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Collective commitment will accelerate climate action
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Collective commitment will accelerate climate action

November 9, 2020

Kirti Manian (01:10):  Hi, Divya, welcome to the show.  I am gonna get started by asking you this.  How did you get started on your journey in climate change?

Divya Sharma (01:17):  Hi, very happy to be here and talking to everyone about the subject.  So basically, I am an architect urban planner and it is a surprise when people hear me talking about my educational qualification, but then I worked a little bit as an architect very early days, but then I jumped into urban planning and that to urban development planning. And as I embarked my journey into urban development planning, those very early days when people had started talking about climate change in India, and I, I got very interested in sustainability issues when they related to urban development, and also climate change.  I pursued my PhD on urban resilience and that is how actually my career in urban resilience started.  

I was working in TERI, The Energy and Resources Institute and I set up their urban resilience practice while working with the Centre for Research on sustainable urban development and transport systems.  And that was there when I started working on climate change issues. I started researching climate change issues and I also started writing and speaking about climate change issues from there.  

There was this time when The Rockefeller Foundation started their Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network, which was a great initiative that started from ten cities in total, out of which there were three cities in India.  And we were like the very first members to that initiative, and I was part of it, that just started from scratch. So, that is my starting point in the climate change regime and there is so much that went on, after that, in cities, working with cities, working with state governments, working on different issues, working on adaptation, disaster risk reduction, working on some of the mitigation issues, and looking at policies and looking at public policies and mainstreaming climate resilience into urban development planning basically.

Kirti Manian (03:24): That sounds brilliant. And now, in your role with the Climate Group, can you tell us more about that.  What is the nature of your organization? And what kind of impact do you have?

Divya Sharma (03:35): Yeah, sure. So, Climate Group works with forward looking businesses and states to accelerate climate action.  We are an international NGO.  We are headquartered in the UK, and our offices are in America, China and India, and I had their Delhi offices.  With businesses, we run our campaigns there are three campaigns, RE100, EP100, and EV100 campaigns, where the company takes a time bound pledge to further climate related actions and business sustainability.

RE100 was launched in 2014.  The company is committed to sourcing hundred percent renewable power by 2050. And more than twenty sixteen global companies are on the platform as of today, and CDP is the partner to Climate Group on RE100 at the moment.  EP100 which is energy productivity was launched around 2015-16. Under this campaign, companies pledged to improve their energy productivity by deploying energy efficient technologies and practices.  And the purpose of this particular program was that while the companies and businesses take their time to transition to renewable energy 100%, there is still a lot to be done in terms of reducing GHG emissions by becoming energy efficient, and particularly these large industries who have a lot of scope and potential to reduction in GHG emissions through energy productivity measures.  The third one is EP100, which was launched in 2017, where companies commit to a hundred percent EP transition.  And we have recently had Flipkart join us in India under the EP100 program, and then the purpose is to make electric transport the, the new normal by 2030, so more than 88 global companies have joined EV100 so far.

Our aim is to bring more and more businesses who hold the biggest opportunity to mitigate emissions under the fold of our ambitious commitment programs to drive change in markets as well as policies.  Our other campaign is the Under2 campaign, where we work very closely with sub national governments to help them prepare themselves and help them transition to becoming carbon free.  And also taking climate action and working around the policy framework towards climate change and climate action.  So that is another of our flagship campaign that people work with and at the moment, we are working with four states very closely in India.  Of course, there are many states globally that we work with and these four states are our members, but there are other about ten to fifteen states with whom we interact very closely and keep engaged in supporting them in some of the plans that they have towards climate action.

Kirti Manian (06:38):  Can you tell me the names of the states?  And when you talk about supporting them?  Can you maybe give me a few examples of how you are doing that?

