Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act
On 29th April 2015, the Welsh government signed into law Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act. This holistic legislation aims to improve the economic, social, environmental and cultural well-being of Wales by strengthening institutional governance structures in accordance with Wales ‘Sustainable Development Framework.’ The legislation places a duty on public bodies to implement sustainable development by incorporating seven well-being goals into their work, as well as outlines the establishment of a Future Generations Commissioner and provides a range of national indicators which move beyond GDP.
The Welsh government has implemented an innovative, beyond-silo approach, to the formulation, implementation and monitoring of sustainable public policy-making, as well as its continued development. This framework is a highly transferable model that regional, national and international governments and institutions can adopt, implement and utilise in securing future justice for current and future generations.
Last update: 2021
In February 2016, Wales appointed the first Commissioner for Future Generations, Ms Sophie Howe.
Public bodies (excluding Welsh Ministers) were required to publish their first well-being objectives in April 2017.
In 2020, the Commissioner for Future Generations published The Future Generations Report 2020 and the Auditor General for Wales published the Well Being of Future Generations report. Both reports are statutory requirements established in the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act encompassing the first reporting period 2015-2020. Together, these reports describe how public bodies in Wales are applying the Act and improving well-being across Wales.
We have also published a comprehensive video concerning the importance of a UN High Commissioner for Future Generations, which you may find here.[toggle title="At a Glance" open="yes"]
- The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act is one of the most holistic pieces of sustainable legislation to be passed worldwide, with the aim of securing future justice, for the well-being of current and future generations.
- The Act identifies 7 well-being goals and five ways of working to achieve those goals in order to improve the well-being of people in Wales in accordance with the sustainable development principle.
- The Act defines the sustainable development principle as actions by public bodies which must seek to ensure that the needs of the present are met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
- The Act introduces national indicators that measure the difference being made to well-being with the aim to move beyond GDP.
- The Act establishes a statutory Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, whose role is to act as a guardian for the interests of future generations in Wales and to support the public bodies listed in the Act to work towards achieving well-being goals.
The ‘Planning (Wales) Act 2015’ was enacted for the purpose of ensuring that the development and use of land contribute to improving the economic, social, environmental and cultural well-being of Wales and allowing the planning system to support the delivery of national, local and community aspirations by creating sustainable places. [In English]
The ‘Environment (Wales) Act 2016’ puts in place a modern statutory process to sustainably manage Wales’ natural resources as well as to reduce greenhouse emissions in order to combat climate change. [In English]
The Statutory Guidance on the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 aims to assist public bodies in taking action, and communicating the contribution made to the seven well-being goals whilst also helping them identify innovative and shared solutions to some of the most pressing challenges communities face. [In English]
These pieces of legislation and policies work in a synchronised manner to ensure that all Welsh authorities have the required understanding of what their communities need, the natural resources at their disposal and the local public bodies in place to fulfill Wales’ sustainable development objectives.
On 29th April 2015, the Welsh government signed into law the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act. Based on 7 thematic well-being goals, this holistic legislation seeks to integrate the shared vision of ‘Wales We Want’ within a multi-dimensional framework, aiming to tackle the complex challenge of intergenerational justice via the creation of non-silo, cross-institutional synergies. To do this, the legislation strengthens institutional governance structures by establishing local public bodies that are mandated to improve the economic, social, environmental and cultural well-being of Wales.
The Act also establishes a Future Generations Commissioner to act as an ombudsperson for future generations. Due to the independent nature of the role, the Commissioner operates as a guardian for future justice, and provides ongoing operational support for local public bodies. This support ranges from advice, recommendations, and research commissions as well as carrying out reviews. The Commissioner’s role is supported by an expert advisory panel which includes other Welsh Commissioners, the Chief Medical Officer for Wales, a representative of ‘Natural Resources Wales, and Welsh business.
In order to assess progress, the Act mandates Welsh Ministers to create an ongoing set of new national indicators. These alternative indicators move beyond GDP towards an ongoing holistic measurement and understanding of Wales’ progression. More detailed information about the current national indicators can be found here.
