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Jury Board Invitation: 3rd Edition Diversity & Inclusion Summit and Awards by Transformance!

“An attempt to challenge climate change with only men will be equivalent to fighting with half the resources”: COP26!

Close your eyes and a season will pass before you

had you the century’s gaze

of a coast live oak

It will not survive this, either

It sheds bark

breaks branch

Lovers’ carved symbols seeping their wound of sap”.

From Kristen George Bagdanov’s, Fossils in the Making***

Nishtha Singh currently works as senior manager at ICICI Lombard General Insurance Co. Ltd. On weekends – she writes and researches on the 3Cs. Cyber Security & new technologies, Cryptocurrency and Climate risks. She also loves reading poetry. The title of the blog is her quote from http://www.oneearth.org.  

Are there enough women in the COP26 leadership?

‘The numbers speak for themselves, tells me Nishtha. At the COP25 21% of the 196 heads of delegation were women. The Leadership team for COP26 consists of only15% women. The complete leadership team of host UK is male.’ Facing severe criticism – they have slightly amended the picture, by appointing two female directors (for Communications and Operations) and one female Champion (for Adaptation and Resilience). We need to see 50:50 vision at the negotiating table if this conference wants to be successful. The head of comms and operations won’t be at the negotiating table, as I understand.

The mammoth bureaucracies at the multilateral agencies operate in silos. ‘Since 2008, one of the main priorities of UNESCO, for instance, has been Gender Equality’, points out Nishtha. ‘They have been making sure gender equality is being promoted through their various activities as well as programmes. However, women across the world still have less access to proper education, employment, and basic resources. Gender equality and empowering women is also the main concern of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5, which is one of the 17 goals established by the UN in 2015’.

‘Equal participation and leadership of women in political and public life is crucial to achieve the SDGs by 2030. However, achieving gender parity is not something we can expect in next nine years, she warns, ‘if women are underrepresented in important platforms like COP26’.

What needs to be done?

It may already be too late as the conference commences on October 31, 2021. However, Nishtha is not losing hope. And here is her set of prescriptions:

  • ‘A gender-responsive outcome at the COP26 would assist in setting the standard for implementation of gender-responsive climate policy.
  • Policies of the UN promote gender balance but in addition, the UN can invest in gender action plans. It can help countries in developing comprehensive projects that are built on unique knowledge and perspective of women.
  • Set goal for COP27: 50% women in leadership team.
  • Identifying gender sensitive strategies for tackling environmental and humanitarian crisis caused by climate change. Studies show women are more vulnerable post natural disasters because they are usually at higher risk of being placed at overcrowded and unsafe shelters due to lack of assets, like property or savings.
  • Gender sensitive strategies will promote enlisting women in natural disaster management decision-making processes and make use of their skills in mitigation and adaptation efforts’.

‘Women and children are vulnerable to climate change. Gender Equality is a human rights principle and to ensure climate related issues are taken up effectively, it is important to have women in the leadership. Gender divisions in climate are a must to tackle climate change. It is essential to make sure women have equal resource and space as men to participate in climate change decision making at all levels.’

Quoting Women Watch, she says: ‘The active participation of women in the development of funding criteria and allocation of resources for climate change initiatives is critical, particularly at local levels. Gender analysis of all budget lines and financial instruments for climate change is needed to ensure gender-sensitive investments in programmes for adaptation, mitigation, technology transfer and capacity building.’

Are we listening?

***These lines, as well as the endings of many of the poems in Fossils in the Making leave us feeling unsettled. The collection causes us to feel as though we were on the edge of catastrophe, biding time as we go about our daily lives – it returns not only to our mortality as individuals, but to our collective mortality as residents of a planet in distress’’. (Source: http://www.thecarolinaquarterly.com).

“Air pollution is fatal; it can slash life expectancy of people living in North India by 9 years.”

My LinkedIn comment on this ET story:

https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/magazines/panache/air-pollution-is-fatal-it-can-slash-life-expectancy-of-people-living-in-north-india-by-9-years/articleshow/85825326.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst

https://www.linkedin.com/posts/praveenguptafcii_air-pollution-is-fatal-it-can-slash-life-activity-6838846162812899328-FPnK

As air quality deteriorates so will overall health of the people, demand for health insurance will surely grow. However, is upping premiums the only response insurers can provide? Would not insurers wish to introspect their role in raising the pollution levels by say insuring and investing in the #fossilfuels and other unsustainable businesses?

Indeed, insurers have a significant role and do some amazing things for the society at large. But this is truly ‘oxymoronic’ – that you aid and abet health conditions and then also insure them. And it is not just physical health. A latest study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry reveals exposure to air pollution leads to more severe mental illness (https://lnkd.in/ew7EuCYk), We have most number of polluted cities and rank amongst the top three CO2 emitting countries, in the world. Btw, women and children are the most vulnerable of the lot. We are in the midst of a serious global #climatecrisis. Should this pass us by as just another news story?!

“The problem of women representation at COP 26 is a result of… the patriarchal nature of the society, gender stereotypes, lack of opportunity for women, pay gaps etc.”

