Stockholm Conference on Environmental
Law and Justice,  6-9 September 2006

Balankrishnan Rajagopal (MIT):
Rights-talk versus Justice-Talk in Environmental Governance   

Environmental governance in the era of transnational capitalism is overwhelmingly an issue of justice for the poor. Developments in international and comparative law increasingly evidence this through a merger between the fields of environment and human rights, as can be seen from key moments in the evolution of the legal fields. This merger between environment and human rights results from an understanding of justice that equates it with human rights. This paper suggests that far from that being the case, there are distinct institutional and political consequences that flow from a more nuanced approach which distinguishes between two kinds of justice: a broader conception of justice as a critical and open-ended moral framework about fairness, accountability, distribution and dignity in which human rights claims may be submerged; and by contrast, justice simpliciter as the sum total of human rights. This paper suggests that the former approach to justice is preferable to the latter. To illustrate why, I develop a typology of real-world situations in which patterns of resource use come into conflict with justice for the poor. In those situations, the institutional and political stakes are very different between the two approaches to justice outlined in the early part of the paper. I conclude by suggesting that it makes better political and moral sense to continue to maintain a distinction between rights-talk and justice-talk in environmental governance.




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