Not long ago, a colleague and a very senior finance professional started taking a deep interest in the subject of Climate Change and was soon leading the charge in embedding climate into our firm’s culture and operating rhythm. We saw significant strides in our outreach from our predominantly millennial workforce, where each one of them is now evolving into a climate influencer, both at workplace and in the community.
Surely, this was the outcome of the escalating Global Climate agenda and our organisation’s very own Climate ambition. As the Sustainability Officer, I couldn’t stop myself from giving a self-indulgent pat on my back for the influence created in the climate arena in the firm.
Before long, the colleague revealed that it was his seven-year-old at home who was asking him uncomfortable questions on the looming climate crisis, to which he was expected to respond as a business leader, as a citizen, and as a father.
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Well, we have all been hearing the climate change warnings. The world is now about one degree warmer than in pre-industrial times. We are seeing increasing flood risk and damage, wildfires, drought, and freshwater shortages because of this rising temperature.
A 2°C above pre-industrial times will result in melting of polar ice caps, causing an increase in sea levels. On the human side, the increasing temperature could dramatically alter our ability to produce food and, thus, result in death due to starvation. We have been informed through scientific studies and mathematical modelling that unless we act in haste to bring about changes in our production and consumption systems, we are going to witness a breach of 3 degrees Celsius in the global average temperature rise – a point of no return for a substantial part of life on earth, including us!
The ongoing pandemic has endorsed the direct connect between anthropogenic actions and levels of greenhouse gas emissions revealing a discernible dip in emissions following a slow-down in economic activity. That the dip was brought about by a pandemic-enforced lockdown and not through engineered structural changes to our energy, industrial, transport, or consumption systems is a moot point. The connect between ever-increasing anthropogenic activities and emissions of greenhouse gases has further reinforced the need to bring about structural changes that can sustain the emissions reductions. Such structural changes to production or consumption systems are part of our civilization’s history and have happened on account of opportunities afforded by new discoveries. For example, the discovery of fossil fuels catapulted our hauling capability from the power of a horse to hundreds/thousands of horsepower through a locomotive. Invention of levers shifted load from human backs to cranes and movers. And the call for rationalising the use of aerosol sprays to deal with ozone layer depletion is a good example of changes in production systems that restored the ozone layer.
While inventions, technologies, and smart solutions have brought about changes in our production systems resulting in energy efficiencies and green products, the market is a dispassionate entity that is motivated essentially by cost efficiencies and revenue maximization. Even as the global community is in search of energy efficiency and cuts in energy consumption, the markets keep throwing up products that go severely against this very quest for energy austerity and could, thereby, disrupt the emission reduction strategies. Cryptocurrencies, for instance, are presently charged with phenomenally high appetite for energy. However, the market also sits on the foundation of demand and supply – which can serve as a good platform for solutions. For example, an informed and motivated generation of consumers that demand green products, or a responsible business that supplies green products in response to consumer awareness and education.
Measures like the Earth Overshoot Day – which marks the date when humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year, clearly indicate the extent to which we are liquidating ecological resources and accumulating carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. In 2020, Earth Overshoot Day landed on August 22 – we used up a given year’s resources by this date, raising alarm bells and urging generations to consider tools and solutions to help civilizations operate within Earth’s ecological limits and avoid deficits.
Surveys carried out in top emitting nations revealed that by early 2020, Climate Change had risen to become the top priority in public agenda internationally – far ahead of jobs, economy, health care, and defence. Greta Thunberg and the strident call to ban plastic were just two of the myriad pleas to awaken the global community. “An ear-splitting wake-up call”, that’s how the Secretary General of the United Nations (UN) had referred to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report calling for capping temperature rise at 1.5 degrees Celsius, as a 2 degrees rise could be a point of no return. The IPCC’s approach to Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions is to look at the carbon budget, namely the amount of CO2 that can be pumped into our skies as we lead our lives within the current framework of production and consumption. At current rates of emissions, we have another nine years before we hit the roof to the point of no return. Surely, the Generation Next looks poised to inherit the planet as a capital-at-risk.
Indeed, the seven-year-old just proved himself to be a good representative of this climate-conscious generation!
As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”, the present day generation values the planet like its own and is justified to demand an answer and action to ensure their future is preserved.
As the inheritors of this planet, the Generation Next carries an onus that has been thrust on it, i.e. to arrest the planet’s warming and prevent the final nail in Earth’s coffin as we hurtle towards climate catastrophe. They will have to restore, revive, and keep it as a going concern that will support both life and prosperity on our planet until eternity.
The generation is defined by innovation, and creativity, driven by a clear sense of purpose – to combat climate change, challenges to human wellbeing and all the planet’s life forms. To do so, they must educate themselves on climate change, understand the cause and effect of individual, enterprise, and government actions. They must take a pledge in their personal capacity to adopt a sustainable living model. One of the biggest strengths that this generation has is the power to influence.
The millennials have the powerful tools of communication that can be harnessed to advocate and influence governments to implement climate supportive policies; ask businesses to adopt climate action plans across the value chain; demand products that are low carbon and shun energy-hogging products; influence people at workplaces, homes, neighbourhoods and the wider world encouraging them to join the global movement. In their workplace, they must innovate and develop eco-friendly and climate-friendly products and services that will help us manage our emissions and, thereby, maintain the temperature at a level that will allow us all to sustain life for millennia, and give a brighter future to our seven-year-old who had asked the right questions!
(The article was co-authored by N, Sunil Kumar, Head, Sustainable Banking, Performance and Development at NatWest Group India Head, NatWest India Foundation and Girish Shankar, Head of Operational Risk, NatWest Group India.)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.
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