Nimisha Srivastava is a lawyer by education, qualified to practice law in India. She has cumulative 3 years of work experience in the insurance regulatory and corporate commercial space. Presently she is on a journey to explore career alternatives, using the knowledge and skills acquired as a practicing lawyer. 

Strong pushback

‘The goal of gender balance is yet far from being achieved. Mere words on paper are not enough for achieving a gender balance at the COP meetings, rather systems and processes should be put in place to ensure that women get the requisite opportunities, training, support to be able to represent their concerns at the global decision-making spaces, emphasises Nimisha.

‘The problem of women representation at COP 26, is a result of a number of underlying issues, including emanating directly from the patriarchal nature of the society, gender stereotypes, lack of opportunity for women, pay gaps etc.’, she says.

Numbers speak

Nimisha beefs up the state of women representation at major United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) bodies, with some hard statistics.

‘In 2021, women represented 36% of the cumulative membership across all UNFCCC bodies, a mere increase of 1% from 2020. While, some committees have successfully achieved a gender balance, for instance the COP bureau, the Adaptation Committee, the Paris Committee on Capacity building, with women composing of at least 50% of the total membership, greater gender disparity remains in the constitution of other UNFCCC bodies. Here is a brief summary based on the gender composition data released by UNFCCC:

  • In 2021, the Advisory Board of the Climate Technology Centre and Network had only 5 women members (a decrease from 6 women members in 2019) out of a total 20 members.
  • In 2021, the Compliance Committee Enforcement Branch had only 5 women members out of a total 20 members.
  • In 2021, the Compliance Committee Facilitative Branch had only 4 women members out of a total 20 members.
  • In 2021, the Consultative Group of Experts had only 6 women members (an increase from 5 women members in 2020) out of a total 24 members.
  • In 2021, the Executive Board of the Clean Development Mechanism, had only 4 women members out of a total 20 members.
  • In 2021, the Executive Committee of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage had only 8 women members (a decrease from 9 women members in 2020) out of a total 20 members.
  • In 2021, the Paris Agreement Committee on Implementation and Compliance has only 8 women members (a decrease from 9 women members in 2020) out of a total 20 members.
  • In 2021 and 2020, the Standing Committee on Finance has only 6 women members (a decrease from 8 women members in 2019) out of a total 20 members.
  • In 2021, the Technology Executive Committee has only 3 women members (a decrease from 4 and 6 women members in 2020 and 2019 respectively) out of a total 20 members.
  • In 2021 and 2020, the Paris Committee on Capacity-Building has only 6 women members (a decrease from 7 women members in 2019) out of a total 12 members.
  • In 2021, the Least Developed Countries Expert Group has only 6 women members (an increase from 4 members and 5 members in 2020 and 2019, respectively) out of total 13 members.

This clearly represents a lack of balance in gender representation at the most important climate change convention of the world. Further, the bodies on finance and tech have dismal representation of women, indicating a further problem of male dominance and stereotyping in the respective sectors.’

What needs to be done?

Here is a very clear headed diagnosis and the prescription from the budding lawyer: ‘The parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change during the COP 18 meeting in 2012, held in Doha, Qatar, agreed to a goal of gender balance in bodies under the Convention and the Kyoto Protocol. The parties also agreed to make an annual reporting on the progress towards achieving the goal of gender balance.

Gender Action Plan (GAP) under the Lima Work Program was instituted under COP 22. Parties noted the lack of progress made by delegations towards the 2012 goal of gender balance and prompted for the inclusion of gender within the climate policy using five priority areas. This includes capacity building, pursuing meaningful participation especially among indigenous and grassroots communities and effective monitoring and reporting mechanisms. The plan, however, lacks clear targets and indicators to adequately evaluate progress. Moreover, the Convention failed to set rules or implement guidelines, mandating representation of women.

The UNFCCC, therefore, urgently needs to ponder upon the failure of the delegations to achieve the gender balance and lay down stricter guidelines to ensure the delegations comply with the 2012 goal. Clearer benchmarks, reporting mechanisms and indicators laid down by UNFCCC will ensure that the participants have a positive obligation to take steps ensuring more women represent them at the COP meetings.’ Sincerely hoping that all concerned will act on the invaluable inputs and insights from the young leader.

Reducing exposure to oil and gas: The next environmental objective for insurers

Shedding fossil fuel portfolios by the Indian public sector life and non-life insurer/reinsurer: For the sake of rating, reputation, stock price and ESG expectations:


Some findings from SocGen: https://lnkd.in/e6kqbncR:

‘While insurers (23 in all) have moved to end their underwriting of coal-related activities, they have been slow to act on oil and gas. That’s mainly because the insurance market for those fossil fuels is considerably larger, with estimated premiums of more than $17 billion in 2018, compared with $6 billion for coal power, said Peter Bosshard, program director at the Sunrise Project and global coordinator of Insure Our Future (IOF)’.

‘European insurers have shown their desire to combat global warming by exiting coal insurance and coal-related investments. Today, most of the major European insurers and reinsurers won’t touch new coal projects and have established clear roadmaps to fully exit coal. Consequently, coal companies are finding it more difficult and expensive to find coverage, with many reportedly facing rate increases of as much as 40%, according to the SocGen analysts’.

