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Financing Alone Won’t Mitigate Climate Change, Invest In Community Resilience: Neera Nundy, Co-Founder, Dasra

The biggest understanding we all have to have more of is how climate is interrelated, intersectional. It is not a standalone sector, says Neera Nundy, Co-founder of Dasra

New Delhi: COP27 climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt culminated with a breakthrough agreement to provide “loss and damage” funding for vulnerable countries hit hard by climate disasters. Creating a specific fund for loss and damage marked an important point of progress, with the issue added to the official agenda and adopted for the first time at COP27. But is that enough to mitigate climate change and its impact on health? NDTV-Dettol Banega Swasth India team spoke to Neera Nundy, Co-founder of Dasra to discuss COP27, climate crisis and health. Here are some excerpts from the interview.

NDTV: There is a need for climate action to focus on the most vulnerable, to start from the first mile, where the impact is felt most. How does one bring that lens of intersectionality in climate philanthropy, and enhance community resilience against climate-related shocks?

Neera Nundy: Most of these COP convening actually haven’t looked at adaptation and haven’t really looked enough at what it takes to strengthen the community. I think what we are seeing here however is a bit of a narrative and dialogue beginning to change especially because a big focus for COP27 is looking at loss and damage. Given that developing countries are experiencing this crisis, is there a way for developed countries to support that? What we are really trying to do at Dasra and what we are really trying to push on climate action is exactly what you said – can we invest in building resilience? We are very reactive to the crisis but are there ways of strengthening infrastructure, the way that we might address issues of disaster, how cities respond? It is actually the most vulnerable – those living in slums, those living in very dense areas – that don’t have infrastructural support, they actually get affected the most. So, are there ways of initially responding but ultimately strengthening their capacity to be able to respond to these disasters is the immediate place piercing some sort of traction.

Also Read: UN Chief Highlights India’s Contribution To Climate Action

NDTV: Given the focus of COP27 and the commitments made, what do you think are some steps India needs to take to ensure a climate resilient ecosystem?

Neera Nundy: I think what we are excited about is that India and all of us are taking this a bit more seriously. As the G20 presidency moves to India, we will need to participate and have a seat at the table for some of these climate discussions. I think we are seeing a lot more resonation as you know PM Narendra Modi just released the Mission LiFE and so some openness for us to participate as individuals and how we address the demand side of addressing climate is a big part of that mission. But, I think, there is still a quite a lot of alignment needed as to who sacrifices what for us to be able to be a part of climate action and given we are not the biggest emitters and we are going to have such a young population with very strong aspirations, I think there is big question of, is it really fair that our young people have to accommodate those aspirations. I think, it is redefining aspirations in a way that it can still align with bringing down the climate needs and the increase in temperature and I think, young people are probably the first generation that are willing to do that. However, all of that being said, with economic opportunities, the growth that this country will have, how we can kind of be able to find that balance will be really important for us. And will it again have to be the most vulnerable within India that actually have to compromise for that? I think they are big questions but that’s really where we see the role of civil society and local governance. Investing with philanthropy and organisations to find where those gaps are, where is the real support needed but also investing in local governance. It is not going to be the central government that is going to actually solve this, it will be a combination of going up and down the full system to be able to support climate action.

Also Read: Minimum Progress On Mitigation, Climate Finance At COP27: Experts

NDTV: With LiFE being announced there is an entire ecosystem being built to address climate and with the G20 presidency shifting to India, what are the steps civil society can take to enable change and help address the impact of the climate crisis?

Neera Nundy: The biggest understanding we all have to have more of is how climate is interrelated, intersectional. It is not a standalone sector. Typically how civil society gets labelled is that I am an NGO and I work in education. I am an NGO and I work in health. Actually layering on how climate action is part of whether it is livelihood, farmers, how they respond or be able to build that community and strengthen its resilience all the way to the intersectionality of health systems and climate. We had a huge experience through the pandemic of the need for strengthening health systems. Again, here you will see health systems get actually quite inter shock especially when we have issues of climate related crisis. So strengthening different systems and a systems approach to climate action is really where we are saying there is a role of government, private sector and civil society. Ultimately, there is also a need for academics and a lot more data so that we can quickly respond to this. There is a whole sense of urgency always around COP27, you have the pessimists who believe the world is coming to an end and optimists who are like we are in this together. The reality for us will be a balance.

