Do future generations have rights? This question, on which the courts are called upon to examine almost everywhere in the world, is at the heart of the discussions of the first International Summit of Eco-citizenship, which is being held in Montreal until this Friday, against the background of fires of forest.
Organized by the Jasmin Roy Sophie Desmarais Foundation, with the support of UNESCO, the two-day event brings together 90 speakers at the Palais des Congrès in Montreal, including lawyer and activist Erin Brockovich1, Canada’s Ambassador to the UN Bob Rae and former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
Also on site, young people concerned about their future and that of the people who will come after them. “It’s hard to imagine that there are going to be future generations with everything that’s going on right now,” said Manuel Sauvé Chevalier, who attends Lionel-Groulx College.
With Anaïs Gousse and Yuna Godefroid, he participated in the summit to present After Us, a documentary broadcast on Unis TV which exposes the thoughts and climate actions of young people aged 13 to 21. Faced with the prospect of a future darkened by climate change and the loss of biodiversity, they believe that their rights and those of future generations are being harmed.
Starting with the right to life, cited in the first article of the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. “It is illogical that this right is violated by leaving a legacy to future generations, to my generation, which is that of a planet which is increasingly devastated”, argues Manuel.
In front of their mothers, who accompanied them to the summit, they affirm that they do not blame past generations. “I don’t think it’s the fault of any particular generation. It’s more against the government and the decisions that have been made,” says 15-year-old Yuna, who would like to see the right to vote lowered to 16 so that she can soon make her voice heard, outside of the protests at which she participate.
This fight is also taking place in courts around the world. In the Philippines 30 years ago and more recently in Germany, courts recognized rights to future generations in environmental actions. But the path is tortuous. Last year in Canada, the Supreme Court refused to hear the organization Environnement Jeunesse, which wanted to bring a class action against the government of Justin Trudeau, accusing it of inaction in the fight against climate change.
Because it aims to protect those who are not yet born, human integrity and that of ecosystems, the rights of future generations require a paradigm shift. “The law as it is currently thought out and implemented is becoming insufficient,” says jurist Émilie Gaillard, lecturer at Sciences Po Rennes and specialist in the law of future generations.
Faced with the climate emergency, the law can no longer be invited a posteriori, she continues. “If the disaster has come true, it’s too late. “The fact that a generation does not yet exist should not be an obstacle to the recognition of its fundamental rights such as the right to life, the right to health and the right to be born without being contaminated, believes the one who trains judges and lawyers and accompanies human rights defenders.
“Last week, we adopted a right to a healthy environment in Canada, in our federal legislation, recalled during a panel Sabaa Khan, director general for Quebec and the Atlantic of the David Suzuki Foundation. How do you ensure a right to a healthy environment for a country that is burning right now? Governments must be forced to rethink how to implement this right. »
Taken into account in certain international treaties, the rights of future generations will soon be examined by the International Court of Justice, which, at the request of the United Nations General Assembly, will have to render an advisory opinion on the obligations of States in terms of climate protection for present and future generations. The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights have also been seized of similar issues.
Anaïs Gousse would like to see governments listen more attentively to the voices of young people: “Since they act for their voters, [leaders] think about in four years, how they will be re-elected, not in seven generations. In Wales, a Commissioner for Future Generations is addressing this short-term view by ensuring that public authorities consider the long-term impact of their decisions.
This concept of seven generations comes from Aboriginal culture. “The idea that any important decision should be taken into account the impact it might have on the next seven generations is one of the few principles that is almost universal, at least in very many nations and cultures.” , exposes Alexandre Bacon, Innu of Mashteuiatsh and president of the Ashukan Institute. He will present this approach this Friday during a workshop organized as part of the summit.
This vision, influenced by nomadic and semi-nomadic lifestyles, is expressed for example when Indigenous communities negotiate with the mining and forestry industries by leading them “to demand higher environmental protections than what provincial rights would require. and federal”.
While forced sedentarization, assimilation policies and the establishment of administrative political structures such as band councils have infused communities with other logics that sometimes prevail, “it is a principle that is shared, often repeated , and applied to the extent possible in different decisions,” says Alexandre Bacon.
This Friday, the rights of future generations will again be discussed within the framework of a series of working tables, and by a panel in which the mayors Valérie Plante (Montréal), Catherine Fournier (Longueuil), Julie Bourdon (Granby) as well as as Mayor Xavier-Antoine Lalande (Saint-Colomban).