The creation of the Well-being of Future Generations Act took years of formulation, preparation, and engagement from a range of stakeholders. This includes grass-roots citizenry inclusion, NGOs, academics, regional government, and other civil society actors.
In setting this precedent, the Welsh government has implemented a highly progressive and innovative non-silo approach to the formulation, implementation and monitoring, as well as continued development of sustainable public policy-making. It has, in the words of the Act, been designed to make public bodies think more about the long term, work better with people and communities and each other, look to prevent problems and take a more joined-up approach.
Our “Best Policies” are those which meet the Future-Just Lawmaking Principles and recognise that interrelated challenges require interconnected solutions. The World Future Council’s unique research and analysis ensure that important universal standards of sustainability and equity, human rights and freedoms, and respect for the environment are coherently considered by policy-makers.
Sustainable use of natural resources
- The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act, works in coordination with both the Environment (Wales) Act and Planning (Wales) Act, in promoting the sustainable use, management and development of Welsh natural resources.
- The Act, under Part 2, ‘Improving Well-Being‘, Section (4), provisions the Welsh government’s public bodies to create the optimal conditions for a – ‘Prosperous Wales: An innovative, productive and low carbon society which recognises the limits of the global environment and therefore uses resources efficiently and proportionately’.
- The Act also requires the government agency ‘Natural Resources Wales’ (NRW) to report on the country’s natural resources and detail their ability to respond to pressures and adapt to climate change. Other public bodies, including councils, will be under a duty to provide information and help to NRW in drafting this report.
Equity and poverty eradication
- One of the major objectives of the Act under Part 2, ‘Improving Well-Being’, Section (4), – ‘is for greater equality within Wales, ‘a society that enables people to fulfil their potential no matter what their background or circumstances (including their socio-economic background and circumstances).’
- One of the Act’s major objectives under Part 2, ‘Improving Well-Being’, Section (4),– requires public service boards (PSBs) to – ‘improve the well-being of their area by contributing to the well-being goals, which they are to do by assessing well-being in their area, setting local objectives designed to maximise the board’s contribution (within its area) to the achievement of the well-being goals and taking steps to meet those objectives.’
- The Act, under Part 2, ‘Improving Well-Being’, Section (4), provisions for – ‘A resilient Wales: A nation which maintains and enhances a biodiverse natural environment with healthy functioning ecosystems that support social, economic and ecological resilience and the capacity to adapt to change, Again, the Act, under Part 2, ‘Improving Well-Being’, Section (4), provisions for – ‘A healthier Wales: A society in which people’s physical and mental well-being is maximised and in which choices and behaviours that benefit future health are understood.’
Public participation, access to information and justice
- The Act, under Part 2, ‘Improving Well-Being’, Section (11), establishes that Welsh Ministers must publish reports on future trends in the well-being of Wales, not only allowing for the development and implementation of progressive public policy but also allows public information and participation throughout the ongoing process towards the aimed objectives of sustainability.
- The Act under Part 2, ‘Improving Well-Being’, requires public bodies to report annually on their progress towards meeting their well-being objectives’ and also requires the Auditor General for Wales to carry out examinations into the extent to which public bodies set objectives and take steps to meet them in accordance with the sustainable development principle.
Good governance and human security
- The Act under Part 2, ‘Improving Well-Being’, Section (10) requires indicators that measure progress towards achieving the well-being goals, allowing for a greater understanding of Wales’ progress rather than those restricted by the traditional confines of standard GDP socio-economic ‘growth’ patterns.
- The Act, under Part 3, ‘The Future Generations Commissioner for Wales’, establishes the office of Future Generations Commissioner for Wales and requires the Commissioner to promote the needs of future generations by monitoring and reporting on the extent to which the public bodies are setting and seeking to meet their well-being objectives in accordance with the sustainable development principle. It also provides for the Commissioner to carry out reviews of public bodies enabling the Commissioner to act as an ombudsperson for the well-being of current and future generations. an establishes a panel of advisers to the Commissioner.
