There is, since the Paris climate summit in 2015, a growing recognition of the important role that businesses, states, cities, and other subnational entities play in translating climate policies into action. The Global Climate Action Summit, an initiative spearheaded by California Governor Jerry Brown, is an effort to bring together leaders from business, civil society, cities, states, and citizens to accelerate and enhance actions that will help prevent dangerous climate change and realise the goals of the Paris Agreement. Co-chair of the Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS) Mahindra Group’s Executive Chairman, Anand Mahindra spoke with ET about his expectations from the summit, India’s climate action efforts, and the transition to a sustainable development pathway.
What makes the Global Climate Action Summit significant?
There is a business case for sustainability and corporations are at the forefront of responsible development. The Global Climate Action Summit is bringing together people from across the spectrum on climate change. We will hear achievements and challenges of states, regions, cities, companies, investors and citizens with respect to climate action GCAS is a crucial part of a series of conferences—Bonn 2018, COP24, United Nations Secretary General’s Conference 2019, and COP25— that are trying to help all the parties raise their game and implement effective solutions. While Paris was a historic milestone in the effort to tackle climate change, we all know that we will need to do more to keep the average temperature rise below 2 degrees. GCAS will push this agenda.
On climate action, what is the India story like?
India is in a unique place. While its per capita emissions are low, its overall emissions are high given its sheer size and population. India is also a developing country and many million people will rise out of poverty in the coming years. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for India to rise in an environment friendly manner.
We can see that India is on a mission to develop renewable energy extensively. Heavy investment in solar and wind has driven down the cost of electricity to a point where, in many places, renewable sources can generate electricity in a cleaner and cheaper manner than conventional sources such as coal. The model of reverse auction for price discovery in a fast-developing market has been very effective and is a sustainable way of moving to renewable energy. Climate actions in India are aligned with the development needs of the country and are resulting in more jobs. This is a powerful aspect of the India story.
India is driven by a strong belief at the highest political level that pursuing environmental stability is the only way forward. As a result, India has set extremely ambitious targets in renewable energy and is actually ahead of schedule in meeting them.
What would make the summit a success?
For me, work towards GCAS began at Davos when we issued the Science-Based Targets (SBT) challenge to corporations across the world. About 470 companies have already signed up. By the time we get to California the number should be very close to the goal of 500 companies. We have Indian steel and cement companies that have come forward to sign on the SBTs. These sectors are known to be hard-to-abate yet Indian companies have shown vision and ambition. To my mind these are strong signs of success for GCAS already.
What are the challenges in transitioning to a low carbon pathway?
There are technical and financial difficulties in developing, deploying, and adapting low carbon technologies. Collaboration between various sectors including government, industry, academia, and civil society is essential.
How can big corporations help SMEs make the transition?
Large corporations, like ours, can and do enable members of the supply chain who are mostly SMEs to adopt climate friendly methods. The methods we suggest are all financially viable, so there is no problem with finance and because we have already implemented them ourselves there is no roadblock in accessing technology. For example, more than 300 of our suppliers have chosen to go 100% LED just like us. However, the tipping point will come when the businesses become proactive and start adopting business and climate friendly steps on their own.
The policy interventions and nudges that can make sustainability a central concern?
Three key follow-through actions in the recent past are ample proof of what can be achieved through government action. We have the largest LED program in the world. Secondly, we have a very successful model of deploying renewable energy at scale. While many other nations are struggling for a business case, India is creating a business case for climate friendly investments. Thirdly, I must mention that we underestimate the power of Swachh Bharat. The program may have started with sanitation but its potential to trigger circular economy and resource efficiency is massive. Nudges to get energy intensive businesses to source renewable energy will accelerate the transition. The government can nudge builders to ensure that all construction is green, it can support large scale adoption of non-fossil fuel driven vehicles, enable circular economy practices to drive resource efficiency and sharply reduce the pollution of land and water.