The corporate sector needs to wake up to the challenge of climate change



Is the climate change situation as dire as you make it sound? is
invariably the first question that any interviewer puts to Dr Rajendra Kumar
Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and
the director general of The Energy and Resources Institute. Ever since 2007,
when Pachauri came out with earth shattering commentary that our planet was
moving rapidly towards an ecological disaster of gargantuan proportion, somewhat
of an Eco-Armageddon and it was human activity that is responsible for the same;
he has been hailed as a hero and reviled as a villain across the globe.

Nations like the US, given to large scale industrialization, have emitted
obnoxious pollutants freely in to the Earths atmosphere for years on end but
want developing nations like India and China to take a commitment first, find
Pachauri sort of a bogeyman. Nonetheless, he has taken a strong stance on what
the world needs to do to forestall the doom and how the developed countries
should not merely shift the onus and blame developing countries. In recognition
of his efforts and those of IPCC, the Nobel Committee conferred on IPCC and Al
Gore, the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. In his acceptance speech on behalf of IPCC,
Pachauri had invoked the Sanskrit adagevasudev kutumbakam (the whole universe
is one big family) and asked everyone to contribute to the fight against
climate change.

Post Nobel, Pachauri turned into the most recognized face of climate
change and asks all to join in the challenge. In a special discussion with
Dataquest, he talks about the ways in which Indian corporate sector, especially
the IT companies can play a significant role in battle.

Whenever, we talk about climate change it is often from a macro
perspective, Can enterprises too have a certain amount of responsibility and
work toward a better world?
Indeed it is so. There is a whole range of things that companies and
enterprises can do. The impact of climate change is going to be very
diverseranging from an increase in extreme climate events, to heat waves,
drought, and also changes in precipitation pattern so the availability of
natural resources like water is going to be definitely affected and it is going
to impact on the working of the corporate sector. So companies need to start
looking at how they need to adapt to these extreme events, for instance if there
is an company that uses a large amount of water like a semiconductor fab; the
water is not going to be available in the manner and to the magnitude they need
in the future. So probably they need to think in terms of recycling of water,
using processes that are less water intensive. So these are adaptations measures
that they can adopt. And this will not only benefit the company but also go a
long way in the fight against climate change.

Due to your association with TERI, you have been privy to a lot of
information about the various sectors of Indian industry; what do you think
about the eco-consciousness of the IT industry vis–vis the rest of the
sectors?
Some IT companies are indeed getting conscious of the fact, but I am not
sure whether they are doing much about it. Even if you look at some of the
buildings that they construct, they have not really paid any attention by and
large to energy efficient design, reducing energy in a way to make it
sustainable in terms of supply opportunity in the future. And I am not too sure
whether most of them are looking at even the hardware and the software that they
use to focus on energy efficiency. So I still think that there is a long way to
go and I am not singling out the IT industry, every industry and enterprise
needs to gear up for the challenge.

Off late there has been lot of hype and excitement around the green
building space, especially with the popular LEED ratings and TERIs GRIHA
ratings. What do you think about the hype and the essential difference between
LEED and GRIHA?
I am happy about the increasing consciousness about the role played by
buildings in terms of the energy they consume and the pollution they cause. But
we need to understand that LEED was developed in the US and is more suited to
the conditions there. The climatic conditions of India and US are completely
different, for instance, usually we did not require much air-conditioning. That
is the reason, why we at TERI spent so much time and effort coming up with the
GRIHA rating. I think what we really need to do is to ensure that the rating
system is used effectively, that will only happen provided people find some
benefit in undergoing the process of these ratings. Those benefits would
essentially be in the nature of saving expenses themselves, so they need to
understand that if they have an energy efficient building, there might be a
slight increase in the up-front cost, but over a period of time you actually
save money. I think that consciousness and understanding needs to be created,
the second thing is that the government could provide some incentives and those
could be in the nature of larger FSI, tax breaks, etc. Because, I think it is
absolutely essential to bring about a major upgradation of building technology
to take into account the energy implication and other natural resources like
water as well.

Renewable energy is such a big thing abroad, yet it hasnt taken off in a
major way in India. In fact you had launched a rural program, Lighting a
Billion Lives with solar lamps developed by Teri. Yet the successes are few and
far between.

