This article argues that the protection of ‘community interests’ in international law includes intertemporal obligations of States, in cases where it is scientifically foreseeable that preserving the ‘status quo’ of a protected community interest is increasingly unlikely. The argument is developed for climate change as a ‘common concern of humankind’ and based on the premise that even if a temperature limitation of 1.5°C would be achieved towards the end of this century, future generations will nevertheless live in a world that has fundamentally changed due to current policy and law choices. The article introduces the new concept of ‘intergenerational preparedness’ to operationalise and expand the normative scope of the principle of intergenerational equity. While some argumentative structures will be examined where intergenerational preparedness can be given effect through legal interpretation, the expectation that States must adopt preparatory measures to account for their community interest obligations deserves a more explicit recognition. It is a matter of the (environmental) rule of law to protect community interests on a time continuum, and this encompasses measures to prevent the deterioration of protected interests and to prepare communities for foreseeable detrimental changes.
- Scientific evidence can enable States to anticipate the future deterioration of a protected community interest. In the case of climate change, States can and must prepare future generations for life in fundamentally changed conditions.
- As a concept at the international level, intergenerational preparedness articulates that community obligations exist on a time continuum. The expectation that States must adopt preparatory measures to fully account for their community interest obligations deserves a more explicit recognition.
- As an analytical concept for policy and law framing, intergenerational preparedness operationalises the principle of intergenerational equity and it expands the normative content of intergenerational equity. It should define the perspective and the priorities of policy makers.
- States and State institutions (nationally and internationally) are the primary duty bearers for intertemporal obligations that protect community interests, and this is underpinned by the (environmental) rule of law.
- Intergenerational preparedness can already be implemented to some extent, through all branches of government. Avenues for implementation through interpretation comprise the recognition of a dynamic legislative duty (legislature) that takes into account the current trajectory for the preservation of a community interest, cooperative and transboundary duties of States (executive branches), and the systemic interpretation of existing laws (judiciary).
- Preparatory measures must include but also go beyond immediate adaptation planning for specific risks and drive investment in all planning areas, in the light of expected future climate related impacts and extreme events.
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