The scale of disruption from a changing climate calls for a proportionate response to ensure no one is left behind, according to Sunita Narain, Director General of Delhi-based think tank, the Centre for Science & Environment.
This will require global cooperation as well as a reimagining of the systems we’ve come to regard as normal, she said in a keynote speech at the ANZ Finance & Treasury Forum 2022 (AFTF).
“It is very clear that if our future is not inclusive and equitable, it can never be sustainable,” she said.
The year 2022 featured a series of increasingly extreme weather-related events – including heat waves across Asia and Europe, wildfires in the US and flooding in Australia – that continued to highlight the planet's deteriorating natural environment.
Narain, a well-known environmentalist, said real change can only come about with concerted action – and governments and corporations can work together to achieve sustainability at speed and scale.
Among the most significant systems to re-evaluate and overhaul, Narain said, are existing transport options and the way we grow food.
Because transportation is one of the top three sources of carbon emissions, delivering a scaled-up solution that “reinvents mobility and creates an integrated transport system that moves people, not vehicles,” and appeals to both the poor and the rich is a necessity, Narain said.
Successfully doing so will bring greater connectivity, improved employment opportunities and better livability in cities, which will further translate into significant economic opportunities, she explained.
The agricultural sector, which by some estimates is the second-largest source of global emissions, is another key area where the status quo must be questioned, Narain said.
“The one nexus that we cannot afford to ignore is the nexus between food and climate change,” she said.
Today’s agricultural system is unsustainable as it has discounted the cost to the environment and farmers, Narain pointed out.
Over 80 per cent of the annual $US540 billion in government aid given to agricultural producers inadvertently encourages practices harmful to the environment and human health, according to a recent report.
Recreating a food system by rethinking and reengineering our outlook on productivity, risk and resilience, will be good for farmers, consumers and the environment alike, Narain said.
“It will be productive agriculture, but not at the cost of the environment,” she said.
Narain said the public and private sectors need to do more to enable a circular economy, which focuses on reusing materials to eliminate waste and pollution, with the aim of revitalising the planet's natural capital.
In particular, sectors such as iron, steel and cement are seen as presenting untapped opportunities for the use of recycled materials to reduce emissions.
A recent CSE report noted how the iron and steel industry’s efforts to reduce emissions could be accelerated even as they increase steel output, by completely replacing iron ore as a raw material with steel scrap.
Similarly, in the case of the cement industry, fly ash – a waste byproduct of generating coal-fueled power – can be used as a substitute to drastically reduce emissions.
Housing represents another sector where a circular economy can be developed, with the optimal use of sustainable materials and design to build houses that are comfortable yet energy efficient.
“These are examples of living and working the circular economy in a way that we can be resource efficient and frugal, optimising not just the resources we produce, but also the waste that we generate,” Narain said.
The ANZ Finance & Treasury Forum returned in 2022. Held in Singapore on October 20, the forum brought together some of the region’s most compelling thought leaders to discuss how organisations are making the future count together on the path to net-zero carbon.
As the threat to natural capital and biodiversity becomes ever clearer in a post-pandemic world, the forum explored key topics of global importance across geopolitics, sustainability, and the technology that will help bring your business into the future.
ANZ Institutional Insights will provide coverage and insights into the key themes from the forum in the coming weeks.
All sessions from the forum are now available on demand. Please click HERE to register if you did not attend and would like to experience the event in full.
As economies expand, the use of resources such as aluminium, steel and cement is inevitable and the transformation of these sectors represents an exciting opportunity, Narain said.
However, doing so requires funding to invest in the transition to new technologies and a global compact in which both rich and emerging economies work together – and do not view sustainable development efforts as detrimental to their progress, she said.
The world is interdependent, as disruptions caused by COVID-19 and climate change have shown. Investments into emerging economies should not be regarded as charity but rather as an enabling tool for everyone’s betterment, Narain said.
Creating these new strategies for the future requires governments and businesses to be innovative and consider implementing big ideas, Narain pointed out.
“This is the new scaling we need, instead of only investing in large projects that are also necessary,” she said. "It is about scaling up the change that we need to see in our world.”
Ultimately, it’s important to remember time is running out for the world to change its ways.
“This has to be the decade of action, and the decade of acting differently,” Narain said.
“I'm optimistic because a lot has changed in the last 40 years,” she said.
“The next 40 years are going to be even more critical, because now we cannot even walk the talk, we have to run. And that means having the courage to reinvent, and take a different path to a sustainable future and to do so together.”
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