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Environmental Values

Sustainable Development and Social Justice: Expanding the Rawlsian Framework of Global Justice

Oluf Langhelle

Environmental Values 9(2000): 295-323. doi: 10.3197/096327100129342074

This article makes two arguments. First, that social justice constitutes an inherent part of the conception of sustainable development that the World Commission on Environment and Development outlined in Our Common Future (1987). The primary goal of the Commission was to reconcile physical sustainability, need satisfaction and equal opportunities, within and between generations. Sustainable development is what defines this reconciliation. Second, it is argued that this conception of sustainable development is broadly compatible with liberal theories of justice. Sustainable development, however, goes beyond liberal theories of justice in many respects. It is based on three assumptions, which are for the most part ignored in liberal theories: an accelerating ecological interdependence, historical inequality in past resource use, and the 'growth of limits'. These assumptions create a conflict between intra- and intergenerational justice, which is ignored in liberal theories, but which sustainable development tries to solve. It does so by imposing duties on developed countries that goes beyond liberal demands, and by abandoning the focus 'solely on protection' that dominates non-anthropocentric approaches to environmental sustainability.


KEYWORDS: Biological diversity, climate change, global justice, sustainable development

REFERENCES to other articles in Environmental Values:

'Sustainable Development': Is it a Useful Concept? Wilfred Beckerman

How Would you Like your 'Sustainability', Sir? Weak or Strong? A Reply to my Critics. Wilfred Beckerman

M.S. Common, 'Beckerman and his Critics on Strong and Weak Sustainability: Confusing Concepts and Conditions,' Environmental Values 5(1996): 83-88

On Wilfred Beckerman's Critique of Sustainable Development. Herman Daly

Sustainable Development, Capital Substitution and Economic Humility: A Response to Beckerman. Michael Jacobs

Tradeable CO2 Emission Permits: Initial Distribution as a Justice Problem. Snorre Kverndok

S.E. Serafy, 'In Defence of Weak Sustainability: A Response to Beckerman', Environmental Values 5(1996): 75-81. In Defence of Sustainable Development. Henryk Skolimowski

CITATIONS in other Environmental Values articles:

Global and Ecological Justice: Prioritising Conflicting Demands. Marcel Wissenburg

Territorial Equity and Sustainable Development. Bertrand Zuindeau

Disagreement and Responses to Climate Change Graham Long

The Relationship between Intragenerational and Intergenerational Ecological Justice. Stefanie Glotzbach and Stefan Baumgärtner


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