Can the “Youth and Future Generations Wave” use Future Studies to Improve Global Governance and Cooperation?

Giulia Di Donato | YPFP Rising Expert for Geostrategy and Diplomacy | May 7, 2023 | Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

The G7 Summit is an international forum held annually for the leaders of the International Group of 7 member states (France, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, Italy, and Canada, in order of rotating presidency) and the European Union. At the G7 Summit, G7 leaders can exchange views on challenges faced by the international community, such as the global economy, regional affairs, and various global issues, and agree on policy objectives and commitments through the adoption of the Final Communiqué.

The G7 has also established official engagement groups to incorporate opinions from various stakeholders, such as the Business 7 (B7), the Civil Society 7 (C7), the Women 7 (W7) and the Youth 7 (Y7). Since its founding, the Y7 in particular has offered a unique opportunity for young people to make an impact on global policies and submit policy proposals to decisionmakers. Indeed, the Y7 annually meets before the G7 Leaders’ Summit to discuss policy proposals and produces an outcome document as a Y7 Communiqué, requesting that the senior summit’s eventual G7 Leaders’ Final Communiqué consider the interests and recommendations of younger generations.

This year, I had the opportunity to participate as Italian Delegate to the Y7 Summit 2023, which was organized and chaired by the Japanese Presidency in Tokyo. The main topics of this year Summit’s agenda were Economic Resilience, Digital Innovation and Transformation, Climate and Environment, Global Health and Happiness, and Peace and Security. As mentioned in the Y7 2023 Final Communiqué, the Y7 calls on G7 Leaders, among others, to transition to more equitable socio-economic models that complement gross domestic product (GDP) and commit to transformative, evidence-based, and coherent policies based on the Reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to address biodiversity loss, pollution, and climate change. Moreover, the Communiqué presents bold and actionable policy proposals, such as the endorsement of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty in alignment with the Paris Agreement or the introduction of a Universal Charter of Digital Rights by 2025 facilitating a Tech For Good approach. Apart from the practical and actionable policy recommendations, the document clearly presents political guidance and a call to action from younger generations to design long-term, future-proof, and sustainable policies.  

The communiqué reflects that youth and future generations are gaining a special momentum today. Many non-governmental organizations, movements and informal groups led by young people worldwide are involved in international conferences and events, like the Conference of Parties, or championing advocacy initiatives that demand change and ambitious actions to solve today’s most pressing challenges, like the Fridays for Future. The United Nations’ is also taking youth into greater consideration, with plans for strengthening global governance for the sake of present and coming generations prominent in the September 2021 Secretary General’s report entitled “Our Common Agenda”. The Agenda represents Secretary-General António Guterres’ vision on the future of global cooperation and calls for inclusive, networked, and effective multilateralism to better respond to humanity’s most pressing challenges.

As a concrete step forward along this path, the Agenda announced a planned Summit of the Future to be held in September 2024, as agreed by the UN General Assembly. The Summit will be an opportunity to discuss and enhance cooperation on critical global challenges, address gaps in global governance and strengthen the multilateral system, and reaffirm existing commitments to the Sustainable Development Goals and the UN Charter. As a concrete milestone, the Summit will define an action-oriented Pact for the Future endorsed by heads of state and governments showcasing global solidarity and commitment to helping current and future generations.

Even though decisionmakers at various levels recognize that engaging youth and understanding the vision and the requests of young generations is crucial to ensure sustainable policies, fragmented and ad hoc initiatives and events focused on youth engagement and empowerment are not sufficient. Instead, we need transformative and structural changes in our global and local governance and a shift towards a long-term approach.

In this context, the well-established academic discipline of future studies and the practice of strategic foresight, though less well-known (or applied) in policy circles, could help future-proof public governance. According to the World Futures Studies Federation, “futures studies is an art and a science with a strong emphasis on imagination and creativity in creating different possible futures, the systematic study of possible, probable and preferable futures including the worldviews and myths that underlie each future.” Applying insights from future studies will be key to ensuring policy frameworks, policy-making processes, and public bodies that embed and are dedicated to strategic foresight can contribute to the improvement of global governance and the achievement of a peaceful and prosperous international order. Indeed, while both future studies and strategic foresight share an interest in the future, strategic foresight is more focused on using foresight to create actionable strategies, while future studies is more focused on exploring and imagining the possibilities of the future.

Thus, strategic foresight can be a valuable tool for helping policymakers anticipate and prepare for future challenges and opportunities and incorporate youth perspectives. First, it can help global governance actors anticipate emerging challenges and opportunities, including political, economic, social, and environmental trends, leading to proactive measures to tackle potential threats. Strategic foresight can also support policy makers in developing more resilient and adaptable policies and institutions that are better equipped to address unexpected events and future uncertainties, preventing conflicts and promoting more stable and peaceful international relations.

Moreover, by promoting a shared understanding of future trends and challenges, strategic foresight can help foster greater cooperation and collaboration among diverse stakeholders, building trust and promoting more effective multilateralism, the two most critical ingredients for a peaceful and stable international order. Finally, strategic foresight can inspire innovative and creative solutions to global challenges, by encouraging global governance actors to think beyond the status quo and explore new and unconventional approaches. In the same way, adopting strategic foresight methodologies and tools can lead to more inclusive and participatory decision-making processes, engaging a wide range of stakeholders (not only youth) in the exploration of possible futures and the development of policy responses. All these aspects of strategic foresight tools can create new opportunities for cooperation, build legitimacy and ownership over policies, and ensure more resilient and sustainable global governance institutions.

Young people are key stakeholders in imagining and designing the collective vision for the future we want for the humankind and the planet. However, involving younger generations in conversations is not enough; their forward-looking interests, long-term solutions, and innovative recommendations must be structurally embedded into current policy-making models and global governance mechanisms. By anticipating potential futures, beginning with the requests and the interests of the youngest generations, policymakers at local, national, and global level can improve their ability to provide effective and sustainable responses for today’s most pressing issues and build a more secure, resilient, and prosperous world for all.

Giulia Di Donato is YPFP’s Rising Expert on Geostrategy and Diplomacy. She is an incoming UN/DESA Fellow and Policy Officer at UNDP Vietnam. Previously, she also worked as Economic Advisor to the Italian Minister for Sustainable Infrastructure and Mobility. She is the Co-founder of Officine Italia, an Association with the mission of activating and training tomorrow’s decisionmakers to catalyze a positive change of Italy’s outlook.