Going green can be serious business

In little over a month the most important global climate summit, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP21), will take place in Paris. With several rounds of discussions through the year on the state of climate change negotiations, the preparations are at present filled with optimism for accomplishing an international agreement.

In the 1990s, owing to the growing political and scientific consensus, the global business community shifted from a position of denial to acceptance and has since been trying to assess its vulnerability within its business operations to the possible impacts of climate change.

Countries across the globe have committed themselves to creating a new international climate agreement and have outlined what post-2020 climate actions they aim to take, known as their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs).Last week the UNFCCC released a report on the aggregate effect of the 119 INDCs communicated thus far the information contained in the INDCs shows an increasing trend towards introducing national policies and related instruments for low-emission and climate-resilient development. The INDCs couple the requirements of a global framework with country-specific priorities and necessities.

On October 2, India too disclosed its INDCs and commitment to reducing the emission intensity of its GDP by 33-35% by 2030 from 2005 levels. Further, India has announced the largest climate-friendly path as compared to other countries at corresponding levels of economic development. India's INDCs, though termed ambitious, have been commended.

But are these goals achievable? A TERI advisory in May, which presented the cost of developmental inactions on issues such as water, energy and food security, estimated that nearly Rs 5,400 crore due to poor sanitation and close to Rs 1 lakh crore on account of outdoor air pollution would be lost, with an estimated 620,000 annual deaths owing to ambient air quality.

The success of INDCs depends not only on governments but also on all stakeholders. In this context, the role that Indian businesses can play will be pivotal.

The TERI council of business sustainability, led by the business community over the past six months, has been deliberating on four themes - improving the efficiency of energy use, expanding the use of renewable energy, ensuring water availability in a changing climate, and efficient waste management.

The corporate consultations towards meeting this goal witnessed participation from 200 companies and a vision document thus prepared will be presented at COP21.

In the arena of efficient waste management, against the fact that less than 30% of the e-waste generated is treated, 60% of the municipal solid waste generated in urban areas is salvaged and recycled, engaging over one million people. This is an interesting opportunity for businesses.

In water-use efficiency, the narratives from thermal plants and the paper and pulp industries on their water-saving potential, and the adoption of 'zero liquid discharge' by the textile sector indicate a considerable scope for reduction in water consumption.

It is noteworthy that Indian businesses, besides hosting several deliberations at the COP21, will for the first time be leading climate action by sharing a comprehensive climate vision on the global platform.