What 'damaged, shocked' Pacific Islands can teach the rest of the world

Dean, Faculty of Business and Economics – Head of Monash Business School
Dean, Faculty of Business and Economics
Head of Monash Business School

What ‘damaged, shocked’ Pacific islands can teach the rest of the world

When Professor Paresh Narayan approached Professor Simon Wilkie about establishing a climate research centre in Fiji, the Head of Monash Business School and Dean of the university’s Faculty of Business and Economics immediately identified the opportunity to make a positive contribution through the Pacific Action on Climate Transitions (PACT) research centre.

“In terms of advising government, influencing policy and helping Fiji and the Pacific nations, with the transitions that they have to face, I was convinced by the scope for us to do something meaningful and powerful,” Prof Wilkie says.

“There are many global learnings to be had because the Pacific islands are facing the brunt of climate change now, but it's coming to all of us. There’s a lot they can teach the rest of the world.”

With Fiji currently losing two-and-a-half percent of its GDP every year on average due to infrastructure damage, Prof Wilkie sees PACT as a driving force behind the Pacific’s transition to a resilient region in the face of climate change.

“What we really want to see is meaningful research that will impact real-world policies.”

“If you look at the size of the economies of the Pacific island nations, it's not really about mitigation because that’s global and their footprint is so tiny,” he says.

“Much of the focus in research on climate change has been on either understanding the science of it or trying to push forward with mitigation strategies or changing consumer behaviour.”

“But what we're focused on is actually: ‘How do economies that have been damaged and shocked by climate change already, transition going forward and restructure their economy to become more resilient and rebuild more robust markets that have failed?’”

“All of our disciplines have a lot to offer in terms of how an economy would manage that transition and a large number of our academics want to be involved in the project because they see this as being a meaningful way to apply their research to real-world challenges.”

Prof Wilkie describes the key purpose of PACT as helping Fiji develop policies that minimise the cost of that transition while increasing economic and community wellbeing.

“What we really want to see is meaningful research that will impact real-world policies and help with upskilling the academics there or perhaps the government bureaucrats, government employees, people in the public sector and perhaps people in business. There must be something involving joint meaningful engagement with them.”

Before joining Monash University, Professor Wilkie was involved in policymaking in Washington, DC, and was Chief Economist at the US Federal Communications Commission.

“In my career, I have to say that the most satisfying thing is being able to take fairly abstract academic ideas and follow them through to conclusions that actually have a positive impact on people's welfare,” Prof Wilkie says.

“That's just tremendously gratifying and I think the opportunity for us to work with the peoples of the Pacific nations is going to be tremendously fulfilling in terms of impact,” he says.

“Hopefully the learnings we get from addressing these sets of problems will be of global significance.”