ILLUSTRATION CASE: Considering long time frames

New institutions are continuously being created at local to global scales, and older institutions are adapting. The TIAL library of illustration cases will bring together short overviews of new and updated institutional options for addressing critical environmental, societal, and technological challenges. Some cases are about one or more organizations; others are about different process building blocks for achieving a particular institutional capability (such as the ability to consider long time horizons). The cases provide a quick overview of options and innovations — they seek to provoke optimism and imagination for those in the process of creating or updating institutions.


Managing long time frames is particularly relevant for institutions that focus on shaping the human response to issues that have a trajectory of decades or longer. Climate (and broader environmental) change is one of the areas where the challenge of considering long-term horizons comes up in particular. Infrastructure projects, public pension funds, technology governance, and other policy areas, however, can also have significant longer-run implications and thus benefit from long-term perspectives. 

  • embedding requirements to represent the future in the data or metrics that inform decisions and rules.

Singapore’s Centre for Strategic Futures in the Prime Minister’s Office and the United Arab Emirates Future Foresight program in the Ministry of Cabinet Affairs are two examples of the first: research teams embedded in the heart of government. Finland’s Committee of the Future in Parliament is a related model, albeit embedded in the legislative rather than the executive branch. Finland’s committee was the first, but other countries such as Chile, the Philippines, Iceland, Lithuania, Paraguay, and Uruguay also have parliamentary committees. The UK’s National Infrastructure Commission and Finland’s Future Foundation (SITRA) illustrate a third variant of the model: think tanks that also include a component of advocacy, investments, or other programming to help shape future developments. 

Financial frameworks that allow for longer-term investment, including varied discount rates and endowment rules, are an example of a process-based approach to forcing consideration of the long-term in present decision-making. The choice of the discount rate used by the United States Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) to evaluate the costs and benefits of new regulations implies a weighting of the future, for example. Other approaches are to establish institutions to assess long-term financial, fiscal, or climate impacts as part of a filter for policy and regulation. 

This note covers examples of both types of cases in four broad categories. 

CaseHow is the future represented in the present? Breadth of responses that the present can make to the future
Future Rights-CenteredOmbudsman/VoiceWide – can respond to any current issue with future implications
Collaboration for climate actionIn disclosures, research, projectionDecisions within the stated mission area
Discount rate As having recognized valueAnything that requires cost-benefit analysis to move forward into law.
Anticipatory BudgetingIn a social imagination of the future.Wide – Anything that money can be spent on

Case examples

Institutions for future generations: Human Rights

One way to combat long-termism is institutions designed to focus on the needs of future generations. Generally, these institutions consist of government appointees within new or existing government structures dedicated to representing future generations and engaging with government policy and stakeholders with future generations in mind. The Network of Institutions for Future Generations describes a series of model institutions, which include commissions, advisory councils, committees, and individual officials that focus on different policy areas that are typically affected by short-termism, such as fundamental rights or sustainable development

In Hungary, the connection between a healthy environment and a state’s responsibility to its constituents was established in 1994. Since 2012, the Ombudsman for Future Generations reports to the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights along with other ombudsmen, all of whom report directly to Parliament annually and retain other rights such as to initiate or participate in investigations related to specific complaints, petition the constitutional court, and provide input on public laws, rules, and regulations. Based on the official online presence of the Ombudsman, it appears that the majority of the office’s formal work has focused on water rights and governance. 

The Welsh Future Generations Commissioner was established in 2015 under the Well-being of Future Generations Act, and has a role grounded in monitoring and giving advice to other government institutions related to sustainable development, including in carrying out independent reviews. In comparison to the Ombudsman in Hungary, the position in Wales appears to be one more focused on advocacy and advice. However, it also appears to be more active and involved in public and international activities, including in conducting regular reviews of the Government’s implementation of the Act and planning for new institutions to fall under the Commissioner. The Act itself establishes 46 indicators for well-being, from mental and physical health to environmental to social indicators, as well as Public Services Boards at the local level of government to convene key authorities and implementers of public functions that impact well-being or sustainable development. Based on public-facing material, the emphasis of the previous Commissioner was on decarbonization, the care industry, and economic development for marginalized communities; the newly appointed Commissioner is running an open process through September 2023 to establish new priorities for the office. 

