India Inc should wake up to climate changeShankar Venkateswaran
As the world is moving ahead to find sustainable solutions to combat climate change, the time has come to take a hard look at India’s role.
Large businesses in the country today recognise that while manufacturing goods or delivering services, they need processes that are sustainable and climate-friendly. They are looking at carbon footprint and adopting technology solutions to offer low-carbon products and services.
But are we doing enough? Are our current plans and actions sufficient to cater to the growing needs of an increasingly aware stakeholder — customer, community, investor and even regulator — who is evaluating us not just by what we do with our profits (CSR), but also by how we make our profits in the first place — our commitment to sustainability?
Role of business
India is the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHG), accounting for 6 per cent of total carbon emissions. This is largely on account of thermal-based power generation. There are no straight solutions for power generation companies or for the government. Coal-fired plants take 4-5 years to build and have a life of over 40 years.
Solar photovoltaic plants require 5-7 times the land per megawatt of capacity compared to coal at current technology levels, and so both policies and technologies need to change quite dramatically to enable a shift to renewables.
Funding remains a constraint since these are long gestation investments. This is symptomatic of the larger low-carbon growth strategy — the key enablers are technology, finance and policy.
Should it be business as usual till the governments sort out these matters in Paris in December 2015? Or should business leaders do what they are good at — show leadership?
All are affected
The fact is two of the three ingredients for low-carbon growth — technology and finance — are driven by the private sector.
The financial world currently lives by the quarter, but for them to play a significant and responsible role, they need to think long term. And given the size and significance of private sector, it can influence public policy.
So, business leaders have the means to show the way.
Businesses need to act collectively and in partnership with governments and all other stakeholders. Climate change is not just the government’s business; it’s everybody’s business. We need to have ambitious goals. Our national and global positions must be in sync. While we can rightly insist on Common but Differentiated Responsibility (CBDRs) across nations, we must also recognise the CBDRs within India simply because the hungry and energy-starved poor should no longer continue to subsidise the large carbon footprints of India’s middle and elite classes and keep our per capita emissions low. We need to find low-carbon alternatives and behavioural change for inclusive growth.
There are several new-age entrepreneurs who are conscious of their responsibilities to society and the environment. It will do a world of good for the people, for business and for the society at large for such leaders to come together and take bold, collective actions.
Companies that believe responsible behaviour is driven by regulation alone will soon realise that it is stakeholders that provide the licence to operate.
Twenty years ago, US students boycotted leading sporting goods brands for supporting sweat-shop labour and these companies had to change overnight.
It may not be long before the Indian consumer tells companies that while she likes affordable products, she will not compromise on quality and responsible behaviour?
Communities are increasingly telling companies that they will no longer give up their lands without permission and unless compensated in full measure, nor will allow them to operate if they use up or pollute their lands, air or water.
If however, we behave irresponsibly, will we have a future? Our food production is overly dependent on the monsoon, and with extreme weather conditions — all consequences of climate change — on the rise, our vulnerability increases.
Distress migration to our cities — exacerbated by the agricultural crisis — would mean a very disorderly and badly managed process of urbanisation and its consequent social costs.
Sea level rises and the consequent salinity ingress have begun to adversely impact our coastal communities apart from threatening industrial assets located on our coastlines.
The response to climate change has largely been reactive and it is about time to transition to a forward-looking regime.
The writer is Chief – Tata Sustainability Group, Tata Sons. The views are personal
This article has been previously published in The Hindu Business Line.