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Innovation: Laying the road ahead!

Rather than crystal gaze early in the year, I opted for some wishful thinking. That a favourite innovation continues to stay on the top – made it 50% easier – since I was seeking for two. Allow me to begin with this moving story of a young cancer patient, in the UK, whose last wish was to swim with dolphins. The parents were equally determined. Not only InsureCancer underwrote her travel but also did whatever they could in ensuring the dream came true.

Numero Uno

So who is this unique provider? The website is crisp and comes straight to the point: “InsureCancer specialises in providing travel insurance to those with advanced cancer and we routinely provide cover for those with active, metastatic, relapsed or terminal cancer. We are also able to provide travel insurance to patients participating in cancer drug trials. Our sole purpose is providing specialist cover to those affected by cancer. Our policies are therefore specially designed for those living with cancer and provide full cover for the cancer diagnosis. Each case is individually underwritten and with specialist knowledge of the treatment and management of cancer, we are ready to consider individuals undergoing treatment such as chemo or radiotherapy. A key requirement is that holiday makers should be clinically stable and be travelling with the consent of their attending specialist Consultant”.

InsureCancer specialises in providing travel insurance to those with advanced cancer and we routinely provide cover for those with active, metastatic, relapsed or terminal cancer.

The Queen bestowed the country’s highest corporate honour The Queen’s Award for Enterprise on InsureCancer and Medi TravelCover Ltd. in recognition of: Pioneering insurance underwriting innovation for those affected by cancer. You get a sense of the intense emotional energy that goes into underwriting this class of business when you sit down for a conversation with Dr. Krish Shastri. Each story he shares is, amongst other things, a remarkable case study in empathy.

InsureCancer was founded in 2004, well ahead of Artificial Intelligence or Machine Learning becoming synonymous with innovation! So innovation is not just about tech. It is about human ingenuity. InsureCancer is an insurance solution provider that deploys science to further quality of life for a growing segment of the population.

If InsureCancer tops my list of insurance innovations till date, VaccineGuard is my ‘means to an end’ candidate for the future. Unlike Dr. Shastri who persevered and earned a doctorate in Oncology as his offering blossomed, David Piesse is a techie who continues to dabble with frontiers of tech. He also brings the unique applications to insurance and risk management. The specialisations range from Cyber Risk, ERM, Blockchain, AI to Disruptive technologies. Borrowing from Ted Levitt, David is gifted not only with ‘creativity in the idea-creating sense but putting ideas to work’. Hence my wishful expectations from him not just in terms of what he has delivered on the back of tech to the industry but what he can! This is not about AI/ML, which continue to hog limelight in terms of accelerated analysis, pattern recognition and predictive analytics. It is about a longitudinal application of VaccineGuard thereby consolidating the diverse fragments of insurance practice into a unified body. Not only would that make the industry more inclusive but more influential. But first things first!

Beyond VaccineGuard: Unbundle & re-bundle! 

VaccineGuard is a digital platform that provides end to end attestation and verification of data and actions across the many systems involved in vaccination delivery. The overall goal of the product is to enable travel both within and across national borders and reduce restrictions to social interactions. In order to successfully deploy the Covid vaccination program and equip citizens with trustworthy Certificates, authorities overseeing, and companies involved in the vaccine distribution and administration need trusted and real time situational information and assurance about: 1. The creation of each Vaccine Certificate for an identifiable person, 2. The authenticity of vaccines being used, 3. That Vaccine Certificates are being based on authentic vaccines, 4. Progress to target vaccination goals, 5. Possible Overuse of authentic vaccines for counterfeit Certificates. VaccineGuard delivers these goals via a set of functional components to help different actors throughout the value chain as all of them benefit from the same distributed data management platform. These components empower each other significantly when working together, but each module is also valuable independently. All in all a dedicated digital “trust framework”, howsoever elementary for what I am proposing. A handy and transformative tool for insurers. Needless to mention the efficiencies and momentum that it brings to globalisation.

Be it prevention, wellness or cure – response to these calls for a paradigm shift like never before. Status quo will only lead to a dead-end. Innovation may not always mean tech. Yet, tech can take as far as imagination can.

My wish list starts with ‘horizontalising’ the life-science segment – commencing with say clinical trials, bio-pharma liability, thereafter, stretching and bundling it with healthcare, travel, medical malpractice liability and other possible components. All the related ‘unbundled’ components that evolved per se – be bundled? Can this process then cross-over to the life side and dismantle the barrier (non-life versus life) to recreate a ‘composite’? With the Planet under a dual siege – climate crisis and not last of the pandemics – human well-being has never been under such a threat. Be it prevention, wellness or cure – response to these calls for a paradigm shift like never before. Status quo will only lead to a dead-end. Innovation may not always mean tech. Yet, tech can take as far as imagination can. If only the likes of VaccineGuard bridge the gaps, cover the sweep and deliver the dream by disrupting the business as usual?

