Private Sector to the Rescue?

How Business Can Accelerate Climate Resilience Efforts

The following is my keynote address to Indiaspora’s Third Annual Climate Summit held last week, which brought together environmental experts and community leaders who are engaged in seeking out solutions to the current climate crisis. My remarks sparked a lively Q&A and I thought readers of The Instigator would like to join in the conversation.

Back when I was the CEO of The Nature Conservancy, I had the great pleasure of visiting the city of Chennai, India. Just prior to my visit, Chennai had suffered from terrible flooding. Officials called a public meeting to discuss what to do. A local environmental leader and I were invited to moderate a discussion that would be open to all. The two of us were asked to start the meeting by offering some ideas on how green infrastructure might address the city’s water challenges. And then we were supposed to moderate a group discussion. When they told me the format, I was a bit puzzled. Would this really work? Could we have a polite and practical exchange of views on such a complicated topic? Would people speak up? Would there be debate? Would there even be questions, I wondered.

It turns out, there was no reason for me to worry. Right after I was introduced — and before the other moderator even got to say a word — hands shot up and people began expressing their own points of view on how nature might best be deployed to protect people and property from future flooding events. When someone disagreed with another speaker, he or she would speak up and push back. Folks asked questions when an idea wasn’t stated clearly. Wow, I thought. This is really great. The audience is well informed, they know that the stakes are high and that action needs to be taken, and they understand that everyone in the community will need to work together and address the challenge in a cooperative way.

When I reflect on that experience, I wonder whether we can globally replicate that practical, cooperative, and determined spirit to get on with taking the necessary action steps to address the impacts of climate change.

We face bigger challenges today than the city of Chennai was facing at the time of my visit. We are dealing with floods, drought, fires, hurricanes and heat waves all at once. We need to develop the passion, interest, and engagement that the residents of Chennai demonstrated during my visit.

My topic today is to speak about just that: How to build environmental resilience. And, more specifically, how the private sector can lead the way. 

By “resilience,” I mean efforts to protect people and property from harm. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (better known as the IPCC) defines climate resilience as “the ability to cope with a climate disturbance and recover in a way that preserves one’s essential character, while at the same time exercising the capacity for adaptation, learning and growth.” 

Resilience is of course a global challenge. In my remarks today, I’m going to focus on the US since that is where I’m now doing most of my work. But I believe my observations apply to all parts of the world. 

So, let’s address our main question: What can the private sector do to help build resilience?