‘Reducing exposure to oil and gas has to be the next environmental objective for the insurance industry, said Nick Holmes, the London-based head of the insurance research team at Societe Generale‘.

Is this a writing on the wall for?

1. Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC) given its imminent listing, by not investing in fossil fuels anymore, can it attract quality capital and achieve/maintain a strong listing price? https://lnkd.in/e5TcJKRu

2. General Insurance Corporation of India (GIC) and The New India Assurance Company Ltd. (the two listed public sector entities headed for privatisation) – despite all the challenges, can this eventually boost investor credibility?

“If COP 26 is to meaningfully address the climate emergency, then we need women in leadership.”

As the COP 26 drama builds up, I have had the privilege to hear several rising women leaders on the subject. London based, Lauren Knight, is the first one I spoke to. Given the ever-growing bureaucracy and the plethora of jargon at the United Nations, here is some quick context. COP26 is the 2021 UN climate change conference. For nearly three decades the UN has been bringing together almost every country on earth for global climate summits – called COPs – which stands for ‘Conference of the Parties’. With the UK as President, COP26 takes place in Glasgow.

Lauren is a Londoner. After a successful stint in global network relationship at the QBE insurance, she switched over to leading insurance information service provider AXCO. Despite her busy work-life, Lauren is never too far away from nature and other charitable causes.

How terribly things have gone wrong rather than improve on the pathway agreed at the Paris Agreement, an outcome of COP 21, came out loud and clear in the IPCC report released earlier this week. Every country agreed to work together to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees and aim for 1.5 degrees.

‘The commitment to aim for 1.5 degrees is important because every fraction of a degree of warming will result in many more lives lost and livelihoods damaged. Countries also committed to bring forward Nationally Determined Contributions, or ‘NDCs’ – setting out how much they would reduce their emissions. They agreed that every five years they would come back with an updated plan that would reflect their highest possible ambition at that time’. 

World’s last chance

COP 26 has been described as the world’s ‘last chance’ to tackle the climate emergency, but Greta Thunberg recently delivered a withering assessment of the hosts. ‘There’s a lie that the UK is a climate leader and that they have reduced their CO2 emissions by 44 per cent since 1990,’ she said. ‘It feels like… they’re trying to create loopholes, instead of actually trying to find solutions that would actually turn things around,’ Ms. Thunberg said, adding she was not optimistic that the COP 26 climate summit in November would trigger enough change.

That apart, there is a fundamental issue, women leaders have pointed at the missing female voice from the COP 26 leadership. Women (and children) bear the most brunt of the climate crisis.

Take for instance this powerful illustration from Durreen Shahnaz the founder & CEO of Impact Investment Exchange(IIX): In the fishing industry, #women make up nearly half of the global workforce. However, the #oceaneconomy is at risk and only 1% of the total value of the ocean has been invested in #sustainable projects over the past 10 years. This puts 60 million women’s livelihoods on the line and we need to start taking action.

No child will escape the impact of global warming

The UNICEF report, the first index of its kind, said the impacts of the climate crisis were “deeply inequitable” and very likely to get worse. It found that almost all the world’s 2.2 billion children are exposed to at least one climate or environmental risk, from catastrophic floods to toxic air. The world’s children cannot afford more empty promises at this year’s COP 26, youth activists including Greta Thunberg said, after a U.N. report found virtually no child will escape the impact of global warming.

‘A conversation about COP 26 and the role of women. Yes, the role of women is a topic that’s being hotly discussed at the moment. No, women are not adequately represented across all levels of COP 26’.  Lauren is one of the several voices raising this critical issue.

‘We need women at the negotiation table, if COP 26 is to meaningfully address the climate emergency, then we need women (in all forms of glorious diversity!) in leadership so that our voices are heard. We look at climate change differently, and we look at problems differently, she points out. Research suggests that we are much more environmentally aware in our decision making – we tend to be more empathetic and we generally work more collaboratively’.

‘We can’t allow men to speak on our behalf, they speak of our experiences and how we are living through the climate crisis. We need to work together to come up with solutions that offer perspectives from both sides.  My experience is of increasing engagement with corporate sustainability initiatives within the insurance industry, but naturally I am passionate about the environment outside of my profession’. 

Lauren fondly recalls her participation in a corporate sponsored Earthwatch expedition to the Andorran Pyrenees.

‘As volunteers (enthusiastic individuals who all shared a passion for protecting the environment from all walks of life) we worked with a group of scientists who were committed to understanding the impact of climate change on wildlife in the Pyrenees, due to its unique ecosystem. Our purpose was to understand how human encroachment has altered the alpine landscape and collect data and multiple research sites across the mountainous terrain’. 

Earthwatch is an international environmental nonprofit organisation and connects people with scientists worldwide to conduct environmental research and empowers them with the knowledge they need to conserve the planet. ‘One of the lead scientists, Jana Marco, was the most enthusiastic person I have ever met. I admired her unwavering commitment and how all of the volunteers were completely unified by her love of the work she was doing’.