Notably, the member institutions of the Network of Institutions for Future Generations appear to all be housed within governments in the EU/Europe, Canada, or Israel. While this is largely reflective of the somewhat progressive character of these governments, it also means that many of the governments of countries that may be most impacted by climate change and missing long-term perspectives are not addressing the gap in this way. There have been proposals to establish a World Future Council and/or Special Envoy for Future Generations within the United Nations, but without any major steps in either direction so far.

Collaborative infrastructure for longer-run strategies: Climate Action

Many governments around the world have been trying to create longer-term processes and structures to help with strategies for net zero. These involve some alignment of law, structures, financing models and reporting systems. The laws include Sweden’s Climate Act 2017, which requires the government to report progress to the Riksdag (parliament) every four years. Germany’s Klimatschutzgesetz (climate protection law) passed in 2019, France’s Loi Energie et Climat in the same year, and New Zealand’s Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act 2019.  Many governments have some kind of board or cross-cutting function, such as Ireland’s Climate Action Delivery Board within the office of the Taoiseach (the prime minister) composed of permanent secretary-level officials to oversee the delivery of the detailed Climate Action Plan, which lists more than 180 actions and specific measures. 

Sometimes, an agency plays a lead role, as in Norway, where the ‘climate cure plan’ has been coordinated by the environment agency since the late 2000s, drawing on inputs from many agencies.  Governments have used ‘satellite accounts’ for many years in relation to the environment but not fully integrated net zero into budget allocations, though there are attempts, such as in Finland, where the Finance Ministry has to report on progress towards net zero. Other types of funding bodies can also play critical roles. The European Investment Bank (EIB) is key now to providing capital across Europe; at a national level, funders like Germany’s state investment bank KfW can take the lead on funding solar, other renewables and energy efficiency programmes.   

Many governments now have comprehensive systems for reporting progress against targets.  Some have taken this kind of embedding further. Since 2019, New Zealand has required all policy proposals for Cabinet to have a climate impact policy assessment. In relation to structures, the UK is an interesting example of both progress and backward steps. In the late 2000s, it was one of the first countries to create a comprehensive machinery in government, including the 2008 Climate Change Act, with legally binding targets, a Department of Energy and Climate Change, and a Climate Change Committee (CCC) to monitor progress. Later, it also developed plans for a Green Investment Bank. However, all of these (except the CCC) were later dismantled.

Discount Rates: Policy-Centered

Another method to combat short-termism, long familiar to economists and policy analysts, is the application of a discount rate when assessing the costs and benefits of a proposed policy. While discount rates as a concept can be considered a social construct that is set and changed by political, social, or other factors, in some policy settings, they can have a tangible impact on rulemaking and cost-benefit analyses.

For example, the US Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) reviews and approves rules proposed by the Executive Branch agencies, many of which cover environmental standards. The current OIRA Administrator has been using a discount rate to evaluate proposed rules that have proven controversial due to their lower weight on possible losses to current business. Historically, these have been calculated and considered such that environmental regulations are weakened to prevent damage to the contemporary economy. Under the current Administrator, OIRA has returned to using a discount rate last updated 20 years ago (in 2003). This rate uses the average interest rate on US Government bonds over the last 30 years to estimate the discount for future benefits. The result is decidedly progressive in its consideration of future benefits, and the Administrator has also discussed proposing a discount rate varying by communities’ socio-economic status, which also has a bearing on the impact of environmental deterioration for more vulnerable communities. 

Anticipatory Public Budgeting: Policy-Centered

Anticipatory Public Budgeting (APB) describes the idea that governments should be using their regular budgeting processes to anticipate and manage the impacts of time on their budget — the root of what allows a government to provide services to its constituents. While not yet holistically implemented by any one country, several governments have incorporated aspects of APB, including efforts by the UAE to plan for their centenary (a +50 year timespan), the United States Social Security Administration projecting budgets out to 75 years from present, and the UK’s Office of Budget Responsibility providing comment on long-term impacts of proposed budget decisions. Holistic APB would also include government projections for other aspects of capital, such as assets, human capital, and natural capital, as well as “knowledge assets” like data, intellectual property, and technological expertise. An intermediate approach between traditional line-item budgeting and APB is performance-based budgeting, where agencies have greater spending flexibility but are held to clear key performance indicators as a measurement of success. 

By Eva Louise Martin, with editorial inputs from Jessica Seddon and Geoff Mulgan.

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