Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

Climate change: Are Indian firms doing enough?

Sustainability started as a buzzword 10-15 years ago. Businesses have realized its value and today, for most proactive companies, sustainability is a way of doing business

New Delhi: A valiant attempt by 28 wealthy investors to help the planet cross the “valley of death" while developing technologies to tackle climate change has raised questions on whether Indian companies are doing their bit to check global warming.

On 30 November, investors led by technology billionaire and philanthropist Bill Gates launched the Breakthrough Energy Coalition at the ongoing Paris climate talks. Facebook Inc. chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg, Alibaba chairman Jack Ma, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Tata group chairman emeritus Ratan Tata and Reliance Industries Ltd chairman Mukesh Ambani are the other prominent members of the group.

By investing billions of dollars to support development of climate-friendly technologies, the coalition will try to close the gap between the promise of a new energy concept and its eventual commercialization, a gap the group calls the valley of death.

Arvind Sharma, executive director, sustainability and climate change at PricewaterhouseCoopers India said Indian companies can support sustainable energy entrepreneurship better.

“Are they doing enough? This is a big question. PwC report Future of India – The Winning Leap suggests key themes for private sector in mainstreaming sustainability. It emphasizes the need for greater transparency and accountability throughout the enterprise, from the top echelons through the managerial ranks and even to boards. Corporate India has a critical role to play in this story, not only by creating value by addressing key societal needs, but by supporting a vibrant entrepreneurial sector," said Sharma.

Sustainability started as a buzzword 10-15 years ago, he said, but over the years, businesses have realized its value and today for most proactive companies, sustainability is a way of doing business.

According to Indian government estimates, at least $2.5 trillion (at 2014-15 prices) will be required to meet India’s climate change actions between 2015 and 2030.

Vinod Kala, managing director of Emergent Ventures India, an integrated sustainability and clean energy consulting company, said climate change awareness is “very high" among Indian businesses. “Possibly, 80% of large businesses do think about the impact that climate change-related regulation may have on their business models. I would say they are ‘getting ready’. Business pressures do mount from the perspective of customers (especially global customers) and investors."

“Therefore, leaders in most business sectors as well as large exporters have significant actions planned to tune up their business models," he added.

Chandrajit Banerjee, director general of the Confederation of Indian Industry, an industry lobby group, said Indian businesses are keen to do their part.

“Solutions to climate change will mainly come from business and Indian industry is keen to do its part on mitigation and development of climate-friendly solutions. But industry believes that there should be a clear commitment on both financing and technology transfers, which are very important enablers to ensure a smooth transition to a low carbon economy," said Banerjee.

He said Indian industry has taken several voluntary actions to combat climate change and cited instances of industry voluntarily adopting various international reporting standards like the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). GRI is an independent international organization that helps businesses, governments and other organizations understand and communicate the impact of business on critical sustainability issues such as climate change, human rights, corruption and others.

“This displays a clear intent to go beyond regulatory compliance on the part of environment protection and conservation," he added.

He also said that currently, the private sector accounts for over 80% of the installed renewable energy capacity in India and has made commitments to set up projects for achieving India’s target of 175 GW of renewable capacity by 2022.

NITI Aayog estimates that mitigation activities for moderate low-carbon development in the country would cost around $834 billion till 2030.

An Asian Development Bank study in June 2014 on the costs of climate change adaptation in South Asia indicates that approximate adaptation cost for India in energy sector alone would be roughly $7.7 billion in 2030s. The report also projects the economic damage and losses in India from climate change at around 1.8% of its GDP annually by 2050.