Climate change, energy and developing countries: a Q&A with Tim Dobermann

Tim Dobermann is a PhD candidate in the Department of Economics 

What sets one society on a path of success, but another on a path of failure? Is it fortune, force, or foresight?
Tim Dobermann 747 x 560
Tim Dobermann

What are you currently researching?

Two areas have kept me busy at LSE. The first is climate change and how those in poverty can adapt in time. I look at the role of human capital – your education, health, or skills – in helping people in India adapt to a worsening climate by shifting occupations or locations. Human capital is an investment in resilience.

The second area relates to improving the functioning of power sectors in developing countries. Energy is critical for growth, yet a suite of ailments, like electricity theft or bloated power contracts, suck the fiscal life out of the sector. This ultimately harms the quality of electricity supply as power outages and poor service become the norm. I explore various aspects of this in Pakistan, Ghana, and Myanmar.

Why did you choose this area of study?

I was drawn into economics by fundamental questions around why societies flourish and how they evolve to adapt to the circumstances of time and place. What sets one society on a path of success, but another on a path of failure? Is it fortune, force, or foresight? For me, these are timeless questions which get me excited about unpacking the mechanisms beneath them.

The rising spectre of climate change must now be embedded squarely inside debates over these fundamental questions. My interest in energy sectors in developing countries comes from the recognition that they form part of the frontier for adapting and mitigating climate change.

How will your research have a wider impact on society? Can you give some real-world examples of the impact your research will have?

Few issues, if any, eclipse climate change and poverty eradication as leading contemporary policy challenges. How we grapple with them will directly affect the welfare of society.

My work on human capital and adaptation to climate change reveals that those in poverty, despite vast improvements in metrics like health or education, may still need more to adapt in time. My research on energy shows how dysfunctional power sectors burden the daily lives of people and businesses by resulting in higher prices and erratic supply.

What have been the highlights of your research work so far?

Working with research partners and governments in India, Pakistan, Ghana, and Myanmar has been the definitive highlight. I learnt an immense amount about how climate change is already affecting these countries and about the challenges they face in creating a healthy energy sector that provides affordable, reliable, and clean energy.  

What has been your biggest challenge so far?

The same partners and governments that form my biggest highlights are also my biggest headaches! It is very challenging trying to do research with governments, especially on challenging issues under difficult circumstances with strong data requirements.

What advice would you give to prospective students on the most effective way to approach research and keep stress levels down?

Luck matters more than most researchers typically care to admit. Focus on asking big, important questions that interest you. With persistence, things will come together. Do not apply moulds of other researchers on yourself.

In a few words, what is the best thing about studying at LSE?

LSE is at the heart of a global network of researchers and policymakers working on the most important issues of the day