The Dirty Secret of Over-Performing ESG Funds and More!

December 31, 2020

The Dirty Secret of Over-Performing ESG Funds, and More, in a Q&A with Alison Taylor – Ethical Systems: My interview with Alison Taylor, as it appeared on the ‘Ethical Systems’ site based at NYU Stern School of Business, USA.

“We will start to see a gulf opening up between companies that embrace stakeholder capitalism and ESG rhetoric, and those… maximising short term shareholder value”: Crystal gazing with Alison Taylor on ESG, Ethics and more!

Alison Taylor is Executive Director of Ethical Systems, a research collaboration housed at NYU (New York University). She is also a Senior Advisor at sustainability business network and consultancy BSR and investigations firm Wallbrook, and an Adjunct Professor at NYU Stern School of Business. Alison has a long track record of consulting for large multinational companies, on strategy, sustainability, political and social risk, culture and behavior, human rights, ethics and compliance, stakeholder engagement, ESG, and anti-corruption. She is a 2019-21 member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Transparency and Anti-Corruption.

Alison previously held leadership roles at BSR and Control Risks, and has worked at PwC, Transparency International, and IHS Global Insight. She has a BA from Balliol College, Oxford University, an MA in International Relations from the University of Chicago, and an MA in Organizational Psychology from Columbia University.

Large multinationals are pushing adopting of ESG standards through their supply chains, and this will greatly accelerate adoption of such standards.

Praveen Gupta: The Pandemic, precarious climatic developments, racial polarisation, and Presidential elections together made it a heady mix. The US seemed to be at war with itself?

Alison Taylor: Yes! Polarisation is an issue in a number of liberal democracies, but there are particular historical, cultural and structural reasons why these dynamics have got so out of hand in the United States – I recommend Ezra Klein’s Why We’re Polarized if any of your readers would like to get a deeper understanding of these issues. I don’t think it is melodramatic to say that democracy in the United States is in crisis, and the next four years will be very telling in terms of whether the country is able to moderate some of these unhealthy forces or whether it will head further into crisis territory. I am particularly concerned by the lack of a shared reality today. The founder of Ethical Systems, Jonathan Haidt, likens the situation to the Tower of Babel, where we are unable to make shared sense of what is going on around us anymore.

I don’t think it is melodramatic to say that democracy in the United States is in crisis, and the next four years will be very telling in terms of whether the country is able to moderate some of these unhealthy forces or whether it will head further into crisis territory.

PG: Is there anything in particular leading to the lack of shared reality?

AT: It is about media fragmentation and manipulation – before the rise of the internet and social media there was a level of agreement on facts that no longer exists, and this makes any effort at political change exponentially more challenging. 

Before the rise of the internet and social media there was a level of agreement on facts that no longer exists.

PG: Despite ‘mother nature’ pushing back ‘father greed’, is it correct to surmise that Climate Change is still a preserve of the activists or at best their sympathisers. Much of America continues to indulge in a wasteful lifestyle?

AT: I actually see some more positive signs here – more Americans across the political spectrum acknowledge the reality of climate change and there has been a dramatic shift in sentiment among younger people. There is no particular reason that climate change needs to be a polarized political issue; indeed, Republicans are more rural and certainly can be extremely environmentally focused. However, the framing of mother nature as oppositional to father greed could undermine prospects for progress in terms of the American mindset, where change will be most likely if the market opportunities of renewable energy and similar emerging businesses gain more momentum.

America is a fundamentally individualistic and capitalist society and the best hope of making progress on climate change will still likely come from arguments that take economic opportunity as their starting point, or at least aim to create “shared value”. It is true that socialism is seen in a more positive light by progressive young Americans than for a long time, and over the long term we may see a more fundamental shift in ideas of what the economy is for, but in terms of moving the country forward in adopting consensual solutions around climate change, a market driven solution is still the most pragmatic option in the short term.

America is a fundamentally individualistic and capitalist society and the best hope of making progress on climate change will still likely come from arguments that take economic opportunity as their starting point, or at least aim to create “shared value”.

PG: The Green New Deal still sounds like a distant dream. Do you see climate activism as a moral compass/ compelling driver for the new government to be?

