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Pakistan might be one of the most vulnerable countries in the world when it comes to climate change, but what it lacks sorely is science-based climate research. Mostly, one has to rely on foreign scientists who regularly visit Pakistan (glaciologist Ken Hewitt, landslide expert Dave Petley to name a few) for reliable, science-based research on glaciers and landslides or look into the findings of international and regional studies conducted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development. This might soon change, for earlier this month the COMSATS Institute of Information Technology in Islamabad formally inaugurated a Centre for Climate Research & Development (CCRD) on its campus in Chak Shahzad.

“We are proud to be associated with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany which has agreed to support our Centre,” explained former Ambassador Shahid Kamal, who served at the Pakistani embassy in Bonn for several years and decided to set up the centre last year. The Potsdam Institute is one of the leading research centres in the world when it comes to climate change, so it is quite an achievement to be associated with this prestigious institution.

Dr Juergen Kropp, Head of International Cooperation of the Potsdam Institute, recently visited COMSATS to meet with the rector, Dr Syed Muhammad Junaid Zaidi and Shahid Kamal and members of various research groups. Dr Kropp also attended a workshop organised by the department of meteorology and visited the Abbottabad campus of COMSATS where he met faculty members from the department of environmental and earth sciences.

To formalise the collaboration between the centre and the Potsdam Institute, a five-year cooperation agreement was signed on April 5, 2013. The agreement will promote interest in research activities between the two respective institutions, facilitate the exchange of scientists, and support the progress of the centre for climate research & development (CCRD). The cooperation will include the exchange of students, doctoral candidates or postdoctoral assistants, the holding of jointly organised symposia, conferences and meetings on research issues and the setting up of joint research projects at the Asian and global levels.

“We hope to have plenty of joint projects with the Potsdam Institute. What we really want to do is to build our indigenous capacity when it comes to researching climate change,” added Shahid Kamal. He first became involved in climate change when as ambassador to Germany he attended the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) talks that are held in Bonn each year as part of the official delegation from Pakistan. “I developed an interest in climate change around six years ago when I was posted to Bonn, where the UNFCCC has their secretariat, and I reported back to the government that climate change must be given a higher priority and we got the ministry of foreign affairs involved, along with the ministry of environment”.

The expansive COMSATS campus was chosen as the central location, so that the centre could benefit from the skills and knowledge of the different departments on campus, like the meteorology, mathematics, earth sciences, physics, chemistry and computer sciences departments. “We wanted a multi-disciplinary approach that could draw on a broad range of skills,” Kamal further explained. “Also, the college students can support the research, which will be used to make policy recommendations.”

He hopes the centre will cooperate with other institutions in the country and region to set up research groups in focus areas like glaciers, agriculture, water and changing monsoon patterns so that scientists can work together. “There will of course be a link with the federal ministry of climate change as well.” Kamal points out that since there is not a very big pool of scientists to draw upon, the emphasis would be to build competence and to “work as a team” so that our policy makers are better informed and we can increase our country’s resilience.

“Right now we are taking small steps, but we hope to pick up momentum and coordinate with other organisations who are also working in this field”. The centre for climate research and development hopes to combine multi-disciplinary research groups that can work on the monitoring of weather data, impact assessment of climate change, adaptation and mitigation. The centre, which will hopefully focus on good science and accurate research, is much needed in a country that lacks properly trained experts in the new and important field of climate science.