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Addressing climate change through economic sustainability – how economists are driving global change

With choosing economic growth over environmental sustainability no longer an option, it’s time for a new path forward. Deakin’s Department of Economics is integrating sustainability at the core of their research and teaching.

Most people are looking to contribute to the world in a positive way but in these globally complex times it can be hard to know how to make a difference. Dr Pallavi Shukla, lecturer in the Department of Economics at Deakin Business School draws upon the quote by famous writer E. B. White, “I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” 

When working in the field of economic sustainability and development, Dr Shukla says, this is less of a dilemma: “As economists working on the big issues of our times – poverty reduction, climate change, food security, water quality and agricultural sustainability – we get to improve the world while enjoying it.”  

The work of economists helps policymakers and businesses make better decisions that affect the lives of millions who are marginalised by poverty and climate crisis around the world. “We cannot ignore the needs of millions of people living in extreme poverty who need better economic opportunities, income growth and improved access to public services,” Dr Shukla says. “We also cannot ignore that the pressure of unbridled economic growth is destroying the environment. Choosing economic growth over environmental sustainability is no longer an option.”  

The drive for solutions 

So, what can be done? “Our goal now is to find a sustainable growth model – ideas and initiatives that will deliver both economic growth and environmental conservation,” Dr Shukla says.  

The focus at Deakin’s Department of Economics is to bring together these two priorities by helping design programs and policies that meet the dual goals of economic development and environmental conservation. 

Integrating ideas of sustainability into research and teaching 

Dr Shukla’s research focuses on improving the incomes of smallholder farmers in developing countries by promoting the use of environmentally sustainable agricultural technologies. She teaches a course that examines global challenges in food, water and climate. “Students learn about the challenges of balancing economic growth with climate sustainability using case studies from multiple countries,” Dr Shukla explains. “Students debate contemporary issues like the human and economic impacts of wildfires around the world, frequent and erratic weather events, and the cost of failure to fight climate change.” 

Dr Shuddha Rafiq, senior lecturer in the Department of Economics, says the role of teaching isn’t limited to lecturing students. “We couple classroom teaching with real-world insights to fight climate change.” Putting students on the frontlines of the climate crisis teaches them how governments and businesses should respond to a changing world. “Our students often talk to industry leaders – for example, leaders from the Committee of Economic Development of Australia – about how to prepare the workforce as the economy adapts to climate change,” Dr Rafiq says.   

Dr Rafiq teamed up with Dr Hemant Pullabhotla, also a lecturer in the Department of Economics, to teach students about business and climate change. “Our students learn about the role of governments, businesses and markets in promoting climate action across countries,” says Dr Pullabhotla. “For example, our students evaluate the efforts of different countries to meet their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), which are at the heart of the Paris Agreement.”  

Another student project involves evaluating the emission reduction performance of leading Australian businesses towards net-zero emission targets. “Climate change and associated weather extremities have strong implications on energy demand and supply, as well as the environment,” Dr Pullabhotla says. “Our research and teaching focus on helping students understand mitigation strategies for the present and challenges for the future.” Dr Pullabhotla’s research looks at the impact of wildfires and crop burning on infant mortality and human health globally. 

Centre for Disaster Resilience and Recovery 

An important part of Deakin’s work in this area is the Centre for Disaster Resilience and Recovery (CDRR). The CDRR provides research on the economic and social resilience of individuals and businesses to withstand and recover from disasters, both natural and man-made. The aim of the centre is to help create resilient businesses and communities that can adapt to a changing world by providing insights into issues related to economic resilience and recovery, green marketing, environmental sustainability management, eco-technology, water management and much more.  

As the Director of CDRR and the Head of the Department of Economics, Professor Mehmet Ulubasoglu works with national and international government organisations, including the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre, Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, Asia Pacific Network, and the Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre.  

“The Centre for Disaster Resilience and Recovery is recognised as a leader in innovative, high-quality research that translates into real-world applications,” Professor Ulubasoglu says. “We have many national and international research collaborations that both strengthen our expertise and offer exciting opportunities for our staff and PhD students.”  

His research, along with Dr Lan Tong, a Research Fellow at the Department of Economics, examines business recovery after disasters and how disaster support programs assist businesses in the Australian context. 

While addressing the most urgent issues of our times, the Department of Economics is also focused on providing research and teaching that prepares the next generation of leaders who understand the urgency of climate change and economic sustainability challenges and are prepared to tackle them.