Divya Sharma (06:45):   Yes.  So, we have Jammu and Kashmir.  We have West Bengal with us.  We have Telangana and Chhattisgarh.  These are the four states that we work with. For example, with West Bengal, we were supporting them on EVs, and actually in Kolkata, they are starting to deploy electric buses within their public transport fleet.  So, this kind of work and there is another project called Carbon Footprint Project that we have where we support state governments in specific technical assistance, that they want from us in reducing their carbon footprint, and it could be anything on the mitigation side of things.  So basically, mitigation means efforts and activities that we do to mitigate GHG emissions and adaptation activities are those activities, where we do something to cope with the impact of climate change.  So, we know that some change has already happened and has happened for good.  Some change has happened that is irreversible now.  So, the effect of that irreversible climate change has to be coped up.  So, those coping strategies are called adaptation strategies.  These could be around the agricultural sectors, these could be around influencing our systems to look at water security or food security, or even disaster risk reduction, and preparing for extreme events so to say.  The disaster risk reduction is also very much part of climate action.

Kirti Manian (08:29):   Thank you for this.  Can you tell us more about the ‘We Mean Business’ coalition, please?  You have already talked a little bit about RE100, EP100, and EV100.  Can you give me any specific examples of companies and the work they are kind of doing within the scope of this space?

Divya Sharma (08:46):   Yes, of course.  So, the We Mean Business coalition is catalyzing business action and guiding policy ambition to accelerate the zero carbon transition.  And the coalition brings together seven international non profit organizations, including BSR, CDP, Ceres, CLG Europe, The B Team, The Climate Group and WBCSD, which is the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.

So, within the India business book under RE100, there are four Indian companies and over sixty plus global companies having India operations and we are working with these companies to develop our policy and technology positions for Indian corporate RE sourcing market on an ongoing basis.  The companies report annually on their progress and the Indian companies are Tata Motors, Infosys, Mahindra Holidays and Dalmia Cement.

Under EP100, eight Indian companies including five Mahindra Group Companies, Godrej Industries, Dalmia Cement, and UltraTech are part of the EP100 program.  Mahindra Heavy Engine Limited is the first Indian company to meet its commitment of double energy productivity in a record duration of four years as opposed to twenty-five years, which is a great thing.  

We are also supporting a few EP100 companies to identify cooling efficiency opportunities under the EP100 cooling challenge at the moment and conducting factory visits at high excellent sites of Indian EP100 members to promote knowledge exchange between members and the industry at large.  Under EP100, eight Indian companies including SBI - State Bank of India, Wipro, BSES Yamuna and Rajdhani, BSES Rajdhani, I mean, and of course as I said, Flipkart and Mindspace are our newest members and Mindspace is a realty entity.  We are supporting a few EV100 companies to develop their 2020 EV transition roadmaps.  We are also creating EV transition roadmaps to explore the potential of market shift in the airports and ecommerce industry segments.  So, having Flipkart with us is also going to be very, very an important part of our work here.

Kirti Manian (11:09):  All the examples sound amazing.  These are all big companies doing their bit in that sense, right.  So, these are great examples.  Thank you so much for that.  Now, I want to talk a little bit about COVID and connecting the dots between COVID, renewable energy and India's future with regard to corporate sourcing of renewable energy.  Do you think this will bring about a green transition?

Divya Sharma (11:31):  Yes, I think we all have a role to play.  So, India will have more renewable energy in the grid within the country, we have set to achieve our target of 175 GW by 2022.  And our ambition is to have 45 GW by 2030.  The policy push for RE domestically, compounded by global trends of greater RE adoption has pushed the RE prices to be highly competitive to conventional power from coal at the moment, which is a good sign, I guess.  The environment and social responsibility importantly, along with cost economics, running in favor of renewable energy is making Indian businesses to demand for renewable energy.  And the higher RE in the grid offers corporates with more options to source renewable energy.  So, that is on the business side of it.  

Now, the impact of COVID has brought the conversation on business sustainability at the front and center.  And building back better is understood as central to this transition.  So, use of RE, for example, becomes a naturally reinforcing option for India's green energy transition and so things look quite promising at the moment, I would say.  Having said that state rules for corporate sourcing on RE are still very uncertain at many places and that limits the higher uptake as many as Indian companies would have explained.  So, I think that is something an area to work upon, but overall and broadly I think we are on track, and things look good.  And there is a conversation that in spite of COVID, we would be taking good care of our actions on climate change and transition to renewable energy in particular, as a country.

Kirti Manian (13:17):  You talked about state rules right, I would be kind of keen to know, are there particular states that are in favor?  And there are some who are not?  Or is it a question of laws not having come up to the point where they say okay we can kind of get this going as soon as possible.  I am just trying to understand why the lag really?

