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New research centre set to address impacts of climate on business

As the effects of climate change are increasingly felt around the world, one new collaborative research centre has set its sight on bolstering the resilience of businesses and economies in the Pacific region.

Monash University has partnered with Fiji National University (FNU) to launch the world-first Pacific Action for Climate Transitions (PACT) research centre, with research output based across both universities focusing on the critical links between climate change and business. 

The PACT partnership's key aim is to lead academic research into the economic implications of climate change in support of policymakers seeking to more effectively fund adaptation measures in the Pacific region. In addition to its research focus, the PACT centre will provide training and capacity building for local policymakers.

Acting Vice-Chancellor Professor Unaisi Nabobo-Baba said FNU is pleased to collaborate with neighbouring partners in addressing the issues associated with the global challenge of climate action.

“Fiji is one of the many Pacific Island countries facing the drastic impacts of climate change on our nation and the livelihoods of many of our citizens,” she said.

“[The PACT] centre will enable the conduct of evidence-based research in climate change by academics from both institutions to inform policies and practice in the field. Pacific people will gain access to new knowledge that will enable them to address a myriad of climate change issues by research that is conducted for our people, by our people.”

Monash University Business School Professor, and the Founding Director of PACT, Paresh Narayan said that, while the PACT centre will certainly have a Pacific region focus, the learnings and innovative developments generated will be globally significant and applicable. 

“For Monash to go into Fiji and shake hands with a small university on a global subject signifies the importance that Monash places on climate change as a global challenge for not only Pacific island countries, but global citizens. It’s a very proud moment for me as a Pacific Islander – as a Fijian – to see this partnership come to fruition,” Narayan said.

“PACT is set to become a global leader when it comes to climate change solutions from a business and economics point of view. The solutions that come out of PACT will be relevant to the world. Every country is or will soon be facing the same kind of problems.”

Climate economy 

While there has been a boom in scientific research outputs around climate change in the past couple of decades, Narayan said the focus on the economic implications of climate change has only recently started to gain traction, and much more research is needed. 

“When it comes to climate change research in general, it’s usually more scientific. And there is nothing wrong with that. There has certainly been a demand for scientific evidence. We need to understand that temperatures are increasing and by how much,” he said. 

“But in 2016, the UNFCCC announced a climate financing regime in support of developed countries seeking to offer financing to developing and smaller island nations, such as Fiji, to mitigate against the risk of climate change. 

“That’s when the business and economic side of climate risk really started to take off. And it’s an important focus because a lot of climate change adaptation and mitigation has to do with business and economics.

“Unfortunately, many smaller and developing countries can’t access available funding because they don’t have the capacity to do it. There are technical economic skills that are needed. This was a key motivation for PACT’s focus on this area.”

Narayan said one of the key stakeholders for PACT will be the small-to-medium enterprise (SME) sector and the various organisations and institutions responsible for its welfare. 

“Globally, 70-80% of businesses are small-to-medium enterprises,” he said. 

“Climate events impact SME business growth and resilience, and their ability to manage risk and financial issues. Further, many of these businesses don’t have insurance. In the past, many of these businesses never would have needed it.”

Risky business

Narayan said many SMEs operate within the agricultural sector, particularly in the Pacific region, and there is a very close link between SME resilience and food security, with this risk category set to grow globally. 

“We need to work with SMEs to see how we can help them to become more resilient and how we can get them to adapt to the new environment they are now existing in,” he said. 

“We have to understand that the agriculture sector is more prone to the impacts from climate change, too. These businesses are based on locations that cannot be changed. But we can make changes that create more resilience, like drought resistant crops and targeted water management.”

Narayan said tourism is also a key sector for Pacific region SMEs, which presents another set of challenges given the issue of location. 

“Eco tourism is more village-based tourism. This is one area that researchers are very keen to develop. If we can make villages more resilient, there can still be support there for the tourism sector,” he said. 

PACT will focus on various water management related risks, too, given how essential the resource is to both agriculture and tourism. 

“The water management systems in the Pacific island countries need a lot of work,” Narayan said. 

“There are water shortages right through the region. It’s a political and an economic issue, and the implications of climate change on water management and how this is linked to the economy will be an area to explore.”

Voice for the Pacific

Although there are many Pacific island countries already grappling with impacts of climate change, Narayan said the PACT partnership is particularly well placed in Fiji for multiple reasons. 

“When it comes to climate change, Fiji is a voice for other Pacific island countries, as well. Fiji leads a lot of discussions on behalf of the region, from a policy point of view, and has been very heavily engaged in climate change,” he said. 

“Fiji also has more developed academic and policy-based research institutions. Monash University wanted to partner with a local university and we chose the FNU because this research centre can become a support arm for the government’s engagement with climate change issues.

“Also, most civil society groups and agencies all have headquarters in Suva, Fiji. PACT is about co-designing research ideas with policymakers and development partners, so it makes it much easier to do this work when everyone is co-located, too.”

Narayan said that, regardless of where you go in the world, there is always a culture that needs to be respected: “We need to work with different cultures to meet these issues effectively. And so working respectfully and collaboratively is what PACT is all about”.

“But time is of the essence. We need to work quickly and ensure co-design so that there is ownership. One of PACT’s key aims is to speed up this area of research and development. The faster and more efficient we can make this work, the more impactful it will be,” he said.