Integration and interrelationship
- One of the major principles of the Act under Part 2, ‘Improving Well-Being‘, Section (4), is the vision of – ‘A globally responsible Wales: A nation which, when doing anything to improve the economic, social, environmental and cultural well-being of Wales, takes account of whether doing such a thing may make a positive contribution to global well-being,’ fundamentally demonstrating the holistic nature of the legislation.
Common but differentiated responsibilities
- Establishing a Commissioner for Future Generations with a mandate to speak up for those without a voice today recognises that present generations have certain obligations to those who will have to deal with the consequences of the decisions taken.
The development of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act has been part of a long, ongoing series of processes and multi-level consultations, which have drawn on years of previous experience as well as new proposals, with the aim of bringing sustainable development to the core of Wale’s public policy-making.
Previously, under the Welsh government Act of 2006, Welsh Ministers were subject to a duty to formulate a sustainable development agenda. However, while Wales has been a pioneer in the promotion of sustainable development, evidence from bodies such as the Wales Audit Office and Sustainable Development Commission, highlighted many weaknesses where – ‘Sustainable development has often been one in a number of competing priorities and that many of barriers to sustainability could be minimised by strong governance arrangements and effective mechanisms for delivery, reporting and learning.’
Following these findings, in 2009, the Welsh government initiated the national scheme ‘One Wales: One Planet’, to continue, via the creation of an annual report, the adoption of a new vision for the progression of Wales’ commitment to sustainable development.
In the spring of 2011, the UK’s Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) closed following the decision by the UK government to withdraw its funding. In response, the Welsh Minister for the Environment, Sustainability and Housing announced the appointment of a new Commissioner for Sustainable Futures: ‘This appointment reflects how seriously we take our duty to Sustainable Development, and is proof of our commitment to do all we can to make Wales a truly sustainable nation.’ (Ms Jane Davidson, Welsh Minister for the Environment, Sustainability and Housing , March 2011).
Peter Davies (formerly the (SDC) Wales Commissioner) began his new role as Commissioner for Wales’ Sustainable Futures. In his role as Commissioner, Peter Davies played an integral role in moving forward Wales’ sustainable development agenda and began a series of national consultations and conversations towards the drafting of a new ‘Sustainable Development Bill’, that would supersede the Wales Act (2006), towards the creation of a greater integrated, more holistic approach to Wales’ sustainable development legislation.
In 2012, the Welsh government began consulting on the Sustainable Development Bill – White Paper – Better Choices for a Better Future. The White Paper sets out the Welsh government’s proposals to introduce legislation to make sustainable development the central organising principle of the government and public service organisations in Wales and to create an independent sustainable development body for Wales.
As a result of this White Paper, on 18 February 2014, the ‘Wales We Want’ conversation was initiated as a pilot exercise by the Welsh government. The primary purpose of this exercise was to continue, via the conclusion of a year-long set of conversations with individuals, groups, organisations and communities across Wales, the development of the Sustainable Development bill, now given the working title of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Bill.
The Act focuses on a variety of intergenerational challenges including climate change, poverty, an aging population, and health inequalities, as well as the opportunities available that require collaborative approaches and integrated solutions translated at an individual and community level.
To tackle those challenges, the Act provides for better decision-making by ensuring that public bodies take account of the long-term, help to prevent problems occurring or getting worse, take an integrated and collaborative approach, and consider and involve people of all ages (The 5-ways of working).
The ultimate objective of the Act is to achieve the 7 well-being goals: Prosperous, resilient, healthier, more equal, cohesive communities, culturally vibrant with a thriving Welsh language, and globally responsible Wales. These must be achieved through sustainable development which is defined as the process of improving the economic, social, environmental, and cultural well-being of Wales. Therefore, sustainable development is a way of doing things rather than an end in itself and must be considered by public bodies as the core principle that guides how they operate.
Under the Act, public bodies are required to maximise their contribution to achieving each of the well-being goals through the setting of well-being objectives. It is worth clarifying that there is no single public body that is accountable for the achievement of all the goals. It is rather about collective accountability of each public body’s (and public services boards) contribution to the achievement of the goals.