I think it is a question of mindset. Everybody believes in getting
electricity through the wire is the best way to modern living. But the fact is,
electricity in the homes of rural people would essentially be used for lighting
and agricultural purposes, like pumping and so on. But even if you were to
provide electricity to the rural areas, a lot of people may not have sufficient
money to invest in wiring and other initial costs. Secondly, the quality of
energy supplied in rural areas is so poor that it is not going to be a solution
for lighting purposes for a long time to come. So given the fact that photo
voltaic technology is a fairly mature technology and the product that we have
are reliable, there is no reason why we should not use it to provide lighting,
that makes such a difference to peoples lives. So we dont have to wait till
every village is connected by electric wires and distribution system. We can
immediately go for these solar lanterns that will provide all the benefits of
lighting that the people want.

But a lot many in the corporate sector lay the blame on the government for
not incentive based investment in renewable energy. As the argument goes that
mass use of such solutions would automatically then bring down the price. Your
views?
Economies of scale would be there no doubt, but it is a chicken and egg
situation, and I dont always blame the government. After all the corporate
sector is also a part of the society. Instead of going and lobbying with the
government for concessions that would help them, why dont they go and lobby on
something like this that would help the society? You never hear of such efforts.
So I think you really need to make sure that the government and industry start
working together and it shouldnt be them against us, kind of a thing.

Europe has been very active on tackling climate change, thanks to the
numerous legislations like RoHS and WEEE. Do you think we need that kind of
legislations in India to boost the battle on that front?
I think the first step, and perhaps the most important step, is to see that
the public is educated about climate change. They must understand the reality of
the problem and must realize what the role of the society is in meeting this
challenge. Awareness is spreading no doubt, but it is still a long way to go.
This is something that everyone from corporate leaders to national leaders
should look into seriously. Once the political and corporate leaders understand
the issue and start voicing their opinion, then the people at large will
understand it as well and come round to it.

Do we require stricter laws in place?
In some cases yes, for instance if you look at building activity, I think
every building should have a very strict code and a very strict regulation. But
I feel that regulation and enforcement is best done at a local level in towns
and cities, and that can make a big difference. I dont think all of it or even
a large part of it should come from New Delhi. We are a large and complex
country; state governments should play a larger role and take a lead.

Also, off late, there has been much talk about the issue of carbon
footprint. Abroad, a lot of companies keep talking about it, but there hasnt
been much talk on Indian shores. How necessary is that awareness according to
you?
I think it is very important because if you really want to achieve results
then the corporate sector has to play a vital part in it. And each company
should now get conscious about their carbon footprint. I am not saying that they
should spend a lot of money doing it and reduce their profits. On the contrary
through lot of these actions, many companies would be able to increase their
profits. There are lots of these so called no regrets measures which can yield
very high results. So I do think that the corporate sector needs to get involved
in this area to its own advantage. What we need to realize is that we are living
in a globalized world and if Indian industries have to compete with others then
they have to come up with low carbon technology, otherwise they wont be able to
sell some of their technology to other countries.

Is there a tradeoff between battling climate change and economic growth?
There is no tradeoff at all. Even in the developed countries there are huge
differences in the energy consumption levels on a per capita basis, and there is
huge difference in the technologies they employ. You can take the example of
Japan, which is one of the most energy efficient country among the developed
nations. If they can grow so rapidly with much lower levels of energy
consumption per capita, it carries a very important lesson that you dont have
to achieve growth through energy intensive methods. There are many means wherein
you can do the same with much lower inputs…

What will be your message to the IT Industry?
My message to the industry is straight, like many others I have a lot of
expectations from the sector. IT industry is a sector that is focused on the
future and is knowledge centric. I would like to exhort the players to look at
the different aspects of energy and eco-efficiency within their own operations
and work and engineer toward a low carbon economy. The Indian IT industry has
shown to the world and us, how knowledge can be used to create an equitable
world. I would now ask the very same industry to help in creating a hospitable
world. I have great hopes and aspirations from the industry.

Shashwat DC
shashwatc@cybermedia.co.in

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