Driving action in the Climate Decade - Reimagining India’s growth story

Divya Sharma, India Executive Director, Climate Group
Reading time: 3 minutes
25 September 2020

Today, as the world is witnessing extraordinary shifts in our social, economic, and health systems, we are also facing unprecedented times when it comes to climate change. As the Climate Decade begins, we are at the cusp of winning or losing this battle. This makes it is critical for us to reimagine growth for India in the next decade. The pandemic provides that opportunity for us to stop and re-evaluate our position, commitment, and preparedness for climate action.

On 24th September 2020 at Climate Week NYC, our India Hub event on ‘Reimagining Growth in the Climate Decade’ took place. I was very happy that we brought the world’s attention to what India has done so far to address the climate challenge, showing our creativity, innovation, and will to keep going. We saw that despite the severe impacts of the pandemic on our economic and social systems, we understand the urgency to act and the value of making long-term course corrections towards green recovery in the Climate Decade.

We had with us prestigious leaders from business, government, and civil society all on the same stage, set to explore our key focus areas for the next decade, and within the particular context of our country. We know India is and will continue to play a significant role in bringing down carbon emissions while addressing the severe domestic challenges we currently face.

As Joan MacNaughton, Chair of the Climate Group Board rightly said, “Unless India, with its huge economic potential, contributes to the climate agenda – I am afraid that global efforts will fail to meet the climate challenge. We must see how India, such a big and diverse country, can come together to ensure an ambitious and just transition.”

Identifying priorities for India

At the outset of the event, we brought attention to five crucial areas of intervention:

  • Green Recovery and growth
  • Low-carbon development
  • Clean and efficient energy and mobility
  • Food and water security
  • Resilience and adaptation

We see these as critical levers to not only address the impending impacts of the climate but also strengthen our ability to care for the health of our people, protect our ecosystems and grow livelihoods in a just and equitable way. At the start of the conversation, we heard from Suresh Prabhu, Member of Parliament of the Rajya Sabha, on India’s position on greening our financial systems and the various initiatives already been taken by the government.

Mr. Prabhu said, “We are aware of the huge climate crisis that is facing the world for a long time now. India’s response has been good – we have country-wide action plans and we have taken sectoral action, such as clean energy sourcing, energy conservation, and electrifying transport – all to reduce emissions.”

The highlight of the event was when Nadir Godrej, Managing Director, Godrej Industries, surprised the entire audience by responding to his question on key levers for low-carbon development in India in lyrical verse! We were thrilled to see his creativity and interest in articulating such valuable insight through poetry. Through his poem, Mr. Godrej brought to attention the need for a global carbon tax, business initiative in driving climate action and technology, forestation, and divestment in coal as critical to India’s rapid transition to low-carbon systems. 

Indian businesses driving climate action

The second half of the session drove home the message that ‘Indian businesses are ready!’. Sumant Sinha, our Chair of the India Advisory Group and Managing Director of ReNew Power was a champion of leading businesses to do right in supporting the government to address the huge challenges ahead of us.

Mr. Sinha said, “For the pandemic, we can have a vaccine, we have nations that can close their borders. But for climate change, we do not have either of these solutions. The Indian government has shown its commitment to clean energy and mobility. With businesses joining in, we can support with the heavy lifting and really drive our transition to clean energy systems.”

Mr. Sinha’s message was echoed by the other business heads present and shows us much optimism when it comes to resourcing and driving cutting-edge technology solutions to bring down emission levels in the country, especially in cities.

Building capacity and resilience for adaptation in India

Our third and most critical focus at the session was in exploring India’s capacity and level of resilience to adapt to the severe consequences of the changing climate. The country is already experiencing severe droughts, heatwaves, floods, and major storms across regions. We spoke to Aromar Revi the Director of the Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS). He is also a Coordinating Lead Author of the seminal 2018 IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C (SR15).

Mr. Revi reminded us that, although it is important to invest in mitigation activities, it is equally important to prioritize meeting our Sustainable Development Goals.

Without a doubt, India continues to grapple with the challenges of gender inequality, huge income gaps, and partial health care systems. We saw that, for a country like India, it is imperative that we merge both the climate agenda – ensuring our decisions wholly consider the finitude of our resources, the fairness in its applications, and the fragility of our ecosystems – all at the same time.

We then heard from Ashish Chaturvedi, Director – Climate Change, GIZ India, on India’s capacity to secure nutritious food and clean water for its people. Dr. Chaturvedi, who has led several on-ground initiatives on the subject, emphasized the gravity of the situation and gave us solutions that he believed need to be in immediate effect.

Dr. Chaturvedi said, “India has a responsibility to feed and nourish 1.3 billion people. We need to apply a climate lens to food and water security, make sensible crop decisions, and innovate on technology and infrastructure to maintain supply and demand for clean water and food in the long-term.”

What next?

I need not reiterate the need for collective and accelerated action on climate change. It is very evident that for countries like India who face the most severe vulnerabilities given our unique geographical location, diversity, and socio-economic dynamics, it makes it more pronounced. The new study published by the Ministry of Earth Science, Government of India presents some striking data in terms of the gravity of the problem and urgency of taking and spurring up action to mitigate climate change and brace up by strengthening adaptation and building resilience.

We have seen India’s average temperature rise by around 0.7 degrees Celsius between 1901 and 2018 and it is projected to rise further - by approximately 4.4°C by the end of this century. Rainfall patterns will be severely impacted and more pronounced and extreme climate events are predicted for India. These changes in climate are already posing long-term socio-economic impacts on the lives of Indians and economic development in general.

The international community pledged within the Paris Agreement to accelerate climate action to restrict global warming at 1.5C by the year 2030. The decade of the 2020s is crucial to set the stage for practical and viable climate solutions that can reach even the most vulnerable. It is no easy task and would require significant investments and efforts. 

We will continue to ask questions and demand investment and research in clean technologies as well as adaptation programs to every stakeholder. Our work with businesses has seen immense growth. We now have 40 RE100 companies operating in India, 8 Indian headquartered EV100 companies, and 9 EP100 companies. Our work with governments has helped us engage with our most critical actors to really accelerate low-carbon development and policy. We find that both national and state – are the torch bearers in urging scalable systemic change. In our efforts, we seek to:

  • Support in aligning State Action Plans on Climate Change in India with enhanced technical support and resources to develop long-term emissions reduction plans using available resources.
  • Help governments Innovate and adapt policies to accelerate the transition to a net-zero economy.
  • And increase their accountability mechanisms to effectively reach real climate targets, build action, and ensure progress, in tandem with India’s climate commitments.  

Climate Week NYC 2020 was really a pivotal moment for India and the world - to take stock of voices, commitments, and actions that address climate change. With COP26 being postponed due to the pandemic, this really became an opportunity for us to bring these priorities to the forefront and identify the roles of government and businesses in driving climate action for India.

While we understand the pandemic has been a setback in many ways, it has also shown our collective will to keep going and trust the science-based urgencies to mitigate climate change. We now know that India possesses the leadership, resources and people power to make real change happen. We strongly hope that national bodies, state offices, and the businesses community - to fully participate in the challenge ahead of us and use our collective strengths to move towards a green, resilient and sustainable future.

Watch the full event here.

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