The financial crisis, the slow recovery, and a heated U.S. election season have sparked new debates about economic inequality and the policies that might reduce or exacerbate it. At the same time, environmental policies and regulations have been attacked as unaffordable to budget-stretched households.

In global debates over climate policy and the “green economy”, meanwhile, developing countries have cited equity – the fair distribution of resources, costs, and benefits – in resisting pressure to curb their carbon emissions or ensure their growth is “sustainable”, potentially at the expense of poverty reduction.

These debates raise difficult questions: Is sustainability incompatible with equality and equity? If we seek to build a prosperous society, will inequality do more to help or hinder us? Is it possible to build a society that is both simultaneously equitable and sustainable?

As part of a major international project, SEI is hosting a conference at Tufts University on 9 and 10 November to address these questions – looking at equity and inequality through the lens of sustainability and, conversely, at sustainability from the point of view of equity and inequality.

The conference, co-hosted by Tufts’ Center for International Environment & Resource Policy (CIERP), brings together sustainability, equity, and inequality researchers from four continents to share their work and their insights at both conceptual and practical levels, from the local to the global scale.

“Participants will have a chance to learn from one another about the state of the art in their respective fields, and think creatively about the intersections of these fields and how to apply these important concepts to ongoing debates about the environment, development and economic policy,” says Eric Kemp-Benedict, leader of SEI’s Rethinking Development theme and lead organizer of the conference.

A far-reaching agenda
The event will begin with a keynote address by Eric Neumayer, professor of environment and developer at the London School of Economics and co-editor of the Handbook of Sustainable Development.

The agenda is built on three themes: notions of equity for sustainability; economic structures for sustainability, and inequality and equity in a sustainability transition – each framed by its own keynote address. At the end of the second day, all participants will be invited to discuss important policy-relevant questions on the possibility of a “vicious circle” linking inequality and unsustainable practices, social equity in the green economy, and the political role of the equity debate in international agreements.

The theme keynote speakers are Paul Baer, co-author (with Tom Athanasiou and SEI’s Sivan Kartha and Eric Kemp-Benedict) of the Greenhouse Development Rights framework; James K. Boyce, director of the environment program at the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst; and Jonathan M. Harris, director of the Theory and Education Program at the Tufts University Global Development and Environment Institute.

The programme also includes presentations on the “doughnut” model for a “safe and just space” for humanity; inter-generational equity in the context of climate change; water resource-sharing; environmental taxation, and several key questions in ethics and in resource economics. In addition, case studies will be presented from Canada, England, India, Bangladesh, Kenya and South Africa.

“There is a growing interest in these questions not just in the U.S., but around the world,” Kemp-Benedict says. “Just in the past year, Oxfam, the United Nations Development Programme, and the United Nations High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability have all released high-profile reports that make direct connections between equity and sustainability.”

“The overarching message of these reports is that economic growth, social equity, and environmental sustainability are interdependent,” he adds. “Participants in this conference can expect a lively discussion offering a wide range of perspectives and a wealth of new ideas.”

The International Conference on Inequality and Sustainability is free and open to the public.Learn more and register ».