What do we mean by justice in sustainability pathways? Commitments, dilemmas, and translations from theory to practice in nature-based solutions

Wijsmana, K. & Berbés-Blázquez, M. | Environmental Science & Policy | 2022 | Peer Reviewed | Original research | https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1462901122002088?via%3Dihub


Justice and fairness have become key considerations in sustainability pathways and nature-based solutions (NBS), following activists and critical scholars who have long argued that the urban environment is an inherently political space that requires an analysis of benefits and burdens associated with its existence, use, and access. However, what justice means and how it is expressed, recognized, or achieved is often implicit in the literature on NBS, even though underlying notions of justice shape the analysis done and actions proposed. This paper starts from the premise that justice knows many different interpretations, therefore warranting scholars and practitioners working on NBS to carefully consider the differences and frictions between competing meanings of justice. Drawing from the history of social and environmental justice theory, we give an account of some key justice dilemmas and discuss their tenets as it relates to the end, means, and participants in the making of justice. From this, we draw out questions and commitments academics and practitioners in the NBS space should grapple with more explicitly. We argue that the emergent tension between pragmatic policy approaches and critical theoretical engagement is hindering a version of NBS that goes beyond a reflection of the justice implications of NBS to ensuring that NBS contributes to the furthering of justice. We advocate for the inclusion of critical social sciences and humanities perspectives and approaches beyond tokenism to instead encourage ontological, epistemological, and political reflection of the work academics and practitioners do in the NBS space.