There isn’t a cure for those living with Huntington’s right now, but there is hope for future generations, especially through the work of Huntington’s Disease Association (HDA) and raising awareness as much as possible. ‘This is why I will be proudly running the Great North Run for HDA soon’, says Lauren. encouraging people to talk about Huntington’s and donate to a worthy cause.

So, as the time runs out – what do we do to raise the environmental quotient? How do we bring in more collaboration and empathy at the COP 26 and beyond? As ‘mother nature pushes back father greed’ – we need to bring in the other half of humanity into climate leadership. Looks like this is our only chance. ‘I’ve always admired your selflessness, Lauren’ someone remarked – in response to her decision to run for the HDA. There is nothing that selflessness cannot overcome. Thank you Lauren for lending your voice.

INDIA: A TWIST IN THE CYBER TALE

Chartered Insurance Institute Blog: August 5, 2021

https://thejournal.cii.co.uk/2021/08/05/india-twist-cyber-tale

In this blog for the Chartered Insurance Institute, I pickup a few threads from an action-packed cyber space as it heats up in India. Despite a small insured book (though growing) – the Indian cyber portfolio is under a spotlight. India moved up to become Asia’s most hacked (EMSOFT, July 2021). Cross border or intrastate; countries, companies or individuals – there is nowhere to hide. The future is about building a robust digital infrastructure. ‘The emergence of cyber mercenaries is one of the most worrying trends’, reminds Daryl Crockett, CEO ValidDatum. ‘What that allows is for funding to follow talent, just as it does in the commercial world, and you have a much faster speed to market’, she points out.

‘Senior executives and Boards will depend more on savvy cybersecurity leaders to inform their organisation’s security in line with its risk appetite’, highlight David Koh, Commissioner of Cybersecurity and Chief Executive of the Cyber Security Agency (CSA) of Singapore and Nancy Luquette, S&P Global. To meet these needs, they say, the effective chief information security officer (CISO) must hone key skill sets to go from subject matter expertise to strategic leadership. Can or should the talent pipeline for cyber underwriter lag behind? There is always a growing case for carving out the cyber underwriting role from financial lines.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, perhaps never visualised the downside/s to an explosive growth of internet. ‘Wrap a cryptographic blockchain layer around the Internet to make it attributable’, prescribes david piesse, as did #Estonia. Perhaps that’s a vaccine to counter the cyber pandemic! Where and what next in Asia? Please hold your breath.

“Bleaching coral reefs were never going to scare Europeans, but flooded basements will”: Wolfgang Kuhn

Wolfgang Kuhn is a Director of Financial Sector Strategies at ShareAction. With 20 years’ experience in fixed income markets, investing in corporate and government debt, allocating to high yield, emerging markets, convertibles and loans on behalf of institutional investors around the globe.

Wolfgang has a strong interest in risk management, he has been on a quest for the right approach to sustainability in bond management since 2006. Wolfgang is convinced that the orthodox investment framework of risk and return is dangerously incomplete, and needs to be complemented by a third one, real-world impact.

His most recent role was that of Head of Pan-European Fixed Income at Aberdeen Asset Management, managing European credit and macro teams. Previously, he worked for UBS, Deutsche Asset Management and DG Bank.

Wolfgang graduated from Technical University of Berlin, having also studied at University of Wisconsin and University of Freiburg. Wolfgang is a CFA Charterholder, a Certified EFFAS Financial Analyst (CEFA) and a Financial Risk Manager (FRM).

You won’t find an investor these days who doesn’t swear by long-term returns. But, apart from the blessed trusting souls believing in private equity’s long-term myth, you won’t find anyone who isn’t hooked on monthly or quarterly results.

Praveen Gupta: Shareholder resolutions are a critical tool for investors, do you think investors can use voting to help shape ‘real world outcomes’ on the systemic sustainability issues?

Wolfgang Kuhn: No question about it – they can and they should. Until very recently, the vast majority of mainstream investors would have considered voting as something you do because you have to. Very rarely has voting been used to shape the future of companies. Of course asset managers’ stewardship departments would protest. I am always surprised to read the term “shareholder revolts” when the remuneration package for CEOs stands. Not quite the revolt. The only thing it needs is a majority of shareholders to say “no”. Why don’t we see that more often?  

PG: The world keeps emitting over 40 Gt of CO2 per year. We are getting precariously close to exhausting the carbon budget and running out of time for limiting warming to 1.5C. Is banning fossil fuel the only choice we may be left with?

WK: It might well be. But, of course, that is not politically feasible yet. A minimum carbon price seems to gather politicians interest. But vested interests will ensure that it won’t happen. Unless, of course, society takes control. Banning fossil fuels would make sense. At the moment, you won’t see the term “fossil fuel phase-out” in any of the net-zero initiatives of the day. Net zero yes. Carbon phase-out no. Humans are susceptible to logical inconsistencies.

PG: Carbon offsets do not reduce carbon emissions; they only delay them?

WK: Of course I understand the idea behind offsets. Offsets can motivate climate investment in emerging markets where it is seriously needed. But as things stand now, we don’t have time to use inaction in developed markets to fund necessary infrastructure.  So: no offsets. Delay and invest is not a thing any more. REDUCE and invest.