Divya Sharma (13:35):  Yeah.  So, I think I would say that there are different stages of priorities that the states would have and I do not want to be a spokesperson on the side of the state or against them, but I would say, from my experience, and that we see while working with state governments, there is a lot of interest within the states.  And people are very quickly prioritizing their demand or their work towards climate action and being on the right side of the things.  The only thing is that policy takes a bit of time to be implemented, amended to be changed.  And there is also some level of technical assistance that is needed.

Kirti Manian (14:15):  Right.

Divya Sharma (14:16):  Entities like us are very happy to provide and we are engaging with state governments, we are engaging at different levels of government, not only state governments, but I would say when it comes to policy, we will have to be cognizant of the fact that there is time that it will take, but also a lot of preparation and a lot of technical support that goes into it, which is being done.  And I think it is a matter of time when we could have a good critical mass to say that we have conducive policies and right technological inputs, and right networks and partnerships that are working in close cooperation with the state governments and sub-national governments in India to make it happen.

Kirti Manian (15:03):  Thank you for clarification and it sounds good.  It really sounds like governments are on the right track and they want to do, best intent really in their heads in that sense.  I want to move on to climate resilience in Indian cities.  And you talked about the ACCCRN, which is the Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network.  And you have had, you were heavily involved in this.  It was a nine-year long initiative supported by Rockefeller Foundation.  Do you think the lessons learned from that time still hold true?  And we love to know more about how you were involved as well? 

Divya Sharma (15:35):  Yes, of course.  So, I was part of their executive committee of the initiative itself for India.  And it is a great community of practitioners that was built at that time when ACCCRN was implemented in India and I am very happy to be part of that initiative.  In terms of what we did was that it did start from three cities, but in seven to eight years of its existence in India, it multiplied and it scaled up in India, like anything.  There were about forty cities that were touched upon in different levels of activities, different types of activities in these cities, but the three starting cities were the core to our work there.  And then, I mean, there were seven in total, that were that did a lot of detailed work within that initiative.  So basically, it started with the government engagement.  So, talking with the municipal corporation, talking with the state governments looking at development planning processes, looking at the land use planning processes, in urban areas in India, to get a good heck of how institutionally urban development works.  And what are the entry points for climate, subjects on climate and resilience, particularly, to be brought into the urban development framework.  So, it basically started with that.  

And then we got very specific questions from our engagement from the government.  The questions were what are these climate impacts?  How are they going to impact us?  Of course, we have one flood here and there, and these are like, old days, ten years back, twelve years back.  And they asked us very pertinent questions.  And some of these questions are still being asked.  I mean, why should I be concerned?  I am a municipal commissioner; I run a municipality.  My job is to manage urban areas, my job is on sanitation, my job is on road building and cleaning off drainages.  And likewise.  

And there, we came to know about finding out the correct entry points, the correct partners to work with to bring these things to the core.  And the basic question about who is vulnerable?  What are the vulnerabilities?  What is the risk?  And how does this risk translate to some of the urban systems?  What does it mean for my infrastructure for example?  What does it mean for the health sector or transport sector for that matter?  So, we started making sense of that.  

And in parallel, we were also looking at developing climate projections, looking at the science of it.  So, what are the global projection saying, and by that time, we had regional models also, so we knew what are the regional climate projections saying about some of the areas that we were looking at.  So, for example, India, and those regional analysis were made available to us by climate scientists, thanks to them.  And we got those interpretation and our job as a community of practitioners was to translate those regional projections to what they would mean to specific urban areas.  

And it was difficult, as well as engaging and exciting for us to do.  And, it translated into us preparing climate resilient strategies for specific urban areas.  And it was wonderful because it was a process, not only driven by climate science, but also a process that was deeply engagement specific.  We engaged with people in the city, we engaged with key stakeholders in the city, who were businesses, who were educational institutions, we engaged very deeply with the government, like district government, state government, and also city government.  And through this process, all these resilient strategies came forward.  And then we started talking about mainstreaming into the institutional setup of cities.  We started talking about how do we fund some of these adaptation projects? Where does the financing come from?  In parallel, those were the time when the previous urban development flagships event was finishing and smart cities project.. flagship scheme was being introduced in India.  So, we were at the cusp of transitioning in terms of how urban development would look like in India in the coming years, and smart city posed a completely new platform for people like us to work upon.

