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

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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.

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Keywords: biological diversity; climate change; global justice; sustainable development

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2000-08-01

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  • Environmental Values is an international peer-reviewed journal that brings together contributions from philosophy, economics, politics, sociology, geography, anthropology, ecology and other disciplines, which relate to the present and future environment of human beings and other species. In doing so we aim to clarify the relationship between practical policy issues and more fundamental underlying principles or assumptions.

    Environmental Values has a Journal Impact Factor (2016) of 1.279.
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