PG: Can technological innovations solve our ecological crisis? Global climate action relies too heavily on energy savings that may not materialise?

WK: Energy savings over time tend to go hand-in-hand with higher energy demand. Hoping that technology will save us from changing the way humanity treats nature is very convenient; unfortunately, it seems too good to be true. If we’d pray more, we might find technological solutions to absorb atmospheric carbon at a scale that can save us. But people don’t pray a lot these days. Mending your ways is never convenient.

PG: Can investor activism deliver the desired outcome in isolation of political will to take unpopular measures and individual behavioural change?

WK: No. Of course not. Investor activism is just a piece in the puzzle. Without the political will to take unpopular measures and individual – as well as institutional! – behavioral change, our children (we ourselves will be ok, just) are doomed. But investor activism can help to get the necessary change of mind going. Companies don’t just emit carbon; they also often lobby against necessary changes considered by government. This needs to be stopped by investors. But that is not all.

Investors need to end themselves the focus on short-term gains. You won’t find an investor these days who doesn’t swear by long-term returns. But, apart from the blessed trusting souls believing in private equity’s long-term myth, you won’t find anyone who isn’t hooked on monthly or quarterly results. We buy 100-year bonds now, because the spread duration could really make money if spreads tighten next week.   

The floods are definitely focussing minds. It is almost embarrassing how politicians are now falling over themselves to demand the most ambitious climate action when, until two weeks ago, they dismissed such demands as unrealistic scaremongering.

PG: Much of what you do is limited to Europe, yes, the US is waking up but what about Asia and Africa? Their biodiversities will come under growing pressure?

WK: The climate crisis and biodiversity destruction are global problems. Europe can (afford to) try to lead for a while. But we are all in the same boat. Everyone can make the boat capsize. This, however, cannot be an excuse for European investors and companies not to act. But arguments pointing to global justice don’t usually work. We can only hope for a sense of shame: that no-one will want to end up as the obvious one “ruining the whole thing”.

PG: Is ESG at a dead-end? Time to reinvent and if so, how?

WK: ESG is not a dead end. ESG is profitable. ESG is rational. Not bothering about ESG is like saying you don’t like vowels in the alphabet. But ESG won’t help humanity get out of the hole that it has – with very uneven contribution – dug for itself. Unless we break the mantra that saving the planet is a win-win. Well, it kinda is: if we stop destroying the planet, we all win. But at the moment, the financial industry makes it look like a walk in the park: “you can save the world while making handsome returns!”. Possible, but not very likely.

In order to NOT destroy the planet, some opportunities might need to be left on the table. Of course, we need to stop focusing on public assets. As long as private assets are considered “smart”, because they offer a neat way to get around the saving-the-planet-nonsense and continue to make handsome returns, we will not get very far. Asset owners need to dare face up to general partners. Owners of all asset classes need to start behaving like owners and accept the responsibility that comes with ownership. That is what we tell children when they get their first pet.

PG: Isn’t there too much bureaucracy riding the Climate Change bandwagon?

WK: I am not sure bureaucracy is what I fear. Rather, it is the net-zero activism that we now find all around. Everyone is joining some initiative. And that would be fine, only that the initiatives never have any real action against them. Action is always going to come later, after methodologies have been discussed, strategies set, targets determined, KPIs agreed, a lot more data gathered. Give it another one, two, three years’ time. Because it takes that long to convince laggards, and we don’t want to leave these laggards behind, do we? This is how you approach issue of moderate interest, not the most important challenge humanity has ever collectively faced.

We were told at the beginning of the decade that we had 10 years to cut emissions in half. But no one wants to address the difficult decisions where short-term money might have to be left on the table. Stakeholder capitalism is very cute until careers, bonuses, returns are at stake. At which point joining a net-zero initiative is buying time: no-one can be expected to change the world overnight, right?

PG: The recent floods – how does that mobilise public opinion and nudge the politics towards a greener Europe?

WK: The floods are definitely focussing minds. It is almost embarrassing how politicians are now falling over themselves to demand the most ambitious climate action when, until two weeks ago, they dismissed such demands as unrealistic scaremongering. Bleaching coral reefs were never going to scare Europeans, but flooded basements will.

PG: May you succeed in bringing about all the transformative changes that you are striving for, Wolfgang!

“We have to reimagine multiple ways of being men and women. There are other ways of framing masculinity and femininity”: Parmesh Shahani

Parmesh Shahani is an author, LGBTQ inclusion advocate and Vice President at Godrej Industries Limited where he heads Diversity & Inclusion and the Godrej India Culture Lab. He is the author of Queeristan: LGBTQ Inclusion in the Indian Workplace  (released in August 2020) and also Gay Bombay: Globalization, Love and (Be)Longing in Contemporary India

He serves as part of FICCI’s inaugural D&I task force and as a board member of Khoj International Artists’ Association. In the past, he has been a TED Senior Fellow (2018), Yale World Fellow (2014), a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader (2014), a Utrecht University-Impakt Fellow (2012), and an academy member of the Global Teacher Prize.