Kirti Manian (20:05): This transition perfectly into my next question, you know, I want to understand more about the Indian government's Smart Cities Initiative.  And you were clearly involved in the urban planning, green cover and biodiversity group.  Please give us more details on some of the key sectoral recommendations that came through.

Divya Sharma (20:23):  Okay.  So, this is a group that is being convened by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, and it is sitting with the National Institute of Urban Affairs.  It was launched formally as ClimateSmart Cities assessment framework.  And it basically helps to provide roadmap for cities towards combating climate change, while planning as well as implementing their actions through various investments that are being made in urban areas, specific urban areas, and it also intends to inculcate a climate sensitive approach to urban planning and development.  So, not only we want to talk about the present times, but we also want to talk about how we go about doing this in the future.  So, the framework has twenty-eight indicators across five categories developed after review of global frameworks and other assessment approaches.  And finally, we have these five categories and some of the subject areas that we want to touch upon.  

So, just to give you a glimpse of what these are...  Basically, this framework has six pillars, one is research and knowledge management, the second one is capacity building, the third is partnership, this policy innovations, communication and advocacy, and these are all support systems that the cities would be looking at through this initiative.  Now, some of the areas that are looked at are mobility and air quality, waste management, water management, energy and green buildings, and urban planning, green cover and biodiversity and I was part of the urban planning and green cover biodiversity.  

I was, I am part of the working group there.  And under this, we are looking at rejuvenation and conservation of water bodies and open areas.  We are looking at the proportion of green covering in cities. And we are also defining the way we re-define green cover, as to does it mean foliage, does it mean recover, does it mean green areas, does it mean buffer zones in cities, and also urban diversity?  Because we think that urban diversity are very important a part of urban ecosystem, and it influences the quality of microclimates of an area, and the weather of an area, and it also directly influences liveability of cities.  So, unlike the notion that cities can thrive with buildings and flyovers, this particular notion of climate sensitive and biodiversity sensitive and eco sensitive urban planning says that we cannot live without an ecosystem balance, it will ultimately lead us to a flourishing situation, we cannot survive without proper biodiversity and ecosystem balance.  And then, there is disaster resilience that is part of it.  And I spoke about it in the previous response.  

So, disaster resilience is very important, because we see that there are increasing frequency of disasters.  And not only the frequency is increasing, but the impact of these disasters, the loss and damage that is happening is also grave.  And particularly for India, where the vulnerability is many folds because of our population because of the poverty levels.  We are struck very, very heavily from these disasters. It is also a lot of investment before the event, but also after the event to bring us back.  So, building back is really a big investment to make.  So, it is very important for us to start looking at building better, rather than building back.  And of course, city climate action or plans, because each city is unique.  I mean, in India itself is unique.  If you go to the north, the situation and the type of cities and the topographical and the climate features are completely different from the cities in the coastal areas, and the cities in the south.  So, to say it was just to give an example.  So, the planning parameters changed quite drastically when we are talking about a hill city and talking about a coastal city, for example.  So, this is all about it in a nutshell.

Kirti Manian (24:49): Thank you so much.  I think the examples are really helpful just for us to understand what the whole network really was about. Can we now talk a little bit about the C40 Cities Finance Facility?  I read that facilitates access to finance for climate change mitigation and resilience projects for cities.  Can you give us more details about how the objectives were realized in practice?

Divya Sharma (25:12):  Okay, so I was involved briefly that this C40 Cities Finance Facility, and part of my job was to navigate the current literature, to navigate the current state, state of play on the transformative impact of the city's finance facility itself.  So, the bug that C-40 is doing with cities on climate action planning is really significant.  And I was required with my team during that project was to look at what is the transformation that is happening through this work, and what I was doing on and what we were doing on rather is to develop an operational definition with a set of measurable indicators that provide CFF with a direction on how to achieve transformative impact and how to track it. 