AT: I do, but the government is seriously constrained in how much room for maneuver it has, particularly if the Senate remains in Republican hands. Over the long term, commitment to environmental responsibility is growing across the political spectrum, and the commitment of US businesses to addressing climate change seems to have far more momentum than other sustainability issues, which will help. We are also starting to see some encouraging signs in terms of financial regulation of climate risk. But the government’s ability to secure the Green New Deal in the short term is constrained, not just by political realities but by the lack of shared reality and the overwhelming prevalence of misinformation, such as rhetoric that the Democrats will ban hamburgers!

 PG: Cross directorship and sometimes cross holding via banks and fund managers on insurance company boards poses a systemic ethical risk?

AT: Conflicts of interest pose ethical risks not just in terms of cross holdings between banks and insurance, but also the revolving door between the private sector and regulatory agencies. Institutional, legal corruption is arguably one of our biggest global challenges right now, and it stymies our ability to address a wide range of systemic problems such as climate change and inequality. We are starting to see significant bipartisan movement on financial integrity and money laundering, but there is a very long way to go here.

PG: The ethics deficit seems to be going way beyond the dominant owners of fossil fuel companies, financial institutions including insurers. Non-executive directors (NED), professional managers bound by their profession’s (auditors, accountants, underwriters, engineers, lawyers, and many others) ethical conduct? Shouldn’t they be rebelling?

AT: I think there is quite a bit of rebellion going on in the younger ranks of law, consulting and accounting firms, but it is not until we see younger generations take on leadership roles that we will seriously be able to address these issues. The problems at McKinsey and EY are illustrative of a wider need to regulate the “gatekeepers” that facilitate much of the unethical conduct in the global financial system. Firms are starting to take action, but asking partners to decline six figure projects for reputational concerns will remain unrealistic until the reputational risk becomes overwhelming. All these industries are also unusually resistant to oversight.

The problems at McKinsey and EY are illustrative of a wider need to regulate the “gatekeepers” that facilitate much of the unethical conduct in the global financial system.

PG: Borrowing from Bloomberg, ‘it’s still counterintuitive for asset managers and bankers obsessed with returns to wind down industries while they are still profitable’? Is the resultant double standard fueling greenwashing?

AT: I think that what is happening is that asset managers know the writing is on the wall for fossil fuel companies, but there are questions of how the industry evolves, who will be able to pivot, and who is left standing last. There is a tendency to bet on *both* renewable energy and fossil fuels as a way of hedging risk and opportunity. This is quite rational, but certainly can end up sending a highly hypocritical and self-serving message to those who want to see change happen faster. For any of your readers that have not read this, I recommend this article on the subject: https://www.greenbiz.com/article/if-i-was-right-why-was-i-fired.

There is a tendency to bet on *both* renewable energy and fossil fuels as a way of hedging risk and opportunity. This is quite rational, but certainly can end up sending a highly hypocritical and self-serving message to those who want to see change happen faster.

PG: Is ESG the way forward? British billionaire investor Chris Hohn has said that most ESG investment funds are “a total greenwash” and that investors “need to wake up and realise that their asset managers talk but don’t actually do.”

AT: Well, the dirty secret of why ESG funds have overperformed the market this year is of course that they are overweight on technology stocks, which are “green” in terms of climate but have considerable other ESG issues. ESG can be very effective as a way to drive change but there remain immense challenges with analyzing and contextualizing ESG performance and commitments by companies. Doing it well requires deep engagement with the business, but investors are looking for a quick tick box solution, a universal standard – something where they can check the box and move on to the topics, they are more comfortable with. Sustainability measurement and accounting today is often compared to mainstream accounting before it consolidated and became consistent – but measuring ESG performance is exponentially more complicated than even agreeing on a common set of financial standards to report against. I alternate between hope and despair on this question!

The dirty secret of why ESG funds have overperformed the market this year is of course that they are overweight on technology stocks.

PG: So what’s the key challenge and the possible solution?

AT: We frame everything in terms of the “business case” and there seems wide acceptance that nothing happens without it. The best hope for moving forward is regulation, not voluntary standards, which will be self-serving. 

We frame everything in terms of the “business case” and there seems wide acceptance that nothing happens without it.

PG: What necessitated the creation of ‘Ethical Systems’? What is your vision?

AT: Ethical Systems was created in 2014 by prominent author and professor Jonathan Haidt with the goal of making business ethics a cumulative science. Our goal is to advance the field of business ethics with rigorous research to determine what works to drive change in real organizations. Today, much practice is based on anecdotes, consultants’ intuition, and pointless benchmarking of what other companies are doing. We aim to act as a bridge between academia and the corporate world and translate the best ideas from academic research into business practice. This is inherently challenging for all sorts of reasons, but so many of our problems today are unprecedented that perhaps the time is finally right!

