With 71% of global emissions being attributed to the top 100 companies in the world, ‘put your money where your climate change is’ should be their motto. That is the underlying principle of the India Climate Collaborative which was founded by the country’s biggest philanthropists in 2019. Its mission is as simple as the problem is complex – channel resources to solving the climate action ecosystem challenges to deliver on big opportunities in a more effective, collective and coordinated manner.

WorthWhile sat down with Amita Ramachandran, the Chief Operating Officer of the Collaborative to chat about the change it is trying to make in the climate space.

With a long coastline and high dependence on rain-fed agriculture, India is among the most vulnerable to climate impact, giving it a distinct reason to show leadership in combating climate change. Most Indians are one natural disaster away from falling below the poverty line. Grappling with the second COVID wave and dealing with two natural disasters is the kind of future that will become commonplace due to climate change.

Historically, India’s industrialists have been philanthropists. They recognised that the work they began 70 to 100 years ago is slowly reversing as our development is moving back either by natural disasters or by natural degradation that is gradually making our country unlivable, affecting the poorest and most vulnerable. Recognising that no one leader can move the needle on a problem of this size and scale is what prompted the philanthropists to join forces.

ICC wants to build impact rapidly and at scale which requires building an ecosystem.We have three broad goals of ‘inspire’, ‘connect’ and ‘empower’. Inspire is about communications, narrative and movement building. Connect is tapping in to the power of networks and is the collaborative aspect of being part of ICC. Empower is about taking people on the journey from learning to action that helps move climate actors towards collective goals and ensure they have the capacity to implement their vision.

Our network consists of national and international donors, universities, civil society organisations, NGOs that bring their expertise to the ICC. We demonstrate the value of climate investment for the philanthropic community, which helps provide access to opportunities, connections to people, knowledge, capacity, impact metrics which in turn helps the philanthropists see the ‘return on investment’ in climate action.

A four-part India-specific story is what sets the ICC apart. 

ICC focuses on four sectors – sustainable land use, water security, clean energy and air quality. These were selected due to their impact on adaptation and mitigation along with their link to the Indian context like livelihoods. ICC also works on cross-cutting issues that touch upon multiple of these themes called “Foundational Climate” that look at climate justice, just transition, climate risks, and green recovery.

Members have the freedom to choose how they engage with us. Some want insight about what others are doing and want to define their work or improve it based on that. Others want to work on a particular problem and want to leverage the ICC network for funding or advisory support and guidance on how to design particular programmes.

Corporates have never demonstrated climate denial. Rather, it’s an issue of prioritisation as people feel India has more pressing immediate needs than tackling climate change. Our work demonstrates how these concerns will become worse in a warmer world. We are working on the perception that working on climate will divert attention from other pressing concerns as in reality, climate will not wait for us.

We need to work on things that produce multiple benefits where climate and development go hand in hand. The pandemic has shown that good development is the bedrock of resilience which also includes climate resilience. It has shown people that we’re trying to work for the same things – a safer, more stable, more protected, secure country, especially for the most vulnerable.

The access to capital, failure money, the patient philanthropy that is customized to the Indian market which acknowledges where the country is in its climate movement is still coming up. Mature startups are attracting significant capital but younger ones require money to develop their prototypes and business models. That’s a role philanthropy can play and it’s an area ICC is trying to move people into.

There is also policy instability with mixed messages being given by the center and state governments, where startups are working. This affects all companies as they are looking for ways to work with policy makers and regulators to build a healthy startup ecosystem.

The ICC has designed a ‘Climate Risk Atlas’ to mainstream climate risk assessment, around the concept that we can only manage what we can measure. The ability to assess, predict and plan for future impacts of climate change has to be adopted by every government body but also by every business, and it should feed into every decision they make, to be able to save lives and avoid destruction. It requires a level of granularity the Indian government currently doesn’t have.

The Atlas has a ‘District Vulnerability Compendium’ which will provide a vulnerability index of various elements and sectors at risk to help policy makers and other stakeholders better prepare for compounded risks that result from climate change. It will map both current and projected climate risks. The Orissa government plans to incorporate the Atlas in their community based disaster training program and the Telangana government has featured some project findings in their annual economic survey.

It’s unfair to put the burden of this work on the youth or marginalised communities as they have not been responsible for climate change. What people can do is modify their dietary choices, green their commute and consume and waste less. Consumers should shop differently by understanding the practices their money supports. They should also exercise their rights as citizens and consumers by putting pressure on companies and governments to make system-wide changes, use their voice in elections, on social media, and vote for candidates who are talking about the measures we need to combat climate change.

People should make climate and environment part of their professional decision making as that has a huge impact. Not everyone needs to be involved in advocacy but rather think how their line of work can be made sustainable.

Financing is the key to rapidly implementing climate solutions we already have. What is harder to do and needs more discussion in how to involve communities in transition planning. Climate change requires multi-stakeholder action as the challenge is immense for a country like India.

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