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Sustainable Welfare

Research project in Human Geography

Project's title: Towards new forms of urban governance and city development: learning from URBan Experiments with Living Labs & City Labs 

Project's duration: 2013-2014

Contact person: Eric Clark

Researchers in the project:


Sustainable Welfare is a Pufendorf Theme at Lund University, led by Max Koch (Department of Social Work) and involving a dozen researchers from nine departments.

Welfare is commonly conceptualized in socio-economic terms of equity, highlighting distributive issues within growing economies. While GDP, income growth and rising material standards of living are normally not questioned as priorities in both welfare theories and policy making, there is growing evidence that Western welfare standards are not generalizable to the rest of the planet if environmental concerns such as resource depletion or climate change are considered.

Consequently, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change emphasizes socio-economic aspects of climate change, including issues of livelihoods and poverty, in its most recent report. Tim Jackson demonstrates that in order to achieve conditions where the entire world population enjoys an equivalent income to EU citizens today, the global economy would need to improve in absolute decoupling of carbon emissions and economic activity by 11.2 percent per year to 2050 and global carbon intensity would need to be less than one percent of its current level. He concludes that there is as yet ‘no credible, socially just, ecologically sustainable scenario of continually growing incomes for a world of nine billion people.’

Meanwhile, although ‘social   sustainability’   is   often   alluded to, recent reviews suggest this is ‘a concept in chaos’, in ‘lack of robustness’, a ‘missing pillar’ constituting a core challenge to sustainability efforts.

The proposed Pufendorf theme raises the issue of what it requires to make welfare societies ecologically sustainable. Recent research in ecological economics, social policy, economics and philosophy has started to conceptualize welfare, prosperity and happiness in alternative ways. While these contributions are fragmented and in need of integration, they share the hypothesis that much of what is required for welfare and human flourishing is non-material once a decent material standard of living is attained, and that this is achievable at much lower than current levels of matter and energy throughput.

Through interdisciplinary cooperation across social sciences, the humanities, economics and natural sciences, our research team will review, synthesize and further develop the concepts of welfare and wellbeing under conditions of ecological sustainability. How does the meaning of welfare change if these conditions are met?