India’s net zero target struggles due to lack of qualified climate change experts
This year, Delhi recorded its second hottest April since 1951 with the average monthly temperature lingering around 40.2 degrees Celsius. Over the past two weeks, the nation’s capital has also seen temperatures soar to as high as 49 degrees Celsius as the heat wave gripped several parts of the country in its tight grip. Around the same time, flash floods submerged parts of northeast India, killing at least 25 people in Assam and displacing thousands so far.
The devastating impact of these and other climatic phenomena across the country has clearly shown that India has a long battle to fight against climate change. A recent report from the Deloitte Economics Institute said runaway climate change would put 80% of India’s GDP at risk, sectors including services, manufacturing, retail, tourism, construction and transport facing the greatest climate-related losses over the next 50 years. years. Interestingly, climate change also provides a $26 trillion growth opportunity globally, according to a report by New Climate Economy.
In this context, what India needs is a strong cohort of science-trained professionals with a particular focus on climate risks and sustainability. This is where the next roadblock is. Being particularly vulnerable to climate change, India has a greater need for research and education in the field, but the country has only a few thousand people formally trained to deal with it, even if the government as well as the companies are ready to act. to mitigate the risks of climate change.
It all comes down to the number of courses offered in the subject and climate and sustainability studies, unfortunately, remain niche subjects taught in a limited number of colleges and universities in India.
what we have
Sudhir Sinha, a practice professor at the Anand Institute of Rural Management, says India definitely needs more courses. “In India, there are not many universities and institutions that offer specific courses in climate studies or science per se. But courses in environmental science are now commonplace. Almost all the top universities and IITs in India offer courses in environmental studies,” says the CSR and sustainability expert. That said, he also points out that Indian universities lack the range of diversified environmental science courses that meet emerging needs.
In India, some universities offer courses related to the field. Anant National University in Ahmedabad, for example, offers a B.Tech with a specialization in climate change. Shiv Nadar University of Greater Noida offers courses in climate change and environmental studies. The Delhi Energy and Resources Institute offers a Masters in Climate Science and Policy. As for IITs, we have IIT Bombay which offers an interdisciplinary climate studies program at the PhD level and IIT Hyderabad also offers some courses and electives on the subject. In the south, there is IISc Bengaluru which offers studies in climate sciences but only at masters and doctoral level and has the Divecha Center for Climate Change, a singular institution carrying out research in the field. The National Skill Development Corporation has also incorporated sustainability concerns into its various courses. Apart from these, there are also online courses.
The landscape of the field is also constantly changing, making it important for professionals to keep improving their skills.
Sinha explains the point through the prism of net zero goals. He says that while a company’s sustainability team typically includes professionals with environmental science expertise or qualifications, with net zero goals coming up, the requirements are different. Net zero, he says, is a very specific technical concept that asks companies to achieve a balance between the carbon emitted into the atmosphere and the carbon taken out of it.
“Therefore, each company should have specialized expertise with appropriate qualification in climate studies in its sustainability team. However, getting such qualified professionals is a challenge in India. Indian companies are somehow managing sustainability verticals with generalist environmental experts with environmental science degrees,” he adds.
Professionals in the field are of the opinion that the subject is better taught in foreign universities. Columbia University in the United States, for example, operates the Columbia Climate School, in association with The Earth Institute, offers a wide range of sustainability programs at undergraduate, graduate and doctoral levels, enabling students to become managers who understand science and sustainability issues.
In the UK, the University of Oxford not only offers internship programs for undergraduate and graduate students through its Environmental Change Institute, but also offers a number of scholarships for students to carry out research on the subject.
The University of Queensland in Australia operates a fully-fledged School of Earth and Environmental Sciences which offers a wealth of undergraduate, honors, postgraduate and research study in areas such as management environment, environmental sciences, etc.
“I feel that people who study sustainability abroad have better exposure to the global context. Climate science is an evolving subject and in my opinion the course structures are much more up to date. Some Ivy League and overseas universities are aware of the latest research and cutting-edge arguments as to why this matters. I think in the Indian scene, it’s definitely lacking,” says Aarti Khosla, Director of Climate Trends, adding that in India, an individual’s passion and desire is the driving force and not so much what they are told. learned and implementing those learnings.
Growing awareness, growing opportunities
Carbon Disclosure Project, a global NGO that collects environmental data voluntarily submitted by companies, in its annual India disclosure report released in March this year, revealed that corporate climate governance is so important to Indian companies that it has become a central element of internal policy. management for many of them.
Around 53 responding companies identified 77 acute physical hazards indicating extreme weather events that pose a direct threat to the livelihoods of people and organisations. These financially impacting climate-related risks were pegged at Rs. 1,434 billion in the report. This only strengthens the case for more suitable people to lead corporate sustainability verticals.
Sustainability requires both hard skills and soft skills, says Shailly Kedia, senior researcher and associate director at the Delhi Energy and Resources Institute. “Companies are looking for technical skills such as energy audits, waste management, policy advocacy and compliance.”
Chaitanya Kalia, Partner and Country Leader, Climate Change & Sustainability Services, EY India, said: “Today there is increased awareness and need for sustainability experts as companies have increased the implement sustainability in core functions of their operations and supply chain. . Over time, more companies will take a sustainability-focused approach to their core functions. »
In fact, EY, in association with Hult International Business School, also offers its employees a fully accredited Masters in Sustainability at no cost.
Combining management and sustainability
Dipankar Ghosh, Head of Sustainability and ESG at BDO India, believes that topics related to climate change and sustainability should be integrated into the curriculum of MBA or BBA programs and not just an optional article or specialization,
“Business leaders of today and tomorrow need to understand how such actions create resilience for businesses by mitigating risk and unlocking opportunity. What the industry needs is not stand-alone knowledge of climate change and sustainability, but an understanding of the business impact it can create,” says Ghosh.
Bengaluru-based Garvita Gulhati, Founder and CEO of Why Waste?, agrees. “We definitely need more sustainability courses, but more than that, we need all aspects to be looked at from a sustainability perspective. Instead of introducing new courses on sustainability, we should integrate the subject into our existing courses,” says the young activist and entrepreneur who focuses on optimizing water consumption and who was chosen by the UN for its global campaign on climate change last year.
Policy goals will be key to directing institutions, says Kedia, adding that it is necessary to have policy frameworks to develop and monitor courses. “It should not only be about diploma courses but also about refresher courses and development modules. The science-policy-practice interface can be strengthened and competency-based approaches can further involve the Ministry of Environment, Forestry and Climate Change, the Ministry of Jal Shakti and the Ministry of Rural Development,” suggests- she.
Apart from creating institutions dedicated to research and development, the situation demands that the existing university system introduce blended courses with an inclusive approach as well as specialized courses in climate studies to meet various requirements.