Also Read: Explainer: How Far Has COP27 Inched Beyond Past Climate Deals?

NDTV: What are the lessons for philanthropy from the recent climate crisis in cities around flooding and disaster? What do we need to change about the way our cities function to better address such climate-induced disasters?

Neera Nundy: Investing at the municipality level, right at the urban local bodies (ULBs). How are you strengthening governance there and how are you actually getting the community to be represented there? So, whether it is women, investing in gender, investing in community to bring what their needs are. What happens is that a lot of us decide what is needed for communities. What has to happen is that there needs to be strengthening of the community in a way that gets bridged to ULBs where funding is needed and where action actually happens. I think having bridging up and down, open communication, a better understanding of where gaps are through data, I think all of that is really a role that philanthropy can play. Secondly, strengthening civil society and we cannot underestimate the importance of community represented organisations, NGOs that have been deeply embedded within communities for a number of years whether working with farmers rurally or working in cities directly, all of that needs to be strengthened.

Also Read: COP27: Children From Global South Make Their Presence Felt At Climate Summit

NDTV: How can we build a philanthropic ecosystem that understands and gives towards the need of the vulnerable getting impacted by climate? What according to you are some critical steps?

Neera Nundy: The biggest step is really about awareness and an understanding of how important climate actually is to everything that we do. And it is perhaps an equaliser of sorts. Air pollution was one of the first times when everybody realised that actually there are common goods here or common spaces that we are all, irrespective of where you come, socio-economically going to be impacted. The biggest whammy was COVID. We all are now beginning to understand how our lives are interrelated. It is no longer a group living in their ivory tower supported by those living in the slums. There is a greater awareness and a want to participate and try to figure out how do we bring more justice and equity into the system given how much we rely on each other and how not just India but the world is interconnected. And how therefore, addressing issues of climate in its urgency will actually benefit not just India but the world and I think that is really where the inter-connectedness comes in but I think making it real. A lot of us have been a part of this climate debate and you feel like, oh, it is intergenerational, will it really matter? But if we can show concrete steps of how communities are engaging, how it affects us or really great innovative ideas, you are seeing a lot more technology investment in different parts of addressing issues around climate. All of that is going to help us all activate what we really need for climate action.

Also Read: Explainer: Who Will Pay For Climate ‘Loss And Damage’?

NDTV: COVID has made us realise about our dependency and inter connectedness with the environment. What are the health impacts of climate change? And also how big a factor was that at the COP27?

Neera Nundy: We are seeing the intersection between health systems and climate be the first place of real investment, action, dialogue, some of the largest foundations are looking at the intersectionality of health and climate. I think the most obvious one that perhaps everyone does know or remind you of is that as temperatures increase or decrease, it has a huge impact especially on homeless people, who don’t have safety and security. And so that is really where you get a big chunk of where we lose lives due to health. But you lose lives due to health even in disasters – whether it is water, sanitation, basic infrastructure, injury – all of that ends up happening during the time of climate crisis or disaster. And that’s really where you are seeing health systems need to be able to respond and support but also ensure risk mitigation of all sorts – whether it is construction and infrastructure. And that’s where you are seeing some of the COP27 dialogue happen like can we have risk mitigation facilities that address sort of non-asset based but health-based issues. I think you are going to see and need a lot more financing mechanism and investment on that side but again, irrespective of the climate crisis, we know how much our own health systems were under pressure during Covid. We need to invest in strengthening health systems for everyone.

Also Read: Climate Justice Gets Harder As World Population Passes 8 Billion

NDTV: What are the key points from COP27?

Neera Nundy: This is just an initial conversation around loss and damage but can we please remind ourselves that it isn’t only going to be financing that is going to solve this. It is going to have to be a real investment in community resilience. At Dasra, we are going to launch a community resilience initiative that actually begins to build a common agenda with civil society, government, and philanthropy to say what it means to be investing in building that resilience and having a greater climate action across different kinds of sectors. We need a tremendous amount of financing to be able to invest in climate. In the last 20 years, India experienced an economic loss of about $80 billion due to climate change. We need another $1.5 trillion in the next decade to address issues of climate that are going to affect this country. By no means is this a small problem but I think each of us, and that is the beauty of the Mission LiFE, that as an individual we can all play a role irrespective of how daunting it seems for us to really solve climate action and climate change.

Also Read: Key Takeaways From The COP27 Climate Summit In Egypt

NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.

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