The Oxford Martin Commission for Future Generations

The University of Oxford published a report in October Now for the Long Term that presents the recommendations of The Oxford Martin Commission for Future Generations. This Commission, comprised of nineteen distinguished intellectuals, eminent academics, and world thought-leaders in economics and politics, produced a report to address the long-term challenges facing the world today. The report focuses on the essential need to address these challenges that will shape the world of future generations. The report identifies seven megatrends that are driving long-term change, namely, demographics, mobility, society, geopolitics, sustainability, health, and technology. The Commission’s proposals for action are detailed in the report that is comprised of three parts. The first, Possible Futures, identifies the key drivers of change and considers how to address the challenges. Next, in Responsible Futures, the Commission draws inspiration from situations where impediments to action have been overcome, and from lessons learned where progress has stalled. The third part, Practical Futures, sets out principles for action and offers recommendations for building a resilient and sustainable future for all.

The Commission’s report explores five key questions: (i) How can growth and development be made more sustainable and inclusive? (ii) How can food, energy, water, and biodiversity be made more secure? (iii) How can public health infrastructure respond to the needs of all? (iv) How can economic and political power transitions provide a basis for collaboration? (v) How can business institutions and governments contribute to more inclusive and sustainable growth? Possible responses to these challenges include new targets on growth and employment, and a focus on youth workers and flexible workplaces. The management of scarce and secure resources, and measures to counteract climate change, are of particular importance according to the Commission. Goals to reduce non-communicable diseases, remedy deficiencies 2013in public health systems, implement best practices, and partner with the pharmaceutical industry are specified. Countries are advised to identify shared interests, modernize institutions and develop cybersecurity capacity in response to structural transitions in international politics. Better governance will aid in this quest, particularly if technology is used creatively, indicators are improved, and business invests for the long term.

The Commission examines historical drivers of transformative change, such as the incidence of various crises, shared interests, leadership, inclusion, and the role of institutions, networks and partnerships. Campaigns to protect the ozone layer, reduce tobacco use, establish the European Single Market and implement the Millennium Development Goals, provide examples of where disparate groups have united and made significant progress. At the other end of the spectrum, the Commission considers less successful characteristics of modern politics, including a lack of intergenerational vision and awareness, the absence of global oversight, and the influence of vested interests. Following from these insights, the Commission identifies five specific factors that make positive change difficult: (i) institutions struggling to adapt to today’s changing hyper-connected world; (ii) short-term thinking that influences political and business cycles; (iii) politics not adapting to changing circumstances to achieve political engagement and public trust; (iv) problems escalating in complexity more rapidly than they can be solved; (v) globalization amplifying cultural differences and excluding key voices.

The Commission’s proposed Agenda for the Long Term is constructed within a framework of five principles: (i) Creative Coalitions (ii) Innovative Open and Reinvigorated Institutions (iii) Re-evaluating the Future (iv) Investing in Younger Generations (v) Establishing a Common Platform of Understanding. The Commission’s recommendations include: creating a Coalition of the Working, comprising countries, cities and companies, to counteract climate change; establishing a city-based network to counter the rise of non-communicable diseases; investing in independent accountable institutions with the authority to operate across longer-term horizons; incorporating sunset clauses into publicly funded international institutions and regularly evaluating their mandates; ensuring financial systems and companies give priority to long-term stability and sustainability beyond immediate reporting cycles; removing subsidies on hydrocarbons; providing direct support to the poor, breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty through social protection measures such as conditional cash transfer programmes; investing in youth programmes to address unemployment and underemployment. One of the Commission’s recommendations to address these challenges is to establish Worldstat, a specialist global agency tasked with improving the reliability and availability of global statistics that underpin almost all key government and business decisions. In addition to Worldstat, the report recommends the creation of an index to measure long-term impact by tracking the effectiveness of countries and international organizations on longer-term issues. A further recommendation is to build upon open data initiatives such as the Open Government Platform to optimize participation and transparency.

The Commission believes that addressing today’s global challenges is hindered by the absence of a collective vision for society. To remedy this situation, the Commission urges renewed dialogue on a set of shared global values around which an enduring pathway for future of society can be built.