Parmesh is an author, LGBTQ inclusion advocate and Vice President at Godrej Industries Limited. He holds an MS in Comparative Media Studies from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 

Praveen Gupta: You highlight the link between inclusivity and profitability in Queeristan. You also mention that to be inclusive is about being ethical and not about making money? Is that a contradiction?

Parmesh Shahani: It is not a contradiction, it is complementary. In any case it is about ethics to start with. We need to treat everyone, in this case LGBTQ people who are 6-10% of the population, fairly. Even if we were say just 1%, the truth is everyone needs to be treated equally. It is very unfair that some people have been marginalised for so long. It is not an ethical versus financial argument but it is ethical and financial argument.

Even if you are not so ethical it makes business sense whichever way you look at it – makes you money, leads to more innovation and the talent it brings you. So even if you are homophobic, even if you are not ethical, even if you believe everyone should not be treated equally – I would assume you are in business to make more money, be more innovative, you want your company to be relevant. That’s how I have structured the argument – saying that it is really dumb – not only are you indecent, but you are also losing your industry and company so much money. I fail to understand why people would still want to argue about this thing.

PG: A five-step guide for making your workplace LGBTQ inclusive is a great prescription. Is it something that can be left with the HR?

PS: HR does not have the freedom and real mandates for innovation. Inclusion is way beyond HR… HR is just one component of it. It is deeply linked to product, innovation, CSR and communications. I think D&I should be a function that reports directly to the MD. People from HR should be a key part of the inclusion agenda but it shouldn’t be sitting in HR. That is what I recommend.

PG: The struggle for inclusivity of women begins with the arrival of the girl child. How does a predominantly patriarchal society resonate with the LGBTQ community?

PS: The way this inequality plays out within the gay movement – gay men tend to speak up more. Women are marginalised even within the queer movement – even in organisations. It will be a gay man who will be out. There are so few lesbians who are out. Very few lesbians in positions of power. I think women continue to be marginalised, even the LGBTQ movement exists within the larger framework of say patriarchy and misogyny. Unfortunately, our queer movement continues to replicate some of those problems.

There is no simple answer – gender and inequality have continued for so many years across the world. In other parts of the world there are successful experiments happening to narrow the gap. In India given how our society is structured, given the burden on women’s bodies, given the burden on women in society in general to be both homemaker, repository of the family whatever name, tradition. Even within the queer movement itself women internalise this misogyny themselves. I think it’s a long-term project.

We have to reimagine multiple ways of being men as well as women. And in any case gender is now being understood more and more as a spectrum. So I think it’s very important to work on projects with women. Men also need to understand how the current structure hurts them so much more. There are other ways of framing masculinity, there are other ways of framing femininity. They can move towards a kindred society.

But this is not going to be an overnight thing. It’s going to face a lot of resistance because people benefit when women are squashed in so many ways – socially, economically and otherwise. One thing we know about men is they do not like giving up anything – even 1% of their space. So it’s going to be a long struggle. But I think we have to start early – in our families and in our workplaces – which is why I wrote this book.

PG: As a culture, we did not originally have a binary mindset. How do we go back to being more accepting?

PS: It really makes sense to be inclusive and it is very much a part of our culture. Historically and culturally we have been good people. We have been respecting the environment for centuries. So for someone to say if you care for the environment, you are anti-development is not true. We have forever co-existed with nature. If you start abusing nature that you become non-Indian. People need to be reminded about that.

The British project was particularly evil in the sense that they not just imposed their values, they helped educate a certain kind of Indian elite in their system. Post-independence those homophobic values remained with the elite that governed us. That is why it took so many decades to get rid of them. I remind in my book that inclusiveness and LGBTQ is very much part of our ancient culture.

Yet a lot of debates in the public space are very binary. Either you like development or you don’t. Either you are this or this. The truth is we have always been plural and multiple for centuries. It’s good that we remind people of this.

Parmesh’s memoir-cum-manifesto, Queeristan is an expansive reference book of history, literature, cinema, movements, institutions and icons of the LGBTQ community. It drives home the singular point that in diversity and inclusion lies the promise of an equitable and profitable future, for companies, their employees, and society at large.

PG: How do you see supportive action boosting the inclusivity quotient?

PS: There is a direct co-relation and I write about this in my book. Urban thinker Richard Florida has mapped correlation between cities that are more inclusive and how they become more receptive to ideas and hence they attract a wide range of people. Hence, they become more innovative over the years. You see this geographically, state-wise and country-wise. Take for instance the East coast and West coast of the US. Because they are more culturally plural and tolerant, they attract better racial diversity, LGBTQ diversity. Because of that talent goes there. Because of that companies like Google open their offices there, thereby the economy improves.

There is a clear link between how you are as a city in terms of your values and the talent you attract. You see that in India all across. You see micro-hubs like Calcutta. It is no wonder that Calcutta had the first pride march in the country. Or like Jamshedpur, which is near Calcutta, where India’s first transgender person was respected at Tata Steel.

