The Choices Ahead

The fight for one’s survival, is the fight for everyone. Should one fail, we all lose. Our economies are interconnected, so are our lives.

The air is clean
You can see the mountains from Jalandhar
The water is clear
You can see the glittering fish and tiny stones below

Nature is staging a recovery with falling emissions due to the stalling of economic activity.
There is just a problem or two; We are in the middle of a pandemic, economic activity has stalled, profits are falling, and growth is precarious. When economies kickstart and business plans are made afresh, it will be easy to ignore the sustainability imperative. It’s a crisis, and all hands-on-deck are needed to strengthen business continuity; sustainability can be looked at later.

Thinking that, however, would be a fallacy, as businesses are only as strong as their weakest link. The pandemic has shown that having vast global supply chains means that they can easily be broken. This is why large parts of the corporate world are doing intensive risk assessments and evaluating important contributors to risk.

What is emerging consistently is that climate change will pose a far greater risk than the pandemic itself. Further, we are seeing three important trends that are shaping the world.

Firstly, It’s an irrefutable fact that the climate is changing. Going by the global heat maps and climate models, this summer is going to be hotter than it has ever been. The World Economic Forum’s ‘Global Risks Report 2020’ highlighted in January that the top five issues that are likely to impact the world are extreme weather conditions, climate action failure, natural disasters, biodiversity loss and human-made natural disasters. Even if emissions have fallen by 5.5% due to the stalling of economic activity, they are still the highest they have ever been. Besides, whenever we restart the economy, emissions will rise again. Global emissions would need to fall by some 7.6% every year this decade in order to limit warming to less than 1.5C above pre-industrial temperatures. The current situation is also derailing efforts to meet the sustainable development goals (SDGs). Eliminating poverty and hunger, providing a health infrastructure and health services, eliminating waste and preventing loss of biodiversity are mountains that have just become steeper. Scientists are warning the world that co-existence with the natural ecosystem is now even more of a necessity as pandemics like the current one can be caused again if we ignore biodiversity and climate change.

Secondly, the COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated that when faced with a crisis companies and people can twist, pivot and recalibrate in unexpected ways. The last 3 months have also been a digital fast forward to almost all digital transformation that was at the fringes. Remote working and learning is now mainstream, telehealth has become acceptable, digital payments have skyrocketed and overall technology has perhaps played an enormous role in connecting people who are now isolated in their homes. Big Data, cloud computing, Internet-of-Things (“IoT”) and blockchain are being used to build resilient supply chains. Things that were expected in 2025 are already here.

Thirdly, people are also becoming concerned about living through another pandemic or disaster brought about by climate change. A full generation of children had never seen blue skies and clean rivers. Now they have. Consumption for the sake of consumption without counting the impacts on climate risks is likely to slow down as consumers have re-evaluated what is actually needed.

While we long for the world we have left behind, the big question we perhaps need to be asking is, “Can we create a better India?” Can this crisis be an opportunity to take a fresh look at the model of dirty growth we left behind and move to one that is green?

These three trends of risk mitigation, digital transformation and awareness could mark a turning point in progress on climate change. Large investors and businesses are already seeing a unique opportunity to drive a shift to a low-carbon future. And the shift to low carbon is not an end in itself, it can drive resilience, prevent crises and lead to growth with better health and wellbeing. Several C40 cities around the world are already planning for life after Covid-19, with a series of environmental initiatives being rolled out from Bogotá to Barcelona to ensure public safety and bolster the fight against climate breakdown. Working towards sustainability and “green growth” has to take primacy and be the defining metaphor of our times.

This is a time of action. A time for the corporate world to showcase what they really stand for. Long term horizons for public good and onground action will not only create resilience but companies that will stay strong in an increasingly volatile world. The fight for one’s survival, is the fight for everyone. Should one fail, we all lose. Our economies are interconnected, so are our lives.

So, choose your actions well!
We are many, we are one.

Written for Business World