Climate collaborators

Saturday 9th May, 2020

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v ILLUSTRATION: AJAY MOHANTY Climate collaborators Some of the biggest names in Indian philanthropy have teamed up with researchers and moreto craft an India-specific response tothe climate crisis. Nikita Puri reports on the development hiletalking about climate change, Anirban Ghosh, chief sustainability officer, Mahindra Group, bringsup aGoogle Earth simulation project that features a handful of cities such as London, New York and Shanghai. Ghosh's city, Mumbai, is alsoon thelist. Theprojectestimatesthestate of these cities if global temperatures wereto riseby two degrees and by four degrees. "Tunderstand that in either scenario, my building is going tobe under water," says Ghosh. "Climate change can't get more personal than that." Pulled intoa narrative thatseemslike apocalyptic fiction but isin fact based on years of scientific research (and evidence), one goeson tothe Google Earth platform to find much of Mumbai'siconic 85-foot-high Gateway of India under waterif temperatures weretorise which they are expected to. Our coastal cities going underis just one ofthe many very real threats posed byaclimatechange crisis. From extreme heat waves toreduced labour productivity and food insecurity, the listisalong, growing one. Still, somehow, the dominant narrative paints climate changeassomethingthat's far removed fromour lives, something that might impact onlyothers. Thisis why some of India's foremost "a Ci Collsherstive JON Palfrey LT philanthropies havejoined handsto form the India Climate Collaborative, a coalition with diverse, disparate voices from research institutions and scientiststo investors and civil society all working with the government. "Itisclearthatthe world cannot continue to pursue abusiness-as-usual approach and nobody can solve the problem ontheirown," says Anand Mahindra, chairman ofthe Mahindra Group. Joining Mahindrainleadingthisclimate change intervention ate many household names Ratan N Tata of Tata Trusts, Nadir B Godrej of Godrej Industries, Rohini Nilekaniand VidyaShah of the EdelGive Foundation, Aditi and Rishad Premji of Wipro, and Hemendra Kothari ofthe DSP Group. More than 40 stakeholders have joined this growing collaboration, including the Energy and Resources Institute (TERD,the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), the Centre for Policy Research (CPR), and the Centre for Scienceand Environment (CSE). The first step towards the establishment ofthisplatform wasto reach out to different foundations, aprocessthat started in 2018. "It was heartening tosee how intuitively and quickly the philanthropies agreed to work together. What was also helpful was that everyone came tothe table with an attitude oflearning fromeach other. They knew that noonepersonhasallthe answers," says Shioka Nath, executive director of the Collaborative. There'sabig sense of personal responsibility, continues Nath, that these philanthropists have shown in protectingthe world forthe cominggenerations. And consensus isa non-issue. "You neverwanttoaim for Saturdays (May 16 and 23). Hosted on Zoom, one has to consensus in acollaboration. 'CLIMATE pre-register forthese talks. You want to be able toampup CHANGEISLIKE Dubash of CPR saysthe theambition and make sure APANDEMIC climatechange debatein you don't fall prey tothe TILLONE India has historically been lowest common outward-looking, somuch denominator," she says. HAPPENSNO sothatoureffortshave While the India Climate ONEWILLTAKE largelybeenfocusedon Collaborative started out with ANY ACTION' avoiding diplomatic anundisclosed sum from all the philanthropies, more funds will be raised for specific projects as and when the need forit arises. But its not just funding thatthe philanthropies bring tothe table. "Theyare alsobringingtheirtechnical knowledge, their networks and their experiences fromthe field," Nath explains. Asagrant-making association, the platform isnotan industry body, but an enabler. "The ideaisthat solution providers are already working on solutions. Ourtaskis to figure outhowto makeiteasier forthem." Whilethe Collaborative was formally launched at Davos earlier this year, the platform was incubated at Tata Trusts in Mumbai. Since 2017, Nath has headed sustainability and special projects at Tata Trusts. Aftertwopre-Covid convenings on air pollution, the Collaborative is launchinga three-part digital series today (Saturday). The first talk features philanthropist Rohini Nilekani, politician Jairam Ramesh and Navroz K