The Act creates, under Part 4, ‘Public Service Boards’, Public Services Boards (PSBs) for each local authority area within Wales. Each of these PSBs is mandated to improve the economic, social, environmental, and cultural well-being of Wales in accordance with the ‘Sustainable Development Principle’. The PSBs must include the local authority; the local Health Board of the local authority; Welsh Fire and Rescue authority of the local authority; and Natural Resources Body for Wales.
Each PSB must also invite Welsh Ministers, Probation Services, Civil Society, and the Police as ‘invited participants’. Each PSB must publish a document setting out local objectives that contribute to achieve the well-being goals and the steps it proposes to take to meet them in a ‘Local Well-being Plan.’ Every year a mandatory annual progress report of the plan and the advance made helps ensure that not only gains are made towards meeting the objectives at the local level, but also that the wider vision of the well-being goals is fulfilled.
Additionally, the Act requires under Part 2, Improving Well-Being existing public bodies to carry out sustainable development by setting and publishing well-being objectives designed to maximise their contribution to achieving each of the well-being goals and taking all reasonable steps to meet those objectives. Public bodies must also publish annual reports of the progress they have made in meeting their well-being objectives. During the preparation of a report, a public body must review its well-being objectives and if it determines that one or more of its well-being objectives are no longer appropriate, it must revise and publish them as soon as practicable.
To strengthen the assessments carried out by PSBs and public bodies the Act establishes, under Part 3, The Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, a ‘Future Generations Commissioner’ who operates as an ombudsperson in order to safeguard the interests of future generations, as well as support the public bodies. This support can range from advice, recommendations, and research commissions as well as carrying out reviews. The role as a guardian for future generations is supported by an expert advisory panel which includes other Wales Commissioners, the Chief Medical Officer for Wales, a representative of Natural Resources Body for Wales, and Welsh businesses. The Act also requires the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales to prepare and publish a report (Future Generations Report) containing the Commissioner’s assessment of the improvements public bodies should make in order to set and meet well-being objectives in accordance with the sustainable development principle.
To assess whether overall progress has been made towards the achievement of the well-being goals, the Act mandates under Part 2, Section 10, ‘National indicators and annual well-being report’ Welsh Ministers with the creation of a new set of national indicators which move beyond GDP. They must also set milestones in relation to the national indicators which assist in measuring whether progress is being made towards the achievement of the well-being goals. The Act requires Ministers, under the same section, to publish, in respect of each financial year, an annual well-being report on the progress made towards the achievement of the well-being goals by reference to the national indicators and milestones
The national indicators are also used by the PSBs to analyse the state of economic, social, environmental and cultural well-being in their areas and by public bodies to understand further the nature of the change expected in achieving the well-being goals, as well as by the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales who takes them into account when preparing the ‘Future Generations Report’.
Also, under Part 2, Section 11, ’Future trends report’, Welsh Ministers must publish a future trends report that contains predictions of likely future trends in the economic, social, environmental and cultural well-being of Wales.
Even though only a few years have passed since the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act was enacted, it is already possible to see some positive changes it has brought about. In particular, the publication of the Future Generations Report 2020 (FGC Report) by the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales and the Well-Being Future Generations report (Audit Report) by the Auditor General for Wales give us a better understanding of how public bodies have implemented the Act in the past years and what improvements still need to be made.
The FGC Report showcases a large variety of specific examples of positive actions carried out by local public bodies since the introduction of the Act. To name a few: developing of a solar farm on council-owned land, taking a collaborative approach to focusing services and regeneration in high areas of deprivation, and developing a project involving several public bodies and the wider community to prevent wildfires and habitat loss and reduce resources spent used on fire fighting. Another relevant example is that Welsh Government has developed the Budget Improvement Plan in order to improve the budget process so they more in line with the Act. Additionally, it showed progress in investing in decarbonisation in their budget for 2020-2021 particularly in relation to investment in sustainable travel and nature-based solutions.
A more general achievement highlighted by the FGC Report is the Economic Contract, part of the Welsh Government’s Economic Action plan, which requires businesses tendering for government contracts to demonstrate their commitment to several of the well-being goals of the Act, such as decarbonisation, fair work, employee health and skills.
