Institutional Proxy Representatives of Future Generations: A Comparative Analysis of Types and Design Features

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Future generations will be strongly affected by political decisions made today (e.g., by the long-term consequences of climate change). According to the democratic all-affected principle, the interests of everyone affected by political decisions should be considered in the political decision-making process. Future generations cannot influence democratic decision-making, since they do not yet exist. Election-based democratic incentive systems are said to make it difficult to consider the needs of future generations today. Surprisingly, however, since the early 1990s, an increasing number of democracies have established what could be called institutional proxy representatives of future generations (proxies), i.e., public bodies with institutionalized access to government and/or parliament that introduce the construed interests of future generations into the political decision-making process. Proxies help to consider future generations’ interests alongside the interests of current constituencies. After concept building, this comparative study searches all liberal democracies and identifies 25 proxies, with heterogeneous institutional designs. By employing membership criteria, three types are distinguished: (a) expertise-driven independent guardians (type I), (b) political or administrative advisory and coordination bodies (type II), and (c) sustainability stakeholder councils or committees (type III). They vary considerably in their formal capacity to influence political decision-making (i.e., on what legal basis they were provided with what instruments to address which phases of the policy process and which branches of government). Overall, they should not be overburdened with expectations. While they are usually equipped with the tools to voice the (construed) interests of future generations, they often lack the capacity to act as watchdogs with teeth when ignored.

Original languageEnglish
Article number7745
JournalPolitics and Governance
Pages (from-to)1-21
Number of pages21
Publication statusPublished - 08.03.2024

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Former versions of this article were presented at the ECPR General Conferences in Innsbruck (2022) and Prague (2023). I thank all panel chairs and participants, as well as the editors of this thematic issue and three anonymous reviewers, for their valuable feedback. I acknowledge support from the German Research Foundation (DFG).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 by the author(s), licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY).

    Research areas

  • Politics - democracy, political representation
  • Sustainability Governance - all‐affected principle, future generations, institutions, intergenerational justice, sustainability governance, sustainable development