What citizens and policy makers think
The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation has conducted a broad diagnostic analysis in order to understand the perceptions and opinions of Portuguese policy makers and citizens, as well as what is being written in the press, regarding Intergenerational Justice.
Parliamentary speeches made between 1974 and 2017 were analysed to find references to future generations and to intergenerational fairness. We also asked Portuguese Members of Parliament for their assessment of this issue’s presence in the public debate.
97% of the parliamentary speeches on the Environment do not explicitly mention future generations.
This means that the impact of phenomena such as climate change, soil depletion and sea pollution has yet to be debated.
Similarly, 97% of parliamentary speeches on the Public Debt make no mention of future generations.
This is surprising given that these generations will be called upon to pay the debt in the future.
Lastly, 98% of the parliamentary speeches on Social Security do not refer to the future generations.
Yet again, this is an intriguing result as any concerns about the pension system’s future beneficiaries are almost entirely excluded from the debate.
89% of MPs consider that the part played by intergenerational justice in the public debate is very limited.
This response is coherent with the lack of references to the future generations in the debates on the environment, public debt and pensions.
72% of MPs feel that few resources are being transferred to future generations.
This is an interesting result because it shows that there is room for consensus on a more equitable distribution of resources between present and future generations.
Portuguese MPs were asked to comment on different proposals for public policies designed to protect the well-being of future generations.
Many of the policy makers interviewed think that intergenerational fairness should be understood in terms of reciprocity: of the older to the younger generations and vice versa. For example, an interviewee from CDS-PP observes that an intergenerationally fair society is one where “every generation contributes proportionally towards a common goal”.
For almost all the interviewees, the main explanation for the incapacity to act is the absence of political incentives to do so. As one interviewee explained: “Nobody wins elections talking about demography, nobody wins elections talking about the interior of the country (…) there must be broad consensus. (…)”. This interviewee cites Reagan who said: “governments do not govern for the future generations, they govern for the next elections”.
The interviewees almost unanimously highlight the need for more studies on the concrete problems associated with intergenerational fairness and, above all, on the need to raise public awareness. This would allow civil society to organise, lobby and therefore motivate parties to put sustainability issues on the agenda.
About half of the MPs defend investing in high quality kindergartens, creating better opportunities for future generations.
On the other hand, 78% of MPs are in favour of social support for families with children or the elderly in their charge, thus sharing the intergenerational burden with all society.
Neither support nor oppose
Almost no MPs were opposed to a mandatory assessment of the financial sustainability of public policies, based on social, demographic and economic projections.
A large number of MPs support the introduction of taxes on highly polluting consumer goods, such as detergents or plastic recipients, and investing this revenue in the preservation of natural resources.
Neither support nor oppose
58% of MPs advocate that measures should be taken to increase the political participation of the younger generations so as to ensure a more balanced representation of all generations.
60% of Portuguese citizens are very concerned about the well-being of future generations.
Nevertheless, more than half of Portuguese citizens think that policy makers are not doing enough for future generations.
For example, 85% of the Portuguese population believe that Social Security will not give future generations the same benefits that the generations who are now retiring receive.
The vast majority of Portuguese people believe that each generation should leave more resources to the next generations than they received from the previous generation.
Similarly, citizens think that measures should be taken to defend the well-being of future generations. Over 80% of citizens agree that limits should be set on indebtedness entailing a burden for future generations.
68% of Portuguese believe there should be a state organism specifically to defend the interests of future generations, such as an Ombudsman for Future Generations or a Secretary of State for the Future.
Press articles from three national large circulation newspapers – Público, Expresso and Correio da Manhã – were analysed to find references to intergenerational fairness.
Only 0,2% of the articles of Público, Expresso and Correio da Manhã made references to intergenerational fairness and to future generations.
These references were found mainly in articles related to the environment, education, social security and public debt.
Intergenerational fairness is linked to Future, Sustainability and Youth.
We counted the words that more frequently occur on the neighbouring of “Intergenerational” and “generations”.