments linked to fossil fuels. The benefits they would bring in the work and business sectors are always loudly defended, but criticism of the negative impacts on diversity and, above all, on the climate that already affects us, is almost silenced.

It is not surprising that a community as strained by tourism pressure as the Balearic Islands is the first to approve the obligation to assess the impacts of political decisions. We hope that other communities will also take the same path and that soon there will also be a law in in Spain that will protect not only us but also the generations who do not yet have a voice, but who will suffer the consequences from the bad decisions of governments.

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