Today, much practice is based on anecdotes, consultants’ intuition, and pointless benchmarking of what other companies are doing. We aim to act as a bridge between academia and the corporate world and translate the best ideas from academic research into business practice.

PG: Do you foresee a bipolar world of governance till such time everything migrates to ESG?

AT: I do think it is likely that we will start to see a gulf opening up between companies that embrace stakeholder capitalism and ESG rhetoric, and those that continue to maintain an approach grounded in maximising short term shareholder value. We can already see this in the differentiated responses to the coronavirus. It is often held that consumer facing companies have more reputational risk and will be the first to act, while B2B companies experience less pressure to adopt sustainable practices. However, large multinationals are pushing adopting of ESG standards through their supply chains, and this will greatly accelerate adoption of such standards.

PG: Many thanks for these exceptional insights, Alison. May the world quickly move towards a more just and equitable order.

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Heat: Hacker hacked!

My TOI Blog: December 18, 2020

Heat: Hacker hacked! (indiatimes.com)

Just imagine 400,000 Hiroshima sized bombs equivalent heat being injected into Planet Earth by human activity daily. That is what this hacking is about. A serious outcome includes severe crippling of the Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (BES). 55% of global GDP is dependent on it. We may term it ecosystem collapse risk.

India will have more than its share of woes – first in the world to experience heat waves that cross survivability limit by next decade. World’s hottest Wet-bulb temperatures not only resulting into increased morbidity risk for sick and elderly but also encroaching upon the survivability threshold for healthy adults. Increased cardiovascular and neurological conditions. Needless to mention lost labour hours and its economic consequences.

Should insurers wait and ignore? Just when heatwaves too will soon have names. The choice is between an ostrich or a boiling frog. There is no scope to dismiss it as a Black Swan – when a Gray Rhino is hurtling towards us. Would you wish to neglect?

“In a lot of lesser-known species we would not even know if they are becoming locally extinct: There is a deep chasm of missing data.”

Shreya Sethi is a research scholar at a premier research institute of India. She is on the verge of completing a doctorate in wildlife economics. The focus of her work lies on Laws and Policies and improving conservation efforts especially with a strong bend towards curbing illegal wildlife trade and hunting. Shreya’s research work largely centres around Central India. She shares some very interesting insights based on her personal explorations and findings.

Barasinga or the Swamp Deer

Praveen Gupta (PG): How would the tiger and lion blend if the lion were to be introduced in Central India?

Shreya Sethi (SS): Well, there are two parts to this; on one hand, there is a case when African Lions were introduced in India (Reference Book “Life with Wildlife” by Dr. Ranjithsinh Jhala) and that story ended badly as it was poorly planned and executed reintroduction. The lions were killed by tigers due to inter-species conflict. In the current scenario, there are six proposed sites for Asiatic Lions and the most probable one for reintroduction being Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary, Madhya Pradesh. It has close to no tigers. But I believe there is more ongoing research at the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) about the interactions of tigers and lions and possible conflicts.

PG: Do we have the grasslands and the desired ecosystem for reintroducing lions and cheetahs in Central India?

SS: I was in conversation with Dr. Laurie Marker (Founder of Cheetah Conservation Fund) and Dr. Ranjitsinh Jhala on this. Yes, these animals require vast grasslands especially the Cheetah given how they hunt their prey. 

I am going to answer this individually for Lions and Cheetahs. 

Lion re-introduction in Central India is key for diversification of gene-pool and to maintain a healthy population of Asiatic Lions.

Lion re-introduction in Central India is key for diversification of gene-pool and to maintain a healthy population of Asiatic Lions. Further, the Central Indian landscape is the only one that comes close to its native one, so in terms of choice for reintroduction, there can be nothing better than Central India. Thus, I support the stance of Asiatic Lion re-introduction in Central India. 

Cheetah’s reintroduction plan while has been ongoing for a long-time especially pushed by Dr. Ranjithsinh Jhala, I would go with the view of Dr. Laurie Marker. Her suggestion is that India should first protect and conserve what we already have – Tigers, Leopards and Lions, than take on other species. Given that the threat of poaching, habitat destruction and encroachment continues unabated finding vast pristine grassland tracks may not be viable.

Having said that, with the growing human population in fringe forest areas and otherwise, the introduction of Cheetahs might increase incidences of Human-Wildlife Conflict and lead to retaliation hunting. A re-introduction might also give false hopes that in the face of local extinction – importing species is a solution thus – undermining the conservation principles. 

