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


  • Oluf Langhelle


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.

Suggested Citation

  • Oluf Langhelle, 2000. "Sustainable Development and Social Justice: Expanding the Rawlsian Framework of Global Justice," Environmental Values, White Horse Press, vol. 9(3), pages 295-323, August.
  • Handle: RePEc:env:journl:ev9:ev913

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Herman E. Daly, 1972. "In Defense of a Steady-State Economy," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 54(5), pages 945-954.
    2. repec:eee:ecolec:v:138:y:2017:i:c:p:74-81 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Viviana Asara & Emanuele Profumi & Giorgos Kallis, 2013. "Degrowth, Democracy and Autonomy," Environmental Values, White Horse Press, vol. 22(2), pages 217-239, April.
    4. Elizabeth Shove, 2010. "Beyond the ABC: Climate Change Policy and Theories of Social Change," Environment and Planning A, , vol. 42(6), pages 1273-1285, June.
    5. Ulrich Brand, 2016. "How to Get Out of the Multiple Crisis? Contours of a Critical Theory of Social-Ecological Transformation," Environmental Values, White Horse Press, vol. 25(5), pages 503-525, October.
    6. Clive L. Spash, 2015. "The Future Post-Growth Society," Development and Change, International Institute of Social Studies, vol. 46(2), pages 366-380, March.
    7. Maddison, Angus, 2007. "Contours of the World Economy 1-2030 AD: Essays in Macro-Economic History," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199227204.
    8. Elizabeth Shove, 2010. "Beyond the ABC: climate change policy and theories of social change," Environment and Planning A, Pion Ltd, London, vol. 42(6), pages 1273-1285, June.
    9. repec:env:journl:ev25:editev253 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Scott Cameron Lougheed & Myra J. Hird & Kerry R. Rowe, 2016. "Governing Household Waste Management: An Empirical Analysis and Critique," Environmental Values, White Horse Press, vol. 25(3), pages 287-308, June.
    11. Peter Ferguson, 2016. "Liberalism and Economic Growth: A Theoretical Exploration," Environmental Values, White Horse Press, vol. 25(5), pages 593-619, October.
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    Cited by:

    1. repec:spr:jenvss:v:7:y:2017:i:2:d:10.1007_s13412-015-0355-4 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Schlör, Holger & Fischer, Wolfgang & Hake, Jürgen-Friedrich, 2012. "Measuring social welfare, energy and inequality in Germany," Applied Energy, Elsevier, vol. 97(C), pages 135-142.

    More about this item


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

    JEL classification:

    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
    • Q01 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - General - - - Sustainable Development


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