Dubash, professor at Delhi's CPR, with journalist Barkha Dutt moderating the conversation. Thetheme forthissession is India in the time of Covid and climate change. The second and third talks are scheduled for the following Shloka Nath, executive director at India Climate Collaborative, speaking ata convention on air pollution challenges, and ensuring that the world doesn't place anunfairburdenonIndia. "The bigshiftnowis that important voices of Indian philanthropistsare taking ownershipofthe problem and saying we need toaddress climate change forourown sake," says Dubash. "Before thiswe hadn't thoughtofitasa problemthatwe owned, thoughitisincreasingly clear thatissues related toclimate change could beahuge obstacle toIndia'sdevelopment." Thebig mandate forthe Collaborative is craftinga narrative, acallto action, of howlIndia deals with climate change. "Thisisastory around India's developmental priorities, around India's economic transition, around human impact of climate change. This is a Story that weneed totell together by unifying different actors who come with different perspectives," says Nath. "Weare almost certainly locked into some level of warming, about 1t02 degrees, sowe willstart seeing the effects in India too," says Dubash. This might not sound like much, but even the scant degree or SO ofwarmingsince pre-industrial times has seen Himalayan glaciers retreating, besides more droughts, extreme rainfall events and floods. Theclimatechange problem is not going away. Thus, one ofthe key tasks for the Collaborative isto help cut across silos of those already working on solutions, whether it relates tolanduseor air pollution. "One ofthe essential features in the Collaborative'scontributionistryingtosee how the associations amongst strange bedfellowscan be made intosomething productive," says Nitin Pandit, director of Bengaluru-based non-profit ATREE. nacountryof staggering challenges, I ranging from extreme poverty tothe abysmal status of women, it can be hard to recognisethe issues that come with climate change,says Mumbai-based Urvashi Devidayal who works with Sankalp,a convening platform by Intellecap, the Aavishkaar Group's (an early stage investor) advisory arm. As someone who has spent much of hercareertryingto convince financial institutions that investing in green solutions ism't arisk but an opportunity,she acknowledges that some changes are hard toeffect. "Itishard tochange abehaviour set becauseclimatechange isjust not very real for us," says Devidayal. "In that sense climatechangeislikeapandemic itsnot like we didn't know about pandemics, but tillonehappensnoonewilltake any action." Anoldreportbythe World Health Organization (WHO) termed severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) "the first severe new disease of the 2 is t century". Published intheaftermath of SARS in 2004, therepotrtlaid stress on finding ways to makethe impact ofthe next international outbreak "less dramatic". The irony is only tooevident:theeffectsofCovid-19are very much more than "dramatic", The future, WHO noted, "I00ks very bright" for microbes. "Changes inthe way we inhabit the planet have disrupted the delicate natural equilibrium ofthe microbial world, and these changes cannot easily be undone," readsits report. Thereport isntsubtle about expecting moresuchoutbreaks. When it was presented, SARS had infected alittle more than 8,000 people, and killed just under 800. Between 2002 and 2005 alone, WHO verified 760 outbreaks in 138 countries of potentialinternational concem. Covid-19 haslongsurpassed the "first severe new disease ofthe 2 is t century". Moresuch deadly confrontations might be onthe way. CONTINUED ON PAGE 6 CONTINUED FROM PAGE Climate collaborators doneon emerging and remerging diseases, we've realised thatifyoudon't pay attention tobiodiversityand climatechange with equal weightage, both problems will become worse, says Pandit ofthe Ashoka Trust. We might seethe emergence of more zoonotic diseases(somestrains of coronavirus, which causes Covid19, are zoonotic, meaningthey can cause disease that canbe transmitted from animalsto humans) because of human intervention or climatechange, continues Pandit. "These diseases aregoingtobevery difficultto handle. Ourexperience just now speakstothis." Expertsspeculatethat the current problem of locusts, T hrough the researchwe've trillionsof which have descended intoeastern Africainasecond wave, and have even made their way to Rajasthan and Gujarat in "pinkswarms", isalsolinked to climatechange. "Besides disruptions in monsoons, in water