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Indiaspora convenes climate change summit

Climate experts in the fields of business, academia, private investment, philanthropy, and public policy from the U.S., India, Europe, UAE, and Australia participated in a virtual summit at Indiaspora’s Third Annual Climate Summit on Wednesday, April 5th.

Topics ranged from current climate concerns to climate resiliency and actions and geopolitics of energy.

Mark Terek on climate change impacts

In his keynote address, Mark Terek, the CEO of Nature Conservancy, the world’s largest environmental nonprofit, outlined what the U.S. private sector could do to help build climate resilience.

“People know that the stakes are high and action needs to be taken. Everyone has to work together and address the challenge in a cooperative way. We are dealing with floods, droughts, fires, hurricanes, and heat waves all at once,” said Terek.

He identified new market opportunities where the private sector could innovate and scale resilient strategies, and lobby for policies and programs that amplify these efforts 

“We shouldn’t kid ourselves and expect companies to do things at scale that don’t make business sense. There are many opportunities to address both resilience and also achieve positive business outcomes,” he added.

Reducing risky behaviors connected to climate change

Terek urged companies to share their analyses to reduce risky behaviors connected to climate change, suggesting for example, that they deploy emerging technologies to improve forest management and reduce fire risks. Engineering companies could prioritize heat-resistant metals, while construction companies could develop infrastructure, including nature-based tools to manage dangerous excess water and excess heat in urban settings.

He complimented the gains in renewable energy, batteries, and electric vehicles born from an amalgam of private sector ingenuity, leadership, and supportive public policy, that included R&D programs, tax incentives, and renewable energy mandates. 

Clean energy goals

Terek offered BP as an example of a company with ambitious clean energy goals that are environmentally friendly but have disappointed their shareholders. 

“I admire how BP is trying to find its sweet spot to do everything they can to address the climate challenge, while at the same time balancing the need to deliver returns to shareholders.” 

After fossil fuels, land use is the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions, Terek pointed out. “Expanding agriculture-growing crops to feed livestock, is an enormous threat to the world’s great forests, and a huge climate challenge. Plant-based meat substitutes are great news.

New companies like Impossible Foods, Beyond Burger, and others have innovated in an exemplary way. Their products taste very good, are healthier, and are superior to meat in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. But these meat substitutes do not benefit from supportive government policy, like traditional agriculture and ranching, so the meat substitutes cost more and are having trouble scaling as quickly as climate advocates want.”

Public policy on climate change

Climate resilience requires thoughtful and ambitious public programs, said Terek, to stave off the harshest outcomes like building sea walls, relocating people from coastal areas, addressing catastrophic heat waves, and attending to likely surges and climate refugees. 

“Getting government leaders to take action and now is the time to make the investments in infrastructure and public policy. The business community has a strong voice, proven government lobbying capabilities, and recognized expertise in making long-term investments to manage risks. Business leaders can step up and be champions for the governmental programs we need,” suggested Terek.

These urgent public policy matters are little discussed said Terek, but business leaders can change that by helping people understand that investments in resilience are in everyone’s interest. 

Investment needed

People will need to come together, overcome differences, think long-term and decide on big investments in the face of a lot of scientific uncertainty. “It’s about working together on common sense, no regret efforts to protect people and property. Business can be a powerful force for good by tackling environmental challenges. Business brings great skills and resources to environmental opportunities. Business knows how to innovate, scale, move quickly and communicate- skill sets needed to address the climate resilience challenge,” he concluded.

Regional geopolitics of energy

Suriya Evans-Pritchard Jayanti, Senior Fellow- Atlantic Council, Eurasia Center, and Varun Sivaram, SVP for Strategy and Innovation, Orsted, followed with a fireside chat on the geopolitics of energy.

“The energy transition has been spurred on most recently, by the Russian invasion in Ukraine and the ensuing energy crisis has upended global power balances specifically in energy and commodities. There is an unusual opening right now for countries that have traditionally viewed themselves as victims in the climate change fallout, to really take the lead,” said Jayanti. 

She suggested that countries using legacy fossil fuels should avail of public and private sector opportunities that will pay for the transition to clean energy. This could catapult them into being geostrategic superpowers in the energy sphere. Governments need to liberalize or support the private sector and accelerate the replacement of fossil fuels and other traditional energy sources, to offset the ongoing energy crisis she aded. 

“India is on the forefront of the energy transition, and is simultaneously increasing its imports of crude oil and increasing its burning of fossil fuels and coal,” said Jayanti. 

Energy markets becoming regionalized 

Sivaraman explained the move towards renewable wind and solar polar would mean, getting clean energy from regional rather than global electricity markets.

“Europe is reducing their dependence on Russian energy. This includes not only oil which has been largely cut off but also increasingly LNG and pipeline gas,” he said.

The price gap strategy adopted by Secretary Yellen with European partners, said Sivaraman, has limited the revenue that Russia can make from levies it imposes on oil revenues from oil exports. 

India’s role in climate change

India has a huge opportunity to create an innovative clean and green energy model that doesn’t rely on coal and oil’, said Amol Phadke, Senior Scientist, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

“There’s a massive opportunity for electrification of buses and trucks in India. With the right public policy, this becomes also an economic opportunity, because electric buses and trucks deployed at scale are more efficient or also have lower total economic costs. India can also improve the electrification of rail or massively expand rail.

He warned that if India cannot support public policy and strategic investment in these sectors, it risks losing out in the automotive sector to foreign competitors manufacturing electric trucks and buses.

From the standpoint of investment, Rudra Dalmia of Green Frontier Capital said that India does not have long-term capital, with long tenure and low-cost bonds available to fund an entire enterprise. “Government policies take many years. Unfortunately, in the climate space, we are running out of time. There is no shortage of innovation, there is no shortage of early-stage capital. The challenge is going to come in the growth capital.” 

Agricultural reform can combat climate change

The Indian Government, said Dalmia, faces challenges in implementing agricultural reform policies.

Philanthropy can help move the needle on air pollution and climate change, said Jane Burston of the Clean Air Fund. Though solutions to air pollution and climate change are the same, average people understand air pollution better as it’s more tangible than greenhouse gasses. 

Burston described the Clean Air Fund’s work in India with private companies and the Indian Government. “The government has a very ambitious national clean air program. It’s a 40% reduction by 2026. A lot of the activity is going to be in the Indo-Gangetic plain. Air pollution costs Indian businesses $95 billion a year, so there’s a huge incentive for business leaders to do something about it.”

Shalini Kathuria Narang is a Silicon Valley based software professional and freelance journalist. She has written and published extensively for several national and international newspapers, magazines...