Interestingly, the Act has also impacted the private sector as businesses are increasingly recognising that their bottom line will be affected if they do not embrace sustainability. For example, B Corps are an alternative business model which requires firms to demonstrate a commitment to people and the planet, as well as profit. A stand-out feature is that prospective members have to rewrite their articles of association to balance purpose and profit, bringing legal accountability to their commitment.
A great initiative, that could make a significant contribution to the meeting of the goal of a resilient Wales, is the Welsh Government’s ‘Sustainable farming and our land’ proposal. Its overall objective of sustainable land management would see sustainable farms produce both food and public goods in a system enhancing the environment, creating new habitats and encouraging wildlife while supporting the well-being of farmers, communities and all the people of Wales.
Another achievement since the enactment of the Act is the Transformation Fund, established as a way to fulfill the goal of ‘A Healthier Wales’, to fund new models of health and social care. Some of the projects funded are focused on prevention and consider some of the wider determinants of health such as financial security, education, employment, housing, ecosystems, and community facilities.
The involvement of young people in decision-making is of particularly important in order to represent the interests of future generations. Moreover, the Global Schol Climate Strikes have been an astonishing example of how young people can influence change. That is why the Commissioner considers the reduction of the voting age in Wales (to include 16- and 17-year-olds) and the establishment of the Welsh Youth Parliament in 2018, a show of commitment by the Welsh Government to give the young people of Wales a voice on issues that matter to them and responding to their concerns about Climate Change.
By analysing the progress made specifically by public bodies, the Commissioner has identified and categorised them according to how they have progressed so far:
The Planners are those organisations that have started their corporate planning and strategies and are working on their culture, delivery, and decision-making. They have set a strategic direction and are at different stages of looking at communicating this, delivering differently, and demonstrating progress differently.
The (Lone) Innovators are those organisations who have sometimes struggled to fit their corporate planning and annual reporting into well-being objectives but are thinking and delivering differently because of the Act.
The Believers and Achievers are those organisations where there are examples of innovative practices, change-makers, and champions of the Act – sometimes daring to deliver differently against a culture of ‘business as usual, other times supported by corporate centers and leaders to work in a new way.
The Overwhelmed and/or Overconfident are those organisations who see the Act as a ‘side-line to their core business or where the leadership believes their organisation has already ‘cracked’ the Act and giving further attention to their organisational culture is unnecessary.
The Commissioner also found that public bodies are at varying stages of collaboration –from talking to one another to sharing information, to working together on an informal basis when it makes sense, to equally working together at every stage of a project, to organisations being interdependent on each other showing how the Act has been driving deeper collaboration amongst some public bodies.
The Commissioner has recognised how positive it is that some public service leaders have recognised that the Act requires culture change and have set a strategic direction, the funded training, resources and specific staff posts for this purpose. It is necessary to embed the new ways of working throughout the organisation rather than having a team in the organisation who “Does the Act” on everyone’s behalf.
Additionally, the Audit Report found many examples of public bodies investing in prevention, one of the five ways of working (known as ‘the Sustainable Development Principle’) established by the Act to achieve the well-being goals, often through levering external funding and making smarter use of existing resources. Prevention tackles a variety of issues related to the protection of the well-being of people and places by building capacity, stopping problems from occurring or worsening, and using resources in a smart way.
Involvement, another of the five ways of working, helps public bodies understand what people might need and want now and in the future, how they can effectively tackle the root causes of problems, and how they can identify opportunities to deliver a broader range of benefits. The Auditor Report found many examples of public bodies seeking the views of the public and stakeholders to help inform their activities and some public bodies going even further using the language of ‘co-production, which is a more radical approach to working with others, characterised by sharing power and responsibility
However, there are still some challenges ahead in order for the Act to be fully effective and truly live up to its potential. One main challenge found by public bodies is the difficulty to change to a long-term, integrated, and collaborative form of measuring progress when the Welsh Government continue to hold leaders to account on short-term plans and short-term performance and financial measures.
An important recommendation made by the Commissioner is for public bodies to allocate resources to preventative action that are likely to contribute to better outcomes and use of resources, even where this may limit the ability to meet short-term needs in pursuit of better long-term, integrated outcomes.
