In a few months' time, Jeff Bezos will start making grants from the $10 billion Bezos Earth Fund he has set up. India, as well as South Asia, needs such commitment to fight, in his words, the devastating impact of climate change.
South Asia is estimated to have almost 25% of the world's population. The population density here is 303 persons per square kilometer compared to a global average of 52 persons/sq km. India specifically has suffered a lot from climate change. In the past year or so, it is estimated to have lost over $21 billion in just three natural disasters. Cyclone Fani in April-May, 2019, alone cost $8.1 billion. The human cost is a lot more. The California fires may have cost $25 billion but about 2,000 people were killed by Cyclone Fani and the monsoon floods last year - the most deaths in this list of billion dollar+ disasters.
Here is how the Bezos Earth Fund (BEF) can bring the fight to India and South Asia:
1. Tackle air pollution and identify a clutch of targets through which to do this. In India, air pollution is linked to over 2 deaths every minute. More than half of the 20 cities with the highest levels of PM 2.5 pollutants are in India. PM 2.5 are the toxic particulate matter tinier than the width of a human hair, which is linked to cardiac disease, respiratory problems, strokes and much more.
2. Create a network of low-cost air quality monitors with transparent reporting. India is one of the top ranked countries with the worst air pollution. There is a requirement of at least 4,000 reporting grade monitors but there are barely a couple of hundred continuously live monitors currently. Investment is needed to create capacity and maintain these.
3. Extend this continuous AQ monitoring to a pan-South Asian network of air pollution monitors. It is a common pollution 'air shed'. Smoke from, say, north Pakistan and Punjab/Haryana can affect West Bengal and Bangladesh, which are 1,500-2,000 kilometers apart.
4. Invest in tech training youth for jobs in monitoring and identifying. At a recent meeting in Delhi, officials and scientists from Karnataka lamented the shortage of qualified personnel to install, maintain, monitor and report air pollution.
5. Create and invest in health alerts linked to the monitoring networks. Millions of parents across India like myself are sending their children to school with PM 2.5 many times WHO's safe limit of 25 micrograms/cubic meter.
6. Help businesses become 'green'. Amazon itself has faced internal tension over climate change, and many expect the momentum for 'greener' businesses to pick up in India too. Finance experts have called for an independent think-tank in India to conduct specialized climate research and promote innovative mechanisms and international best practices. The BEF could be ideally placed to drive this. Steps would be needed to ensure such a think-tank's independence.
7. Examine the scope of developing ESG-linked investment. Globally, using Environment-Social-Governance parameters is growing as a yardstick for socially responsible investment, in addition to P&L balance sheets, and it is slowly catching on in India with at least one billion dollar funds seeking to invest in small and mid-cap companies.
8. Build capacity for science communications, lucid and social media savvy. This is to bridge a critical gap between a vast body of excellent and irrefutable science on climate change and health pollution and a chunk of the public which is largely unconcerned about it unless there's a crisis at hand (like the dense air pollution in Delhi last November or the floods in Kerala.)
9. Build fund capacity in MRV programs i.e. Monitoring, Reporting and Verification. Even the government of India acknowledges that "setting up an MRV system for more detailed reporting including carbon emission reduction is a challenge and requires enhanced support... most existing MRV systems do not directly track GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions and mitigation impact"
10. Fund groups who work with schools and school children to amplify ways to counter climate change. They can be powerful agents of change within their families even though it will take some years to see a measurable impact. Just recall how Greta Thunberg rattled oil leaders who are feeling the heat within their own families.
Despite political hiccups during his recent visit to India, Bezos took small steps towards a greener footprint here with initiatives like electric delivery rickshaws. His Earth Fund now opens up new opportunities to counter climate change and air pollution in India, both of which are making the lives of millions of Indians harder.
(Chetan Bhattacharji is Managing Editor at NDTV)
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