The introduction of Cheetahs might increase incidences of Human-Wildlife Conflict and lead to retaliation huntingThe Cheetah does not have specific ecological benefits (as long as we maintain a healthy Tiger and Leopard population) given the species has been extinct in India since 1947. 

While on the flip side the reintroduction might help to generate more tourism revenue. Looking at it through a cost-benefit lens, I feel the cost of enforcement, balancing human-wildlife conflict, and needs of local communities outweigh the tourism revenues. The Cheetah does not have specific ecological benefits (as long as we maintain a healthy Tiger and Leopard population) given the species has been extinct in India since 1947. 

1. Hunters/Poachers come in direct competition with the apex predator species like Leopards and Tigers, which means that in case the herbivore population decimates there would be chances of increased depredation on livestock leading to a rise in negative human-wildlife interactions or commonly called Human-Wildlife Conflict. 

2. Due to excessive poaching pressures of “Predator species” (example of Panna Tiger Reserve when local Tiger population went extinct), the size of herbivore species increased due to the imbalance created in the ecological food chain. 

3. Zoonotic spillovers (as evident from the current COVID-19 Pandemic).

4. Ruthless poaching of species like in case of Asian Elephants especially the Tuskers means, that only the “males” are poached leading to imbalanced propagation of a species. 

5. Extinction of a specie due to excessive exploitation also, implies ecological imbalances like reduced seed dispersals and habitat changes as herbivores species like Deer and Elephants play a key role in maintaining the same. 

Gaur (Indian Bison) with the famous white socks!

PG: What causes more harm to our forests – poaching or hunting? Are there any unique nuances that you come across?

SS: Poaching and Hunting are terms more appropriate in an African country or countries with Legal Hunting Laws. In the case of India, Hunting and Poaching are synonymous, the law treats any harm to the Scheduled Species/ Native Species (as per the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972) as illegal hunting, this goes on to be as nuanced to add that even stealing bird eggs from the nest is equivalent to hunting and a punishable offence.  Yet, there is a caveat about the fine or jail term which varies depending on the species in question and the location of the crime (hunting). 

In the case of India, Hunting and Poaching are synonymous, the law treats any harm to the Scheduled Species/ Native Species (as per the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972) as illegal hunting.

Looking closely at the problem of poaching or hunting (as mentioned in the question), while prima facie the connotation of the word poaching makes it seem more harmful but, in fact, it is important to note that both poaching and hunting are harmful. Poaching is often used to denote hunting for an external demand or for wildlife trade and assumed to be operated by a nexus of criminals but, as the very grass-root any hunter (subsistence or tribal) can be pulled-into the wildlife trade chains given the large sums of money involved.

Hunting often goes unnoticed if it is of smaller / lesser-known or non-charismatic species like Wild Pigs, Spotted Deer etc. but these species are equally important to the ecological balance and often too much discussion on poaching and commonly poached species (charismatic species likes of Tiger, Pangolins) undermine the other lesser-known species. To exacerbate the problem further, there is no population census of any other species except Royal Bengal Tiger, Asiatic Elephant, and Asiatic Lion and to some extent of Leopards in India. This makes it even more difficult to put a magnitude to the severity of hunting/poaching. 

Hunting often goes unnoticed if it is of smaller / lesser-known or non-charismatic species like Wild Pigs, Spotted Deer etc. but these species are equally important to the ecological balance and often too much discussion on poaching and commonly poached species (charismatic species likes of Tiger, Pangolins) undermine the other lesser-known species.

Digressing from the wildlife conservation perspective and looking at hunting through the sociological lens and as a subsistence activity for tribals, in the past, their ways of culling a species were rooted in traditional values and by default aimed at sustainable use but, this is not the case anymore. The main things adding to this detrimental effect is: 

1. Growing population pressures on even from local tribals living in forest fringes.

2. Greed for quick-money thus, making them vulnerable to be pulled-into poaching nexuses. 

PG: From tigers to lesser species, a lot of hunting / poaching is attributed to the demands in China. To what extent is that a myth?

SS: Demand from China for any species in India or the world is not a myth. There are enough links available on google search database with adequate information on Chinese traditional medicines and their ingredients. The seizures that take places of species being exported to China is proof enough that it is not a myth.

This does not mean we need to point fingers at any one country – almost all countries are either sources or sinks for illegal wildlife trade products. There is demand for exotic pets from Europe, USA, and Middle Eastern countries or for luxury products like animal pelts from say the USA.

This transnational attribute of wildlife crime is what makes it complex and requires global cooperation very similar to the likes of Climate Change.

