Justice and Environmental Decision Making

Document Type

Book Chapter




Faculty of Business and Law


School of Law and Justice




This chapter was originally published as: Syme, G. J. (2012). Justice and Environmental Decision Making. In Elisabeth Kals and Jurgen Maes (Eds.). Justice and Conflicts: Theoretical and Empirical Contributions (pp. 283-295). Springer.


As the rate of species extinction increases, the threats from climate change become more evident and our population grows there is an increasing knowledge of our dependence on the ecosystem services that underpin human social welfare and the world economy. It is also clear that demand for natural resources such as water and fossil fuels is problematic as access to water becomes highly competitive and carbon emissions becomes intense. It is evident that such challenges require a much better understanding of how the application of environmental ethics and considerations of the social justice can assist in resolving potential conflict. This chapter describes how social psychological theory and the understanding of lay ethics can provide a basis for sharing. The concepts of equity, distributive justice, procedural and interactive justice and fairness are introduced. The significance of these for resource allocation decisions is explained. Water resources management and climate change are used to provide examples. The chapter discusses why justice issues are important in mitigating self interest in decision making and the limitations of policy makers relying entirely on market mechanisms to allocate natural resources.