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Keywords:

  • forests;
  • justice;
  • REDD;
  • development;
  • indigenous people;
  • deliberative politics

Norms of justice are often invoked to justify the globalisation of forest policies but are rarely critically analysed. This paper reviews elements of justice in the values, knowledge, access and property rights relating to forests, especially in developing countries. Rather than defining justice in general terms of distribution of benefits and recognition of stakeholders, we argue that these processes are mutually defining, and can foreclose what is distributed, and to whom. Much recent forest policy, for example, emphasises forest carbon stocks and the benefits to indigenous peoples; but these terms de-emphasise livelihood outcomes for forests, and non-indigenous smallholders. Accordingly, we argue that current operationalisations of justice in forest policy based on John Rawls' principles of fair allocation to known actors need to be replaced by Amartya Sen's more deliberative and inclusive vision of justice that focuses instead on how different users experience different benefits, and seek to achieve multiple objectives together.