A Ministry for the Future?


A Ministry for the Future?
© VectorMine


Kim Stanley Robinson’s novel “The Ministry for the Future” tells the story of the eponymous agency that fights to halt climate change and secure the planet for generations to come. The book explores what must happen to stop global warming. How far is this “cli-fi” novel from becoming reality?

The book begins with a deadly heat wave that strikes India and establishes climate change as a threat to future safety and prosperity. In 2025, after failing to meet the set targets, a group of signatories to the Paris Agreement installs the Ministry for the Future.

The ministry’s mandate is to advocate for the rights of future generations on the basis that their rights are as valid as the present generation’s. This recalls the real-life United Nations definition of sustainability from 1987: “Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

The book culminates 30 years after the founding of the ministry, which struggled to affect enough change but eventually succeeded. Carbon dioxide is reduced to safe levels, ships are powered by solar sails, carbon coins reward companies that don’t emit.

Much of the novel hardly feels fictional—the state of science, extreme weather and institutional impotence. Robinson wrote the story in 2019 but said in 2021 that many things he imagined happening in 10 years’ time had already arrived.

Thus, do we need an actual Ministry for the Future right now? The Paris Agreement includes an article for provision for the establishment of such “subsidiary bodies.” Delegates at the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties in Glasgow in 2021 invoked the same article for this very reason.

Some countries have already created something of this kind. Finland’s parliament has a permanent Future Committee that monitors and evaluates governmental long-term planning. Sweden’s first Minister for the Future, Kristina Persson, served in the Cabinet between 2014 and 2016. She oversaw the long-term consequences of government policy across all departments. In Wales, Sophie Howe was appointed the first Minister for Future Generations in 2016. She can’t block legislation, but she can force her colleagues to justify decisions to Wales’s unborn citizens. In Germany, Jürgen Rüttgers was appointed as Federal Minister of Education, Science, Research and Technology in 1994. The new office was called the Ministry of the Future already that time. Rüttgers described education policy as the best social provision in the 21st Century.

If the future has a voice in public debates, long-term consequences become a permanent and inescapable political benchmark. A Ministry of the Future could develop a vision for tomorrow’s society. With a broad mandate, it could be the interface between the ministries of ecology, economics, education, labor, finance, transport and justice—not merely an office for technology assessment. It would be a think tank, coordination body and institution for progress.

In the current atmosphere of narrative-lessness, people need a beacon of change. A Ministry for the Future could shift the mindset from the UN’s old Brundtland definition of sustainability to the words of Chief Noah Seattle, leader of the Suquamish and Duwamish Nations, in 1854: 

“We do not inherit the earth from our parents; we borrow it from our children.”

STAY SuSTAYnable!  

Apu Gosalia is a sustainability expert. He can be reached at

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