So, we reviewed how these operational definitions can apply, and have been applying to the work undertaken by the CFF in the three pilot cities of Bogota, Mexico City, and Durban, and identify way for other organizations working in the similar realm as CFF to develop or retrofit the theories of change to achieve transformative impact.  So, for example, in Bogota, they were looking at a twenty-five kilometer long cycle corridor.  And in some of the cities like Ontario, the public bike share system was introduced.  Similarly, in Mexico City, they were implementing a twenty--two kilometer electric bus corridor.  In South Africa, the municipality of Ethekwini, the clearing and maintenance up to three thousand kilometers of water cost was a big project that was under this finance facility.  And Dar Es Salaam was reducing the vulnerability of Msimbazi floodplain to extreme climate related flooding.  So, there was various projects that these cities were taking up.  And we were trying to understand that these standalone projects, what potential do they have, to one scale up, and to bring transformation and larger and bigger long-term impacts.

Kirti Manian (27:20):  Got it. Thanks so much for that.  I want to talk about informed climate activism, do you think it holds value or is it just noise?

Divya Sharma (27:30):  Okay, so we are on the side of things as Climate Group where we believe in being part of the action rather than just the voice.  And when I say that, I do not discount the value of voicing issues, but somehow find myself in that particular regime where I am part of a big community of practitioners who believe in the urgency of climate action, and work relentlessly towards making that happen, by supporting, by assisting, by researching and of course advocating about climate action.  So, I would say as long as it is part of taking actions, as long as it is part of bringing solutions to the fore, I think it's more than welcome.  And we closely work with businesses that have a great influencing power on correct policies, and creating the critical mass to bring about change and impact and also work with government in assisting and supporting them by technical inputs, providing them platforms for learning from best practices, as well as showcasing their work to the larger national and international audiences.

Kirti Manian (28:33):  Do you personally have heroes in the climate movement?  Someone you look up to for instance?

Divya Sharma (28:39):  Several.  And I would add how matter small these are, there are several such climate movements and I would say the stage we are in at the moment here. 

Kirti Manian (28:50): Yeah. 

Divya Sharma (28:50):  There is an urgency to climate action, even a small step helps.  So, initiatives like ACCCRN, which later on graduated to become the Hundred Resilient Cities initiative, have actually brought in a lot of change in the way cities look at climate change, for example, and I am talking about cities, not because I come from that background, but because cities, urban centers are actually contributing a lot to GHG emissions.  And they also have a lot of potential to reduction of GHG emissions.  I mean, these initiatives have created a community of practitioners that has extended their work globally and also in India, and I have created networks that have the capacity to influence decision making towards our common goal. They have left that mark, they have left that legacy of community, of practitioners, of government leadership's for that matter, then we will keep working on these things.  This might seem also a bit odd, but I have always looked up to the work Climate Group has been doing on climate change.  Our ambition is what drives me now.  And it was also that drove me to apply to be part of Climate Group in the first place.

Kirti Manian (30:00): Right. 

Divya Sharma (30:01): That said, immense work has been driven by support of the now Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office UK, the World Bank, USAID, ADB.  I mean, ADB has set up a trust fund for resilience in their headquarters in Manila.  And they have put in significant investments on climate change that are driving long-term change towards climate proofing of our systems and reducing vulnerability of the population from climate change.

Kirti Manian (30:26): I like this point you have made about cities, being like some of the greatest emitters and yet having this potential right, if only we could miraculously tap into that.. so everybody's wired to understand how best can we not contribute to emissions in that sense. That would make such a big difference in this world right.  So, thanks for that, I think it is a very valuable point there.  Now to my last question.  What do we need to do to save the planet?  It is my big question, something I keep asking all our podcast guests….  What would your call of action be to our listeners? 

Divya Sharma (31:03): Sure. That is a very good question.  I would say it is urgent and it is high time for collective action.  I would emphasize on that.  The need is to accelerate climate action. They will take bold steps, and stop shying away from the collective responsibility.  Ask questions, challenge if you have to, but act and join the cause. That would be my simple answer to your very difficult question.

Kirti Manian (31:30):  Thanks, so much Divya.  I had a lovely, lovely time talking to you and I had got so many insights about cities and I think you really love cities. It really shines through in the way you talked about them.  And you definitely have a passion for that.  So, thank you so much. It has been a pleasure having you our podcast. 

Divya Sharma (31:44):  Thank you so much for having me here.  It was a pleasure talking to you. Thank you.

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