Handbook of Sustainable Development
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Handbook of Sustainable Development

Second Edition

Edited by Giles Atkinson, Simon Dietz, Eric Neumayer and Matthew Agarwala

This timely and important Handbook takes stock of progress made in our understanding of what sustainable development actually is and how it can be measured and achieved.
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Chapter 11: Distribution, sustainability and environmental policy

Geoffrey Heal and Bengt Kriström


We discuss intra-/intergenerational equity issues and sketch a framework for environmental policy analysis that places emphasis on how resources are distributed within/between current and future generations. We also discuss a portion of the empirical literature on intra-generational equity. Our starting point is that the essential purpose of environmental policy is to change consumption and production patterns. Policy change will, inevitably, create ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ among the economy’s households and firms. Indeed, the daily drama of environmental policy typically involves making hard choices rather than implementing ‘win–win’ policies. In any realistic setting environmental policy imposes both gains and losses. How to weigh such gains and losses remains a conundrum, an enigma that may well turn out to have no final answer, yet interest in distributional issues is reappearing in our field for several reasons. A direct reason for being concerned with environmental policy and distribution is that an understanding of distributional impacts allows the shaping of policy packages that are more likely to be accepted by the public.

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