Similarly, the Audit Report found several constraints that make it difficult for public bodies to fully embed the Act and maximise its potential across their work including short-term funding, legislative and governance complexity, and performance reporting. It also highlighted the responsibility of the Welsh Government not only to address the barriers that are in its direct control, but also to help other public bodies implement the Act.
Even though there is still a lot of progress to be made in order to achieve the well-being goals, it is possible to see positive changes the Act has brought about all across the board. In the words of the Commissioner: ‘While the early work of public bodies and Public Services Boards is not perfect, it has set the foundations by raising awareness, getting people on board and building the movement of change that I am now seeing across Wales.’
The Welsh Act (2015), while highly unique – due to its holistic national framework of sustainable development – draws upon a range of features that have been implemented by other national governments For example, an ombudsperson, or Commissioner for Future Generations are familiar in a number of other countries including Hungary, New Zealand and Israel.
The Parliamentary Commissioner for Future Generations
Hungary had four such ombudspersons and their competencies for intervention varied significantly. The Parliamentary Commissioner for Future Generations had comparatively strong powers and could stop ongoing activities causing severe harm to the environment or intervene in ongoing administrative and court procedures. In 2011, these 4 positions were amalgamated into one position entitled the Office of the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights with two Deputy-Commissioners: one for the protection of the interests of future generations and one for the protection of the interests of nationalities living in Hungary. However, the two Deputy-Commissioners have limited competencies in comparison to their predecessors.
The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment
In New Zealand, the role of New Zealand’s Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment was created by the Environment Act of 1986 and was part of wide-ranging environmental reforms of the period. The Commissioner is an independent Officer of Parliament – a standing shared by the Auditor General and the Ombudsman and is focused on providing advice to Parliament as a whole and to the public. The functions of the role are broadly defined. Indeed the Environment Act allows for the Commissioner to investigate ‘any matter in respect of which, in the Commissioner’s opinion, the environment may be or has been adversely affected.’ The Commissioner also submits on proposed legislation that affects the environment.
Commission for Future Generations (Disbanded Institution).
In Israel, in March 2001, the Knesset – Israel’s parliament – established a Commission for Future Generations, an inter-parliamentary body to audit legislation on the impacts for coming generations. Specific focus on the creation of a dimension of the future that would be included in the primary and secondary legislation of the State of Israel, the Commission operated with a five-year mandate to defend the needs and the rights of future generations.
One of the first steps in establishing the Commission for Future Generations was the need to define which policy areas were ‘of particular interest to future generations,’ as this was the wording of the law. Even though the Commission’s initiators were apparently not familiar with the concept of sustainability, it ended up with twelve policy areas that matched the principal components of sustainability.
The Commission effectively had informal veto power over law-making, similar to the impact of a filibuster in the US Congress. The Israeli Commission for Future Generations was a significant initiative, the first explicit representation of future generations within government.
Commissioner Shlomo Shoham (2001–2006) took a systemic and integrated approach in his opinions and challenged business as usual. However, when Shoham’s term ended, no new Commissioner was appointed, often cited as due to the power the Commissioner’s veto had in blocking the passing of legislation that didn’t comply with the interest of future generations.
For more information on these institutions and others, you can read the WFC report ‘Guarding our Future’, as well as our Future Justice website.
The Roundtable of Institutions for a Sustainable Future is a network of independent institutions all dedicated to the protection of the interests of future generations, for more information, please click here.
Further information on safeguarding the rights of future generations including publications, a literature collection and guest contributions can be viewed on our Future Justice website.
Website: ‘National Assembly of Wales’
Website: ‘National Resources Wales’
Website: ‘The Wales We Want’
Website: ‘Future Generations Commissioner for Wales’
Website: ‘Auditor General for Wales’
Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act
'Our democratic system is driven by short term agendas around electoral cycles. The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Bill aims to balance the nature of this short term accountability with the need for a long term framework if we are going to deal with the major intergenerational challenges. Above all it recognises that greater engagement in the democratic process, a stronger citizen voice and active participation in decision making is fundamental for the well-being of future generations.'
Peter Davies, former Commissioner for Sustainable Futures, March 2015