Environmental Context






SpacerWhat is Equity?
Equity Within Nations
Equity Between Nations
International Economic System
Global Warming and Equity
Site Map

SpacerBack to Main Menu...

What is Equity?

Types of Equity

Intergenerational Equity
Intragenerational Equity

How is Equity Related to the Environment?



What is equity?

Equity is about fairness. Jim Falk and his colleagues put it this way:

"Equity derives from a concept of social justice. It represents a belief that there are some things which people should have, that there are basic needs that should be fulfilled, that burdens and rewards should not be spread too divergently across the community, and that policy should be directed with impartiality, fairness and justice towards these ends." (Falk et al. 1993, p. 2)

In the narrowest terms it means that there should be a minimum level of income and environmental quality below which nobody falls. Within a community it usually also means that everyone should have equal access to community resources and opportunities, and that no individuals or groups of people should be asked to carry a greater environmental burden than the rest of the community as a result of government actions. It is generally agreed that equity implies a need for fairness (not necessarily equality) in the distribution of gains and losses, and the entitlement of everyone to an acceptable quality and standard of living.

The concept of equity is well entrenched in international law. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that the 'recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world' (Weiss 1990, p. 9).

Equity as a concept is fundamental to sustainable development. The Brundtland Commission's definition of sustainable development is based on intergenerational equity: 'development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs' (1990, p. 87). Equity can also be applied across communities and nations, and across generations. The Brundtland Report not only insists on intergenerational equity but also equity within existing generations. It argues that:

"Poverty is not only an evil in itself, but sustainable development requires meeting the basic needs of all and extending to all the opportunity to fulfil their aspirations for a better life … Meeting essential needs requires not only a new era of economic growth for nations in which the majority are poor, but an assurance that those poor get their fair share of the resources required to sustain that growth." (p. 8)

Following this lead, the Australian Government included as one of four 'fundamental goals' of sustainable development to which it was committed, 'the provision of equity within and between generations' (ESD Working Groups 1991d, p. vi).

Back to Top...

Source: Sharon Beder, The Nature of Sustainable Development, 2nd edition, Scribe, Newham, Vic.,1996.