We are not seeing India as a whole. There are progressive states and non-progressive states. Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra to its credit, Kerala, Tamil Nadu are in another orbit – in terms of reaching out to LGBTQ people. Bihar, UP and so on are not on the radar. UP is trans progressive but not LGB progressive. That’s because trans people have more resonance in Indian culture. You will see this play out over the years. If TN becomes so much more inclusive – a lot of queer talent may move from Bangalore to Chennai. Like it has played out in other parts of the world.

PG: We are still struggling with women quotas on corporate boards. What about wider forms of diversity?

PS: I am a strong advocate for quotas. That’s the way to go. All around the world positive discrimination reaps a lot of benefits. People who are in power don’t want to give it up. They keep on coming with creative ways of excluding people. One system they use in India is the whole idea of merit. You present a gay candidate to them and a straight person. They will say the straight person had more merit. What is merit? Who is deciding?

You are a straight upper-class person who has gone through a certain experience in life and you are deciding that is the template of merit then that is your problem. If you as a man are saying that if I am seeing candidates and this man has 8 years of experience and this woman has 6 years of experience because she took 2 years off for childbirth – so the man has more merit than the woman. That is your problem. Because you are a straight man you cannot understand that having a child and multi-tasking with those experiences is more meritorious from an innovation perspective. Your male candidate with only 8 years of experience would not have that. When you are framing merit in such flawed terms – you will never hire queer people. So the only way to do this is through positive affirmative action. People do not change unless they are forced to, unfortunately.

PG: What policies must companies implement to draw Millennials and Gen Z?

PS: Generational diversity is important. People who are in positions of power need to realise that it is in their interest to build the bridge with younger people. But bridges don’t come free. An organisation has to invest in it. There are professionals out there to help with workshops, emerging research. Likewise, you will have to invest in reaching out to LGBTQ people. By just saying “Oh, I am not homophobic and people should now come and join my company” – it will never happen. Most companies wanting to run a good D&I programme must allocate at least 2-5 crores annually. That is what it costs for hiring a small team of professionals and doing the policy change. If you are willing to spend 50-100 crores on a TV campaign – why can’t you spend a fraction of that in making your company more inclusive?

PG: What next after Queeristan?

PS: I want to spend a large part of my life in writing on other kinds of advocacy. There will be other projects all around LGBTQ India. I am very interested in looking at the broad question of what does it mean to be LGBTQ in India?

PG: Many thanks for sharing your insightful perspectives. Here’s wishing you the very best in all your future endeavours.

Climate crisis urgently necessitates ESG compliant accounting standards: Transitioning and mitigating the carbon footprint!

My presentation at the CICIRM 2021, Harbin, China.

Right from my early days with the insurance profession, the message was shrill and clear: ‘insurance is a handmaiden of the industry’. I believe I have a more appropriate phrase now – corporate capture. #CorporateCapture goes way beyond insurance. However, as a common denominator for the global economy – it ensures we remain for as much and as long as possible within a firm grip of the fossil fuel industry. Well before it started belching carbon dioxide, nitrous oxides and methane at levels which have precipitated the Climate Crisis – it ensured an insurer DNA at its lethargic worst.

The agenda:

•What gets measured gets done  •Oxymoron  •Regulatory vacuum  •ESG activism  •Net zero  •Greenwashing  •IFRS wake-up call  •IAIS missing in action  •Reimagining the DNA.

This, broadly, was the framework of my presentation. The idea as I told my audience was to make them uncomfortable. This quote from Raj Thamotheram was my first salvo: ‘The greatest promise of ESG-focused activism is precisely in filling in the gaps that law and culture otherwise fail to address’. What an awesome vision to borrow for (and lend to) a broken regulatory system.

“[I]nvestors must shift the narrative away from a company-first model and focus first on the ecological and social boundaries that all companies must respect. They should continue to make sure portfolio companies are *optimizing* financial return, but only within those boundaries.” What could be a better source than The Shareholder Commons – which is tackling capital system failures that are endangering our future?! Yes, by binning Milton Friedman.

Shareaction’s defiance of status quo and ability to spot the cracks is admirable. Here is what Felix Nagrawala highlights in their recent survey: “Sustainability scores were lower for underwriting than investment across the board… It shows that the insurance industry is yet to realise the systemic risks that climate change, biodiversity and rights violations pose to the economy.” A unique dichotomy that manifests insurers.

Again, from Shareaction: Majority of large insurers do not live up to their role as ‘risk experts’ as they fail to adequately address systemic risks such as climate change and biodiversity loss. 1. Insurers’ boards remain ill-equipped to appropriately manage the environmental and social impacts of their organisations.   2. Despite the insurance sector’s focus on risk, the world’s largest insurance companies are largely failing to assess the impact of climate change on their investment portfolios. 3. Vast majority of insurers have not yet started to develop their approach to biodiversity loss.  4. Most of the world’s largest insurers (top 70 were surveyed) show severe negligence of their impact on human and labour rights across their investment and underwriting activities.  

