Working Paper by ODI.

What do we mean by ‘equitable, climate-resilient economic growth’ in semi-arid lands (SALs)? Are fast growth, fair growth and resilient growth compatible objectives, or are trade-offs between them inevitable?

This working paper sets out the rationale for the Pathways to Resilience in Semi-arid Economies (PRISE) research project’s focus on investment and development that have the potential to unlock rapid economic growth, reduce poverty and build climate resilience in SALs.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted in September 2015, contain the key goals of ending chronic poverty and stopping climate change. Meeting these goals requires growth with depth. In other words, economic growth must not only result in human development. It must also be intrinsically fair, accessible to and with benefits for all, environmentally sustainable and resilient to the shocks and stresses that can be expected from changes in the global climate, an evolving global economy and rapidly growing and urbanising populations.

Climate change and extremes pose growing risks to economic growth, particularly in developing countries. At the same time, patterns of economic growth shape vulnerability and resilience to climate impacts (Castells-Quintana et al., 2015a). However, many businesses and policy-makers are not yet convinced by the need to invest in climate resilience. Too often, the case has been made based on long-term projections of climate change impacts, which present pessimistic visions of a world 50 or 100 years in the future. These projections are complicated for non-specialists to interpret, and do not provide specific information about climate impacts on the economy and businesses, or how to manage them. Nor do these arguments address the short-term horizons of investors motivated by profits, or of politicians concerned by re-election and more immediate demands from their constituencies. Further, psychologists continually reiterate that scare stories are not a strong motivator of action, particularly when they do not present an immediate personal threat or offer straightforward solutions.

This is why we advocate a different approach through the project Pathways to Resilience in Semi-arid Economies (PRISE). We are unconvinced that starting with assessments of climate change and impact, and working backwards to identify options for adapting business-as-usual activities to new climate conditions, will achieve what is needed (see, e.g., Conway and Schipper, 2011). Instead, we focus on pathways for investment and development that have the potential to unlock rapid economic growth, poverty reduction and climate resilience simultaneously in semi-arid lands (SALs). Each of our seven research projects considers a promising pathway, such as managing migration or developing new market opportunities, in terms of fast, fair and resilient modes of growth and the interactions between them.

This paper sets out the rationale and aims of PRISE’s research, and attempts to situate the challenges of achieving fast, fair and resilient growth in terms of the growth and development economics literature. It sets out our understanding of what fair, fast and resilient growth means, what the trade-offs between these principles may be and how they relate to the current development status in SALs.

PRISE has a large interdisciplinary team, and framing these questions in a way that is meaningful and useful for different types of expertise has been a challenge. This paper is therefore aimed at researchers and practitioners in climate change adaptation and resilience who are interested in broader economic development and poverty reduction contexts of their work.

To read the complete paper: Resilience, equity and growth in semi-arid economies.

Photo: Tim Lumley  CC BY-NC-ND 2.0