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The Progressive Policy Think Tank

Our children need legal guarantees of a stable natural world to save them from a ‘toxic inheritance’, says IPPR

Future Generations Act and votes at 16 would help protect young and those yet to be born from environmental disaster

Without urgent action by the current generation of political leaders, future generations will face a catastrophic ‘toxic inheritance’ of unprecedented environmental breakdown, says a report by the think tank IPPR.

Younger generations aren’t just set to be economically worse off than their parents; they face a future of unprecedented breakdown of the natural environment. This ‘toxic inheritance’ goes beyond just climate - soils are being lost, species are dying and oceans are destabilising, the report warns.

It argues that the environmental catastrophes of tomorrow result from the failures of leaders today.

Younger generations cannot live in the same way as their parents. IPPR found that for a sustainable planet, the average person born in the UK in 2050 could have to consume up to 91 per cent less resources than current generations. This puts unprecedented pressure on younger generations to create new ways of living and working - a new economic model that can deliver a high quality of life within environmental limits, realising the enormous benefits to health and wellbeing of a sustainable economy.

Politicians should heed the calls of young campaigners and take action to protect their futures, the report urges. Inheriting the Earth? The unprecedented challenge of environmental breakdown for younger generations makes the following recommendations to give the young and unborn a voice and ensure they do not inherit a catastrophically unstable natural world:

  • Future Generations Act – a formal legal recognition of the right of future generations to live in a world with a stable environment. This would change the overall culture of policymaking, requiring a focus on long-term planning and integrating the interests of future generations at all levels of decision making.
  • Votes at 16 – recognising the leadership of young people. This gives a voice to those who will face the consequences of environmental breakdown and deserve a say on their future. The unprecedented implications of environmental breakdown for younger people mean their exclusion is no longer acceptable, the report says.
  • Prevent short-termism ­– Assigning greater value to environmental projects which have long-term benefits for future generations while making public investment decisions, by lowering the “discount rate” used to calculate their benefit. This would mean their long-term benefits are more accurately captured.

The report says that the new legislation should sit alongside a Sustainable Economy Act, as recommended by a previous IPPR discussion paper, which would mandate tough new targets for a range of environmental impacts such as wildlife, soil fertility and clean air. It also calls for the government to provide greater educational materials to enable people – particularly the young – to make better-informed decisions.

Laurie Laybourn-Langton, IPPR Associate Fellow, said:

“Those who’ve just been born have contributed nothing to a problem that’ll dominate their lives. Young people who’ve been around for longer – like millennials – have little say over the economic systems that are driving environmental breakdown.

“The catastrophes of tomorrow will result from the failures of leaders today. Thankfully, younger generations are putting these leaders to shame, bravely facing up to the unfolding catastrophe and urging faster action. But they need help – we must empower and invest in them.”

Lesley Rankin, IPPR Researcher, said:

“Government should pass a future generations act, to protect the interests of those yet born, and we should give the vote to 16 and 17-year olds, so that those who’ll be impacted most can have their say over decisions made today.

“The unprecedented implications of environmental breakdown for younger people

“We need to rapidly accelerate action to build a more prepared world, while making sure that the steps we take to curtail environmental breakdown are sustainable and just.

“It’s possible to find new ways to live that are sustainable and fair, which also provide for us all – including future generations – to lead good, fulfilling and interesting lives. Younger generations can lead the way in showing how, but we need those who have already used so much of our precious resources to join them in this.”

Luke Murphy, Head of IPPR’s Environmental Justice Commission, said:

“Current and future generations face a toxic inheritance as a consequence of environmental breakdown.

“Political leaders and policymakers must recognise the duty they owe to the next and future generations.

“Crucially, they must act to protect them by giving legal recognition to their rights and by giving them a voice in our political system.”



  1. The IPPR paper, Inheriting the Earth?: The unprecedented challenge of environmental breakdown for younger generations by Laurie Laybourn-Langton, Lesley Rankin and Joshua Emden will be published at 0001 on Tuesday September 17th. It will be available for download at:
  2. A video about the report will be available to view from 0001 on Tuesday. For information on how to access this for use on other websites, please contact IPPR.
  1. The following graph from the report illustrates the extent to which current UK per capita consumption of five key environmental boundaries exceeds the sustainable global average, for a range of predicted population growth.

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  1. This is the second in a series of briefing papers following IPPR’s ground-breaking report This Is A Crisis: Facing up to the age of environmental breakdown, published in February 2019, which can be found here: That report won the 2019 Prospect award for best think tank report in Science, Health, Environment and Energy.
  1. The first briefing paper, Facing the Crisis: Rethinking economics for the age of environmental breakdown, can be found here:
  2. Neither report is the work of IPPR’s Environmental Justice Commission but will be submitted to the Commission as evidence. More on the Commission can be found here:
  3. IPPR is the UK’s pre-eminent progressive think tank. With more than 40 staff in offices in London, Manchester, Newcastle and Edinburgh, IPPR is Britain’s only national think tank with a truly national presence