Our efforts to prevent a climate apocalypse are still falling far short of what is required
By Ramnath Vaidyanathan
For a long time now, the world has been staring at a crisis brought about by environmental degradation and climate change. The World Nature Conservation Day, observed on July 28 annually to raise awareness about protecting nature and conserving natural resources, serves as a clarion call for us to commandeer all resources and direct all our efforts towards saving this tiny blue dot we call Earth.
The loss and degradation of forests alone currently constitute around 12 per cent of human-caused carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Nearly a quarter of global emissions emanate from the land sector as a whole, from agriculture, forests and other land use.
However, when it comes to preserving nature, biodiversity and ecosystem, there is a lack of simplified biodiversity metrics. The impact is difficult to baseline, quantify and monitor at a macro level. Initiatives to mitigate the loss of nature and biodiversity, regenerate flora and fauna have to be geographically specific and locally targeted.
Paris shows the way
The Paris Agreement, adopted in December 2015, underscores the vital role of diverse ecosystems in achieving climate neutrality. The accord acknowledges the importance of healthy ecosystems in building resilience and ensuring the integrity of all ecosystems and the protection of biodiversity.
Ecosystem-based adaptation is based on a simple premise: look after nature, and it will look after you.
Restoration of land is part of India’s commitment to achieving land degradation neutrality, a flagship initiative under the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).
According to estimates, restoring 350 million hectares of degraded or deforested landscapes by 2030 could sequester between one and three billion tonnes of CO2 per year. That’s not all; it could also generate about $170 billion per year in other benefits from ecosystems.
Degradation of land is a major area of concern in India, where agriculture is a large contributor to the country’s Gross Domestic Product. It is caused by multiple factors, including extreme weather conditions, over-cultivation and poor crop and soil management.
Marine ecosystems, too, are under assault from pollution. As humans continue to dump pollution of all kinds into our oceans on a daily basis, phytoplankton (70 per cent of atmospheric oxygen comes from these marine algae) are finding themselves under increasing pressure just to survive in the face of eutrophication.
Meanwhile, human-wildlife conflict, though not new, is on the rise in India. We need to frame strong regulations to help reduce instances of conflict and consequent losses. Prior to taking up infrastructure projects, aside from the basic environmental impact assessment, which is mandated, we need to look at the impact of the planned activities on the ecosystem and create a baseline and action plan study to mitigate this impact on the local species of plants and animals.
The statistics are not just sobering but frightening. Climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year’ between 2030 and 2050, according to the World Health Organization. It is happening right now, and our current actions are not nearly enough for us to reverse the damage already done. Aside from limiting the use of fossil fuels and increasing the uptake of clean energy, we need to utilise the planet’s vast potential to sequester carbon and consider the overall impact not just on us but our flora and fauna with whom we share this planet.
While growth still remains at the heart of the business model, responsible corporates have adopted the triple bottom-line approach to manage the social, environmental and financial implications of their actions.
As a responsible corporate committed to people and the planet alongside profit, Godrej has implemented a host of measures to reduce its carbon footprint. In 2011, the first set of sustainability goals, formalised as the “Good & Green” programme, made us look inward at our operations and processes and outwards at our surrounding ecosystems, supply chain and communities. Our next five-year sustainability vision focuses on expanding our horizons to cover our entire value chain, in which one of our goals is to create a baseline for nature and biodiversity loss and chart a roadmap for mitigating it.
Optimising the supply chain to build a network of sustainable partners, building climate resilience and transitioning to a zero net carbon future are some of the critical targets that need to be adopted by the industry at large.
Improving the energy efficiency of existing processes, investing in green technologies and switching to renewable energy sources are at the core of all efforts to meet net-zero carbon ambitions. As energy production and use accounts for 2/3rd of the global GHGs, a switch to renewables can help reduce energy-related CO2 emissions by nearly 70 per cent by 2050.
Biomass is a quick and easy way for the industry to increase their thermal renewable energy consumption. In the last few years, Godrej has replaced fossil fuels with biomass briquettes to fire most of our boilers. The company’s total renewable energy portfolio, currently 52 per cent, is expected to reach 70 per cent by 2025. However, there is scope for us to do more, but that requires a significant shift in the regulatory landscape.
Most importantly, organisations need to become more transparent in their disclosures on the impact of their products on the environment. Disseminating such information will go a long way, not just in demonstrating actual commitment to the environment and society, but also in earning public goodwill and trust.
The time for talk, setting targets and affirming commitments is over. This must be a decade of action and measured validated results. There is no second best scenario with which to console ourselves. There is no Plan(et) B, so we have no way out but to save this one.
(The author is General Manager, Sustainability, Godrej Industries. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)