Private sector can play an important role in fight against climate change

By Purba Halady Rao

In recent times, there has been an upsurge in public concern over climate change, thanks to increased research, media coverage and focus by international agencies. Academics and specialists studying climate change issues have long agreed that various human activities such as industrialisation, deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels to generate electricity or to produce goods and services have contributed to an increase in heat, which in turn has trapped gases (greenhouse gases) in the atmosphere, causing global warming and leading to climate change.

The greenhouse gases form a screen in the earth’s atmosphere, which allow the sun’s rays to come in but trap some of these waves to reflect back to the Earth. This causes the heating up of the Earth’s surface. People are now increasingly aware of the causes and impacts of climate change, such as the prevalence of diseases and disturbed crop production cycles, which in turn would lead to events like mass migration, higher mortality rates, morbidity and other changes to the quality of human life.

Various strategies, recommendations and action plans to address these impacts of climate change have been designed and implemented. Their recommendations follow two different but interrelated approaches: mitigation-related approaches (addressing the causes), and adaptation-related approaches (addressing the effects).

However, it is still an uphill task. Government agencies and various international bodies are doing their best to implement strategies to combat climate change, but a lot more initiative and commitment is needed and here is where the private sector can help.

Why private sector must be involved

The private sector, with its known and proven effective leadership in building efficiency in organisational processes and achieving goals, could prove to be of great help in addressing the impacts of climate change.

There are many ways in which corporate managers can help the climate change cause. Managers can choose to be the leaders of innovation at their production plants, with better capturing designs (which are cost efficient and energy efficient) and the use of bio-fuels and green fuels, with emission-free production systems and climate change friendly waste recycling systems.

But there’s another reason for the private sector to get involved. Through the ages, the private sector has generated huge volumes of greenhouse gases and thus have a significant climate footprint, impacting communities, the nature and even businesses.

Whether in mitigation or in adaptation, the corporate manager’s involvement may prove to be the tipping point in the fight against climate change, both at the individual and at the corporate level.

Mitigation initiatives aim at reducing and/or preventing the generation of greenhouse gases. At the individual level, such initiatives can take the form of: preventing or objecting to trees being cut down; planting trees; using energy-efficient lighting and solar energy; using emission-free cars, and curbing the consumption of gasoline.

At the corporate or organisational level, mitigation initiatives are longer-term and complex. Some strategies include: using climate-friendly production and cooling systems, which do not generate greenhouse gases; using input materials that do not produce greenhouse gases upon use; using environment-friendly cleaning agents; ensuring that buildings have adequate insulation to minimise the energy needed for cooling purposes; setting up a climate-friendly waste handling system; using solar energy; producing energy-efficient and environment-friendly products.

Adapting climate-friendly strategies

Mitigation strategies, through the adoption of steps preventing and reducing, climate change, will have far-reaching impacts. On the other hand, adaptation addresses the current impacts of climate change, like flash floods, hurricane, tsunamis, droughts, the prevalence of disease and the like.

Adaptation strategies are often specific to local conditions, and thus locally relevant action plans must be developed with the aim of reducing climate-related risks. These action plans should be community-based development initiatives that, among other things, promote information sharing, develop early warning systems (to warn of an impending calamity) and early preparedness plans, develop different crop strains that can withstand adverse weather conditions, and all in all enhance society’s resilience. Adaptation strategies are therefore developed looking at the exact nature of the vulnerability of the target communities that are in danger of climate change impacts.

According to a recent study, people at the managerial level in corporate India are most likely to implement adaptation strategies when aware of diseases, the lack of food and water, and the impact on nature, while they are likely to turn to mitigation strategies when it is a matter of curbing the impact on the environment.
It is in the implementation of these strategies that the private sector should step in with their expertise, manpower and organisational competence.

The private sector can play an important role in addressing the impacts of climate change and must rise to this responsibility.

Purba Halady Rao is a Visiting Professor at IIM-Ahmedabad.

Climate ChangeGlobal Warming