The rights of future generations to enjoy sustainable development have been formally recognised internationally. This has important implications for the economic analysis of biological diversity, which, as an integral attribute of natural capital, is of critical importance to both current and future generations. The dominant economic paradigm involves no explicit recognition of the rights of future generations. Thus, it can give rise to outcomes of dubious intergenerational equity merit. Rawls' contractarian theory attributes intrinsic value to rights and is considered here in relation to the intergenerational distribution of natural resources. Some problems of theoretical and practical character for the implementation of the Rawlsian approach are noted. An incremental and adaptive learning process in the use and distribution of natural resources is recommended in order to ensure the well-being of future generations. Three degrees of intergenerational equity are derived: (i) extensive; (ii) intermediate; and (iii) minimal. In terms of biodiversity conservation, this implies an ethical base for countries to at least fund the establishment of protected area (PA) systems. Therefore, economic analysis should not be used at this conceptual level to decide if PA systems should or should not be established. This question would necessarily be answered in the affirmative on the basis of the interests of future generations. At the practical level of deciding which specific ecosystems should make up particular PA systems, economic analysis should: (a) contribute to a holistic approach to the identification of the areas to be protected; (b) investigate the most cost-effective way of carrying out the initiative; (c) assess of the intragenerational equity outcomes; and (d) consider the institutional features relevant to the successful implementation of the conservation initiative.
Ecological Economics – Elsevier
Published: Mar 1, 1995
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