This transnational attribute of wildlife crime is what makes it complex and requires global cooperation very similar to the likes of Climate Change.

PG: What’s your take on the avifauna?

SS: Avian fauna faces multi-faceted risk due to their migratory nature, lower priority in law as compared to terrestrial mammals and also, lower population assessments but, I am optimistic as a lot of Citizen Science projects like Bird Count India are coming up as “birding” is garnering a lot of attention in the current times. 

Our Dry Deciduous Forests – from Deccan to Southern India – are extremely vulnerable to Forest Fires due to high temperatures during summers and also, man-made fires

PG: The picture on fire-line reminds me of the forest fires in Australia and the US/California. How vulnerable are our forests to these?

SS: Our Dry Deciduous Forests – from Deccan to Southern India – are extremely vulnerable to Forest Fires due to high temperatures during summers and also, man-made fires. Firelines are basically made by the Forest Department by burning a part of the forest or creating a tar-road.  Thus, in case of an actual forest-fire, it would break at this point instead of ravaging the whole forest at once. 

PG: Any message to our fellow countrymen as to how they can contribute in preserving the flora & fauna. And how to discourage any illegal trade that triggers poaching?

SS: Quite an interesting point you have raised and this is being used as a campaign theme across the globe to reduce the anthropogenic pressures of illegal wildlife trade on wildlife. If I may add, we should never use the word preservation with regards to Flora and Fauna as the word has a negative connotation and almost implies taxidermy or preserving a dead animal or plant, sorry for being really picky about the use of the Preservation. 

We should never use the word preservation with regards to Flora and Fauna as the word has a negative connotation and almost implies taxidermy or preserving a dead animal or plant.

1. Leave the Wild in the Wild: by this I mean do not try to adopt, pet, or rescue wild/ orphaned animals especially without professional help. 

2. Be Responsible: During a visit to a National Park or Wildlife Sanctuary, or any open Forest; follow a code of conduct especially while using cameras and flash. Do not litter around with plastic as animals often choke on chips packets and die. 

For Conservation /Protection and to Discourage Illegal Wildlife Trade:

1. Do not Fuel Demand: By being a responsible citizen not buying wildlife products for pets or any other use either Indian or Exotic. Discourage your friends and relatives from doing the same.  

2. Report Wildlife Crimes to concerned authorities like the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, as often a lot of these crimes go unnoticed especially exhibits of Snake Charmers, Bear Dancers, or Monkeys in an around your vicinity. 

3. Be Aware: Read product labels carefully or search for information online before purchasing cosmetic products or food items like Coffee, Soya, Honey. Be aware of the product origin which could all indirectly be linked to damage to critical wildlife habitats or a species. 

4. Become a part of Citizen Science Projects in Wildlife Conservation which ensure both research output and create awareness about species in our neighborhood. To quote a few like Birdcount India. 

5. As a rational and responsible citizen minimise carbon-footprint by taking simple steps. Starting from reducing air, water, noise, and light pollution, using more of biodegradables, looking for alternatives in case of forest derived products like wood for furniture or paper.

Rescued Spotted Owlet

Lastly, I would like to add that all species like all humans are equal in the eyes of law – a palm squirrel or a parrot are equally protected as Tigers and Leopards as per out Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. However, we often do not give enough attention in case a squirrel or myna is captured or killed and instead turn our attention to more charismatic species like Tiger, Leopards, and Elephants.

All species like all humans are equal in the eyes of law a palm squirrel or a parrot are equally protected as Tigers and Leopards as per out Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.

We need to understand there is a deep chasm of missing data in the case of the population status/estimations of lesser-known species and in a lot of cases we would not even know if they are becoming locally extinct until we actually stop seeing them around us. This has already been the case for amphibian species and re-iterated in the book Sixth Extinction. 

PG: Many thanks Shreya for sharing these valuable nuances of our biodiversity. May you continue enjoying your explorations.

In search of influence: From rubber stamp to gold standard!

Times of India Blogs: December 7, 2020

In search of influence: From rubber stamp to gold standard! (indiatimes.com)

Insurers ought to be influential if they must fix the biggest risk on hand – Climate Risk! How do you bring mojo into the insurance governance space? Can the energies of once upon a time ‘can do’ frontline salesforce be transferred ‘upstairs’ to the fiduciary level? With the tremendous diversity at their disposal, can insurers be more inclusive? As governance expands into ESG, insurers not only need to urgently act on environment, be proactive and thereby gain influence. Are there any tools available within the striking distance? Corporate Governance Scorecard and Internal Carbon Pricing (CDP), two in particular that I allude to, beckon attention. Yes, insurers can be more influential, they need not be rubber stamps and must go for the gold standard of influence.

