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Picture: M. Garschagen

Between welfare state and farewell state: The contested responsibility for risk mitigation and social protection under conditions of global change

Dr Matthias Garschlagen |  Institute for Environment and Human Security | United Nations University | Bonn

Abstract: Global environmental, demographic and social change puts tremendous pressure on societies to mitigate future risk and secure social protection. Cities tend to be at the frontline of this pressure since they are hotspots of economic transitions, demographic shifts, social changes and increasingly environmental and climatic risks.
The presentation argues, however, that the ways in which the rights and responsibilities towards risk mitigation and social protection are – and ought to be – shared between state and non-state actors are far from clear normatively, politically and factually. Fresh empirical results from two ongoing research projects reveal that many countries are currently in the middle of a fundamental, yet largely hidden and unnoticed, renegotiation of the role of the state. While the situation varies between countries of different economic prosperity and social development, a general pattern can be observed in which state authorities retract their self-ascribed responsibility for risk mitigation and social protection, for example towards the effects of climatic and environmental hazards. This trend is in part driven by a globally traveled paradigm of individual resilience. Yet, it is bristling with conflicts and challenges in terms not only of ethics but also the sheer effectiveness and reach of the newly emerging social protection regimes. Empirical findings from high-risk coastal cities show that the gap of effective protection is set to widen, rather than narrow, especially in Asia’s emerging economies. Yet, the findings also offer insight on possible response mechanisms for the most vulnerable parts of the population.
The presentation therefore concludes by discussing key implications for a future agenda of global change research: Which properties do social protection systems need to have to respond effectively to future challenges? Which level of transformation is required in comparison to current configurations? How can the necessary change be brought about and informed by scientific knowledge? How normative can and should science be in this endeavor?