Climate-Focused Non-Profits Make an Impact

Highlights :

Hisham Mundol is the Chief Advisor of India, Environmental Defense Fund. He writes about the impact EDF is making for climate action

Climate-Focused Non-Profits Make an Impact
Hisham Mundol, EDF

Hisham Mundol, Chief Advisor India, EDF

India is the most populous country in the world and is poised to become a $5 trillion economy — the world’s third largest — in the next five years. Today, India’s per capita greenhouse gas emissions are about one tenth of those from the United States, and India represents just 3.4% of historic global emissions. Ambitious growth is of paramount importance for India, but the nation is also acutely aware that its emissions cannot grow proportionately with its economy. Therefore, India has a bold vision to become the first major economy to industrialise without carbonising. This will require a concerted effort from the public and private sector. Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) aims to help catalyse this action — working as an authentic and distinctive partner to India by sharing our scientific and economic expertise and by amplifying our partners’ capabilities on the ground.

All solutions need a rock-solid foundation of science and economics, as well as an astute understanding of political economy – all of which is what we bring to the table. Environmental Defense Fund’s mission in India is to support an Indian pathway to shared, sustainable prosperity. We bring scientific and economics capacity to complement governments and local partners as they work on the audacious ambition for India to become the first major economy to industrialize without carbonizing. Our priorities in India are to advance sustainable livelihoods in agriculture, livestock, and fisheries, demonstrate shareholder value creation opportunity through responsible business, and catalyse the climate tech ecosystem in India.

Purely illustratively, we recently launched a satellite (MethaneSAT) to support the oil & gas sector globally to reduce methane emissions. We work with governments and others to build high-quality carbon markets, we help leading corporates advance their sustainability objectives, we advise investors on how to understand climate risk, and we foster the sustainability leaders of tomorrow the Climate Corps Fellowship.

Below are some of the areas where EDF is making an impact in India:

Sustainable Livelihoods: Nearly half of India — 700 million people — depends on the agriculture, livestock and fisheries economy. Variations in temperature and weather conditions have a significant impact on crop, livestock and fishing productivity. As a result, climate change poses a significant threat to Indian food systems — and to the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of Indian citizens. At the same time, food systems produce a significant amount of climate pollution contributing to one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions. In the face of these challenges, farmers must work harder to sustain yields, fishers spend more effort and travel farther for a smaller catch, and they all face worsening business and environmental impacts.

Our philosophy is to adopt a farmer first approach — with the goal of increasing incomes, supporting yields and securing climate benefits. Through our partners, EDF has launched and scaled programmes that provide farmers and fishers with tools and expertise to overcome these challenges and deliver a triple win for livelihoods, food security and the climate.

EDF has equipped 40,000 farmers with a new tool – the N-Balance tool – to manage nitrogen fertiliser use and save costs. EDF created the N-Balance tool to help farmers and food companies estimate fertiliser requirements and analyse farming practices to determine how much fertiliser is efficiently needed on a given plot. N-Balance can help farmers save ₹500–2,500 (about US$6–30) per agricultural season for households whose average monthly income is approximately ₹10,000 (about US$120).

Corporate Climate Action: Climate change is both the environmental crisis and economic opportunity of the century. By adopting sustainable business practices, companies have a significant opportunity to create shareholder value — though achieving this requires authentic, ambitious and concerted action by the corporate sector. EDF works directly with corporate partners to develop and implement programmes that embed sustainable practices and improve top and bottom lines for companies and inspire employees – while also yielding benefits for the environment and climate.

EDF’s Climate Corps programme is helping to address this challenge by cultivating the next generation of climate leadership in India. By recruiting, training and embedding post-graduate students in leading companies and organisations, the programme seeks to support businesses’ efforts to meet India’s development and climate objectives and develop a pipeline of talented professionals equipped with knowledge and skills that will be essential in India’s growing green economy.

There are some broader barriers specific to India around climate tech. The starting point is that India needs to spend more on R&D in general. We spend 0.6% of GDP, compared to 1.5% for industrialised countries. Also, private sector R&D spends are 40% of total, compared to 70% for industrialised countries. There’s therefore the need to increase R&D spends, and greater private investment in R&D.

EDF is working to catalyse the Indian climate tech ecosystem. We do this through platforms like ‘Climate Tech Convening’ that brings mainstream corporates, generalist investors, and Indian research capacity into the climate tech space to join innovators and angel investors. We aim to get more investment – domestic and foreign – into climate tech in India. We want to shine the spotlight on sectors that represent 60% of emissions but currently get only 5% of climate tech investments – which are agriculture & food systems, manufacturing & construction, and freight & logistics.

Supporting government capacity: India’s national and local governments have goals to improve the lives of citizens by boosting renewable energy, reducing climate pollution and supporting vulnerable populations including farmers and fishers. Additional capacity — in the form of complementary technical expertise, new tools and improved data — can help augment government leadership and accelerate results.

EDF is working as an authentic partner for governments in India, pulling from our deep expertise in areas that align with national priorities, such as informing the design of India’s carbon market, improving air quality and supporting renewable energy deployment.

A key gap on carbon pricing in emerging economies like India is the need for building capacity at multiple levels. Carbon pricing is a complex area and requires sophisticated skills. Given that there haven’t been active carbon markets in India, it is not surprising that the capacity does not exist. This capacity needs to be augmented at the government, corporate and other stakeholder sides. This capacity is towards designing, implementing, managing and course-correcting the domestic carbon market. EDF has worked with multiple governments and other stakeholders on carbon pricing across the world and is eager to support both the compliance and voluntary carbon market in India.

Balancing Economic Growth and Environmental Sustainability: India plans to nearly double its economy by 2030, lift hundreds of millions out of poverty and improve middle class incomes, all while working to peak its emissions by 2040 and reach net zero carbon emissions by 2070. To achieve these goals, a vision is emerging that has never before been achieved by a major economy: to industrialise without carbonising.

The challenges associated with this vision are enormous, but so are the opportunities. For example, cement is one of the most energy-intensive products on the planet with a massive carbon footprint, but cement produced in India is among the greenest in the world. And India’s construction industry is expected to reach $1 trillion by 2030, up from $650 billion in 2023.

Finding ways to help align India’s economic and environmental imperatives is at the heart of EDF’s partnership approach.

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