Research Handbooks on Impact Assessment series
Edited by Angus Morrison-Saunders, Jenny Pope and Alan Bond
Chapter 4: Equity in sustainability assessment: a conceptual framework
Sustainability assessment seeks ways to achieve development paths that meet ‘fundamental human needs while preserving the life-support systems of planet Earth’ (Kates et al., 2001, p. 641, 2005, p. 20). Hence, one hallmark of sustainability is equity, which in its simplest conception concerns the distribution of the benefits for current and future generations of people affected by a decision. In the sustainability debate equity considerations have been most commonly expressed in terms of inter-and intra-generational equity (e.g. Padilla, 2002; Gibson et al., 2005; Brandon and Lombardi, 2010). Broadly speaking, intra-and inter-generational equity refer, respectively, to transactions of rights between people of the same generation and across generations. Even if there is a strong consciousness of equity issues, equity is rarely incorporated into sustainability assessment and decision making in a formal way (Halpern et al., 2013). We identified three obstacles to this incorporation. First, the concept of equity is not univocally understood and defined, but reflects a multifaceted variety of ethical beliefs, associated also with the interpretation of the concept of ‘justice’. Distinguishing between equity and justice can be problematic, and we do not attempt here to dwell on the differences between the two terms.
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