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Max Koch. Foto: Johan Persson.

Max Koch


Max Koch. Foto: Johan Persson.

Climate Change, Sustainable Welfare and the State


  • Max Koch

Summary, in English

Comparative empirical studies of the link between economic growth, carbon emissions and ecological footprints (e.g. Fritz and Koch 2016) suggest that current Western production and consumption patterns and welfare standards are incompatible with environmental limits and IPCC climate targets. In the absence of evidence for absolute decoupling of economic growth, material resource input and carbon emissions – and allowing for ‘catch-up’ development in poor countries – rich countries would need to ‘degrow’ to bring their environmental performances in line with ecological thresholds (D’Alisia et al. 2014) and to reach UN climate targets. The paper discusses the provision of welfare in such a planned downscaling process with emphasis on the role of the state. First, it introduces the concept of ‘sustainable welfare’ that integrates the two previously separate disciplines of welfare and sustainability research (Koch and Mont 2016). Distributive principles underlying existing welfare systems in the rich countries would need to be extended to include ‘non-citizens’: those affected in other countries and in the future. Sustainable welfare is oriented towards the satisfaction of human needs within ecological limits, from the intergenerational and global perspective. It is at global level that thresholds for matter and energy throughput as well as for greenhouse gas emissions would need to be determined in order to effectively mitigate environmental challenges such as climate change. Such thresholds would also delineate the room for manoeuvre within which national and local economies can evolve and within which welfare can be provided. This suggests a new mix of private, state, ‘commons’ and individual property forms. Second, the paper focuses on the state in the provision of sustainable welfare by comparing state roles in an economy oriented towards monetary growth or exchange value and a postgrowth economy oriented towards physical parameters such as matter and energy throughput or use values. State economic, social and environmental policies would be (re-)oriented towards the provision of sufficient need satisfiers for all people now and in future (Gough 2015). Robust (welfare) states would be required to steer a mixed economy that functions within environmental limits and serve as primus inter pares in a governance network comprising above all global and local levels. Finally, the paper addresses potential state ‘eco-social’ policies such as wealth sharing, minimum and maximum incomes as well as carbon rationing that have the potential of serving as ‘real utopian’ alternatives (Wright 2010) en route to a postgrowth economy.


  • School of Social Work

Publishing year




Document type

Conference paper: abstract


  • Sociology

Conference name

ESRC Seminar: Climate Justice and Economic Growth at the Manchester Political Economy Institute

Conference date

2017-01-30 - 2017-03-31

Conference place

Manchester, United Kingdom