India’s climate leaders need their tribe – here’s why

Jarnail Singh, India Director, The Climate Group
Reading time: 8 minutes
18 October 2019

Climate change represents a megatrend that will shape the 21st century economy. With a limited amount of time to prevent irreversible impacts of climate change – 11 years as warned by the world’s top scientists – both the speed and scale of climate action are paramount. For meaningful scale, we need to do more of what’s already being done to limit greenhouse gas emissions while simultaneously looking for larger opportunities. For speed, the spotlight to take ambitious climate action is on large corporations who have historically been the biggest contributors to climate change.

The moot question then is: how do we help companies look beyond regulations and prepare for – or rather create – a cleaner and resilient future today? We know that cutting carbon emissions makes business sense. We know we have the technology and solutions available to us. However, in order to match the speed and scale required to meet the challenge of climate change, we need powerful networks to raise ambition and accelerate action.

One such community is the renewable energy initiative RE100 – a global platform for influential corporations committed to sourcing 100% of their electricity from renewables. We know that we are at a tipping point for renewable energy – their plummeting costs and advancements in energy storage mean that today businesses are embracing renewables not just as a green gesture, but as a fundamental part of their business strategy. However, when The Climate Group kickstarted RE100 along with CDP back in 2014 with a group of just 12 companies, this reality seemed a long way off. Now, 204 multinational companies have committed to the initiative, which amounts to the equivalent energy demand of the 23rd largest country in the world.

There are two important lessons here to realise the promise such communities of practice hold for India and its business leaders. Firstly – opportunity excites! Someone once told me that if you want long term corporate action on climate, talk to leaders with inspiring opportunities. This excitement was created around the goal of nothing less than 100% renewable energy.

Being part of a tribe provides a safe space for peer to peer learning and working towards a shared goal. Member companies of RE100 discover new avenues of innovation, test new ideas, learn from experiences and adapt accordingly. For instance, there is a mix of virtual and in-person RE100 exchanges facilitated by The Climate Group and CDP. To hear the stories of success or failure directly from those who have learnt from it makes these exchanges far quicker and more effective. As a result, around 40 companies are already sourcing more than 95% of their electricity from renewables today.

In India, the business community can face the climate megatrend head-on, provided they know why and how. For all businesses, sourcing clean electricity and using it effectively are great first steps. However, decarbonisation needs to happen in traditionally heavily emitting sectors such as steel, aluminium and chemicals in order for us to limit global warming to 1.5°C. A few companies from the country are already blazing a trail by setting higher levels of internal and external targets on climate action, but it’s far from being described as a movement yet. It was indeed a proud moment for India when Anand Mahindra represented the voice of global business at the 2018 Global Climate Action Summit.

To make climate leadership the norm, Indian business leaders need nimble and fit-for-purpose communities of practice to facilitate B2B (business to business) as well as B2G (business to government) collaboration. They need coalitions where business leaders make plans to forge ahead on ambitious climate action, and where governments are ready to work with business coalitions to deliver on the Paris Agreement. For instance Sweden, a national endorser of the Under2 Coalition, is partnering with leading companies to commercialise fossil-free steel, while Quebec province in Canada is trying to scale-up energy storage and low carbon Aluminium. In India, Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, transporting 3 million people daily, has partnered with the state of Madhya Pradesh to power over 90 percent of its operations using solar power. The power of such collaborations is huge – and spurs growth by catalysing international trade, finance and technology transfer. We just need this to happen with immediate effect, and on a bigger scale than we’ve seen before.

Tackling climate change has never been more urgent – and the clock is ticking. To make ever greater progress, we need even more businesses and governments to join forces and take action across renewable energy, electric vehicles and energy efficiency. If you truly believe in power of leadership and collaboration, take the plunge and commit your business to a pioneering and powerful network.

(Originally published in the September - October 2019 edition of Business India

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