Cash cow at the crossroads: LIC@65!

My Op-Ed in TOI Blogs today: November 26, 2020.

Cash cow at the crossroads: LIC@ 65! (indiatimes.com)

Wooing foreign capital in a backdrop of worsening #ClimateCrisis will be truly onerous for the LIC.It cannot be a life/health insurer/ manager of pensions and own big stakes in businesses with adverse environmental, societal impact. Investing in coal, for instance, is bad economics too.

It’s creation was triggered by a serious systemic failure of governance in the life industry. This time around the ambit of governance has widened to Environment, Societal and Governance. Can the LIC transform itself by imbibing ESG and Principles of Responsible Investment (PRI)? The rules of enlightened leadership have changed. Status quo is not an option either.

Ostrich in the regulatory sandbox!

My Op-Ed in TOI Blogs: November 18, 2020

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/outlier/ostrich-in-the-regulatory-sandbox/: Insurance industry generally prefers to abdicate thought leadership when it comes to climate-risk. Thankfully, we can draw from climate activism leaders Greta Thunberg and Bill McKibben or thinkers like Amitav Ghosh. Here I also speak to our own climate scientist Dr. Chirag Dhara. And Michele Wucker confirms (https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:6734750265179815936?commentUrn=urn%3Ali%3Acomment%3A%28activity%3A6734750265179815936%2C6736621280801419264%29) that heat waves are indeed a #grayrhino.

Transitioning or de-carbonising calls for going back to the drawing-board thereby re-visiting the nuts and bolts of our business.

Insuring biodiversity for posterity: The Salim Ali way!

TOI Blogs: November 12, 2020

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/outlier/insuring-biodiversity-for-posterity-the-salim-ali-way/

It was a chance interaction with India’s greatest ornithologist some 38 plus years ago. Today marks the 124th birth anniversary of the the ‘Birdman of India’. Through this snapshot of my conversation with him, in 1982, which was published by TOI Ahmedabad edition – I look back at what he shared then and also put in context the urgency to address the threat to biodiversity today.

“A concoction of natural and human-made reasons specific to India make it particularly vulnerable to the climate crisis”.

Dr. Chirag Dhara is a physicist and climate scientist – a rare combination. He is currently working at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), Pune. Chirag started his academic career as a theoretical physicist with a PhD at the Institute of Photonic Sciences, Barcelona, Spain. He subsequently switched his research focus to the climate sciences with a second PhD at the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Germany. His larger concerns are climate impacts, environmental protection, and climate justice.

Chirag is one of the authors of India’s first comprehensive climate assessment report released three months ago, which is the regional analog of the IPCC’s global scale reports. It can be accessed at: https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007%2F978-981-15-4327-2.

The scientific understanding is that both the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian sea will see a greater fraction of cyclones intensifying into the most severe categories.

Praveen Gupta: What are the Climate related vulnerabilities that India faces?

Chirag Dhara: A concoction of natural and human-made reasons specific to India make it particularly vulnerable to the climate crisis. High baseline summer temperatures, its varied geography over a vast area, a heavy dependence of agriculture on stable monsoons and a coastline stretching 7000 km are some.

Runaway pollution, unplanned development, a large informal economy, deforestation, insufficient disaster-preparedness, and a significant proportion of its population living in poverty are other factors adding to India’s unique vulnerability.

PG: What do you expect happening to the Indo-Gangetic belt and the Sunderbans, in particular?

CD: I believe that the Indo-Gangetic belt and the Sundarbans will be among the most affected parts of the country since multiple climate change impacts are playing out in those regions. The Indo-Gangetic plains are hot and humid. Humid heat is much more dangerous than dry heat, and a simultaneous spike in heat and humidity can significantly raise the risk of cardiovascular and neurological conditions. In fact, the deadly heat waves in the summer of 2015 across India and Pakistan, with high fatalities, were a result of the combination of high temperature and humidity that lasted several days.

Humid heat is much more dangerous than dry heat, and a simultaneous spike in heat and humidity can significantly raise the risk of cardiovascular and neurological conditions.

The Indo-Gangetic plains are projected to see higher intensity of ‘humid heat waves’ with global warming. The Sundarbans in particular is seeing a highly accelerated pace of sea level rise relative to the global average (attributed not just to global warming but also to extensive upstream damming of rivers flowing into the Sundarbans and ground water extraction). In addition, there is the propensity for cyclones, which are likely to intensity with warming.

PG: Will higher precipitation lead to both floods and droughts?