A letter sent out to CEOs of eight major US insurance companies – signed by four Democratic party senators (I have been repeating this ad nauseum): “In order to better understand your fossil fuel underwriting and investment policies:  1. Have you studied how your company’s annual claims and premiums will evolve as climate-related losses burgeon over the coming decades? Which climate scenarios have you studied?  2. Have you conducted a stress test of your company’s exposure to fossil fuel assets? Which scenarios have you used? What did any stress tests reveal about your company’s exposure to fossil fuel assets?  3. How are your company’s fossil fuel underwriting and investment policies consistent with your broader commitments to sustainability? 

Net Zero Conundrum (Source S&P):

In Net Zero theory, companies are expected to first physically reduce their actual CO2 emissions, then take other actions, such as purchasing carbon offsets, to at least equal remaining unabated emissions.  ​

Mathematically, the “net” CO2 emissions attributable to the company then become zero. Yet not every entity is taking reasonable steps to curb their emissions before turning to offsets.  ​

In order to achieve the Paris Agreement 1.5 degree scenario, global spending trends must change. Today, companies expend more effort on offsets and other financial “solutions” than on actual emissions reductions, including pollution control technologies, clean energy production and energy efficiency.  ​

Financial expenditures on actual reductions must almost quadruple from its 2019 level according to the International Energy Agency (IEA) to achieve alignment with the Paris Agreement. ​

Claims that Net Zero is merely greenwashing are, not surprisingly, growing. The Washington Post criticized the financial sector for its focus on solutions that some argue do not contribute to actual emissions reductions, instead emphasising offsets.  ​

Even UN climate finance envoy and former Bank of England governor Mark Carney recently tripped up over offsets. He claimed that the investment company he vice-chairs was “net zero” despite investing in fossil fuels because the company also invested in renewable energy. Some called that an “accounting trick”. ‘I call it a pile of rubbish’, says Damian Carrington. ​

​An innovation in the ESG insurance space is the arrival of Net-Zero Insurance Alliance in the ESG insurance space – includes seven insurers that are already leaders of the Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance. ​Insurers are recognising the importance of exiting fossil fuels for good, although whether they’re moving fast enough, and in line with the latest International Energy Agency recommendations, is less certain (Source: Capital Monitor).

A culture of superficial ESG regulatory compliance could set us back years!​

Since the regulators stepped in with a clear focus on managing impact, the industry has gone into overdrive. At times, it feels like it is trying to run before it has learnt to walk. Take climate change for instance. Major commitments are being made about ‘aligning’ portfolios with Net Zero goals without a deep understanding of how to meaningfully measure the carbon intensity of portfolios (e.g. scope 3) or to effectively reduce them (beyond quick cosmetic gains). The obvious case is offsetting, which should be used as a last resort in situations where reducing emissions becomes too challenging.  ​

A special report by ratings agency AM Best in mid-November 2020 emphasised that insurers and reinsurers that ignore ESG in their underwriting and investment decisions confront serious reputational risks. In turn, this risk can cause buyers and investors to flee to competitors, affecting the companies’ creditworthiness and ratings. ​(Source: www.russbanham.com​).To achieve global net-zero emissions by 2050, we will need financing on a far larger scale than what is currently being dedicated. ​

The cost of transition:

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2018 estimated the world needs to invest about $3 trillion annually under a 1.5-degree scenario.  ​

Of that amount, about $2.4 trillion – or about 2.5% of global GDP – will be needed annually over the next 15 years for clean energy-related investments, the IPCC said. In comparison, global total investments in clean energy and energy efficiency in 2019 reached only US $635.8 billion, according to the International Energy Agency. ​

The world would need to invest about 3.8 times that amount annually to achieve the IPCC’s 1.5-degree scenario. ​

Transition-focused financing, including debt issuance products like green bonds, could help put a dent in overall investment needs. Transition finance could provide up to $1 trillion annually over the next 30 years, S&P Global Ratings estimates. ​

​IFRS in the ring:

The International Financial Reporting Standards Foundation (IFRS) announces the strategic direction to be taken in the formation of a new sustainability reporting standards board, including its focus, scope, and approach. ​

The International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO), the leading international policy forum for securities regulators, announced that it will work with IFRS Foundation Trustees towards the establishment of a Sustainability Standards Board (SSB), citing an “urgent need for globally consistent, comparable, and reliable sustainability disclosure standards.” ​

Citing the urgent need for better information about climate-related matters, the IFRS said that new board would initially focus its efforts on climate-related reporting, while also working towards meeting the information needs of investors on other ESG matters. The board would build on established, existing frameworks, such as TCFD, as well as work by the alliance of leading standard-setters in sustainability reporting focused on enterprise value. (Source: Mark Segal).

In conclusion:

The presentation is neither a comprehensive account of all the gaps nor the remedies – coming from observers and experts. However, there are pointers in plenty towards possible ambiguities that could do more harm than good. What must be measured to ensure sustainability in unambiguous terms? How to ensure we do not get swept by a tsunami of greenwash? ESG per se is getting pulled into many directions, how to ensure the integrity of the core values around environment, societal and governance? While the IFRS attempts to put together a meaningful protocol, the IAIS must get into the driving seat. It must not only ensure insurers defend their balance sheets from climate risks but also that insurers do not aid or abet climate risks both as investors and underwriters. Insurers in the process have to come of age and shake-off the corporate capture that has, for long, held them back from their logical progression.