cycles, and crop yields, India hasto start preparing for achange in agriculture pest patterns too," says Dubash. esidesspreadingthe word and mobilising resources where needed, the Collaborative is also invested incapacity building through events which have now been pushed tolater inthe year becauseofthepandemic). One of theminvolvesaplantobring100 bureaucrats from nine departmentsin Rajasthan to addressissues pertinent tothe state: water and extreme heat. Reaching outtothosesigned up withthe platform through monthly newsletters, Nath's writings cite recent studies to highlightthe situation's urgency. Oneofthesestudies pointstohow human-caused warmingcould usherinaworld wherethe Arcticis ice-freeinsummerin anothertwo decades, and the Amazon rainforest avast savanna grassland inanother50years. Theimpactof climatechange is nolessdramatic closerhome. Accordingtoareport released just thisweek, areascurrently hometo athird of the world's population willbe as hot asthe hottest parts of theSaharawithin five decades. Thisincludes India. Eveninthe most optimistic of outlooks, warns the paper (Future ofthe Human Climate Niche," publishedinthe Proceedings ofthe National Academy of Sciences), one tothreebillion people will be forced toliveoutsidethe climate conditions that have served humanity well for over 6,000 years. Inaninterview with The Guardian, Timothy Lenton of Exeter University, one ofthe authors of the paper, describes the results of their NANDHU KUMAR Ff UNSPLASH research as "flabbergasting". The pastdecade, hottestonrecord, is testament tothis prediction 2019 wasthesecond hottest yearsince thepre-industrialeraafter2016, according to the United Nations. Allcountries are goingtoface their own unique sets of challenges, warn experts, highlighting the need for Indiato focus on solutions tailored to our needs. Devidayal cites the example of how the extensive research done in the field of energy efficiency keeps in mind large factories, but India's economy, which heavily relies on MSMESs (micro, small and medium enterprises), may not be able to retrofit those solutions to its (smaller) factories. Rural India, for instance, may not receivethe uninterrupted power supplythat bigger factories might have. We need local, homegrown solutions. around 380 million people is already exposedtoheat-related stress, she says. "In another 10 years the average loss intheir daylight working hours could be between2.5and 4.5 per cent of GDP Amongthelessatriskannually." discussed waysin Areas currently Climatechangeis whichclimatechange home to a third an artefact of how we could adversely of the world's chose to develop, says impact India are Population will be Dubash. "At avery concerns about as hot as the deeplevel we continue labour welfare and hottest parts of the toseeatrade-off productivity. Extreme Sahara within five between the heatcould affect decades. This development and labour capacities includes India environment in India more and more inthe but wejust can't deny years ahead, says Nath. In India, 75 percent ofthelabour force theselinkages anymore." India's developmentstory, says Dubash, cannotremain separatefrom India'senvironmentstory. There'salotthat businessescan do,andaredoing, totacklethe climate emergency atacostthatis notsignificantly high, says Nadir Godrej, managing director, Godrej Industries. "Government can play arolein providing incentivesand disincentivestoensurelower carbonemissions. We have tolook atlocalisedsolutions that can solve global problems, andthis will need businesses, governments, academia, and individuals to work togethertoidentify and scaleup solutions," he says, addingthat the role of philanthropyisto augment theseefforts. This collective leadership, as Ratan Tata describes it, signifiesto the world that "Indian philanthropyisreadytobealeaderin climate action". And as American environmentalist Bill McKibben, whohas been writing a weekly climatecrisisnewsletterin The New Yorker, putit: "We seem to have agreat deal of control, right untilthe momentthat we don't have any." Overthepast few monthsthere have been some notablechangesintheplanet's wellbeing following the widespread recognition that Covid-19represents a public health emergency. What the pandemic hasshownisthat corporate organisations, government and private individualscan work togetherto mobilise resources and changethe very fabric of how we live in ashort time. TheIndiaClimate Collaborative recognises this asit builds together bit by bit India's responsetoclimate change. But as thestakeholdersemphasise: they can't doit alone.