CD: Yes. It is a worldwide phenomenon that rainfall patterns are tending towards shorter intense bouts of rainfall interspersed with lengthening dry spells. The one increases the propensity for floods, and the other for droughts. In addition, higher temperatures tend to dry out soil and vegetation more, making droughts more intense and wildfires more likely.

It is a worldwide phenomenon that rainfall patterns are tending towards shorter intense bouts of rainfall interspersed with lengthening dry spells.

PG: Would the same location be faced with both – hot dry spells and excessive wet?

CD: It may well be for the reasons I’ve outlined above. But regional climate projections are a scientifically complex problem and much more work is necessary. We need more scientific groups around the country working in tandem to arrive at better assessments of regional flood and drought risk.

PG: What do your projections say about storms/hurricanes in Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea?

CD: The scientific understanding is that both the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian sea will see a greater fraction of cyclones intensifying into the most severe categories. While such trends are already seen in the observation record, they are not yet significant enough to be attributable to anthropogenic global warming. We cannot yet discount the possibility that most of the changes seen thus far may have resulted from natural variations in the Earth’s climate. However, the fundamental science is clear and trends in cyclone intensification are expected to strengthen with continued heating.

The fundamental science is clear and trends in cyclone intensification are expected to strengthen with continued heating.

 PG: How much of what manifests here would be a result of our own doing? Is it all about pollution?

CD: Most of India’s industrial era temperature rise has been attributed to rising GHGs from human activity. 

The changing rainfall patterns over India on the other hand is increasingly being understood as a complex interplay between a rising tendency due to GHGs counteracted in part by the radiative (climate) effects of particulate matter pollution (what we perceive as ‘air pollution’). Hence, strong regional variations.

Flood and drought propensity are, of course, a consequence of changing rainfall patterns. In the case of floods, clear increases in the extent and pace of Himalayan glacier melt due to rapid warming will also increasingly play a role. However, an important caveat when it comes to floods is that it is also heavily dependent on the ‘developmental’ paradigm at work. Deforestation and concretisation both increase flood propensity.

As I said, it is not yet clear if the rising cyclone intensity trends seen in the observations can be attributed in part to human activity or if natural variations alone are responsible for them. It is likely that global warming has played a role but we don’t have enough information yet to draw robust conclusions.

Sea levels are rising in line with expectation from theory and models, so are robustly attributed to anthropogenic GHG emissions.

GHGs and particulate matter pollution are the key aggravators for changes in different climate variables. These rise with industrial activity.

PG: A growing population, rising aspirations would have implications for energy, infra, agriculture and livestock – these are the key Climate aggravators?

CD: GHGs and particulate matter pollution are the key aggravators for changes in different climate variables. These rise with industrial activity. There are technologies that may help in rapid reduction in particulate matter pollution. However, there is no proven technological quick fix that can rapidly reduce atmospheric GHGs. Rising industrial activity is being driven more by rising aspirations than by population. This is because population growth is highest among the lowest economic classes, which have very low carbon and resource footprints. 

PG: Would afforestation help? What needs to be done and how quickly?

CD: I quote a paragraph from the last chapter of our recent book “Assessment of Climate Change over the Indian Region”:

Ambitious afforestation efforts offer myriad benefits. Aside from mitigating climate change through carbon sequestration, trees also enhance resilience to flash floods and landslides by improving soil retention, improve resilience to droughts by increasing percolation of surface water into the soil, improve resilience of coastal infrastructure and habitation by reducing coastline erosion due to storm surges and sea-level rise, reduce vulnerability to extreme heat by reducing ambient temperatures, and support native wildlife and biodiversity. In short, forests and urban green spaces will deliver substantial economic benefits to the country by mitigating a wide range of the expected impacts of climate change in India and is the safest, most reliable means of realising several of India’s sustainable development goals.

An ecologist would be better placed to answer how and where to make this happen.

Ambitious afforestation efforts offer myriad benefits... forests and urban green spaces will deliver substantial economic benefits to the country by mitigating a wide range of the expected impacts of climate change in India.

PG: Is there a way to quantify the precise physical risk posed by Climate risk and what kind of resilience does it call for?

CD: Certainly, but this has not been done for India to my knowledge. Quantifying risk involves quantifying regional scale impacts, and perhaps also exposure of the population in those regions. Resilience doesn’t necessarily have to be high-tech. Ahmedabad’s excellent heat action plan is an inspiration to draw from. I am certain there must be many examples around the country that deserve replication.

PG: Many thanks Chirag for these compelling insights. Here is wishing you all the very best in all your ongoing endeavours.