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Vasna Ramasar

Vasna Ramasar

Visiting research fellow

Vasna Ramasar

Reversing the arrow of arrears: The concept of "ecological debt" and its value for environmental justice


  • Rikard Warlenius
  • Gregory Pierce
  • Vasna Ramasar

Summary, in English

The ecological debt concept emerged in the early 1990s from within social movements driven by rising environmental awareness, emerging Western consciousness of responsibility for past colonial subjugations, and a general sense of unease during the debt crisis. First developed organically, mainly in locally-scaled, civil contexts, ecological debt has since gained attention in academia and international environmental negotiations. Now, the concept of ecological debt requires further elucidation and elaboration, especially in light of its historical interconnection with environmental justice. In this paper, the development of the concept of ecological debt in both activist and academic circles is described, proposed theoretical building blocks for its operationalization are discussed and three brief cases illustrating its recent utilization are presented. Ecological debt is built upon a theoretical foundation that draws on biophysical accounting systems, ecological economics, environmental justice and human rights, historical injustices and restitution, and an ecologically-oriented world-system analysis framework. Drawing on these building blocks, the concept of ecological debt has been used as a biophysical measure, a legal instrument and a distributional principle. In theory and in practice, it has much to offer the environmental justice movement. We conclude by reflecting on some of the pros and cons of the ecological debt concept as a tool to be used in fulfilling some of the goals of environmental justice movements in the world today. (C) 2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


  • Department of Human Geography
  • LUCSUS (Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies)

Publishing year







Global Environmental Change



Document type

Journal article


Global Environmental Change, Elsevier


  • Human Geography


  • Ecological debt
  • Environmental justice
  • Ecologically unequal exchange
  • World economy



Research group

  • LUCID - Lund University Centre of Excellence for Integration of Social and Natural Dimensions of Sustainability


  • ISSN: 0959-3780