The future of sustainability: Asia’s climate change imperative

Confronting climate change and committing to sustainability are imperatives for our generation. Asia is at the epicenter of the effects of climate change and has the chance to lead in its adaptation and mitigation.

The effects of the changing climate are already being felt, and by 2050, between 600 million and one billion people could be impacted by lethal heat waves. According to recent McKinsey analysis, up to $4.7 trillion of GDP in Asia is at risk annually from loss of effective outdoor working hours resulting from increased heat and humidity. In this episode, we discuss the real impacts of climate change in different parts of Asia and how the region can lead in adaptation and mitigation efforts. An edited transcript of the podcast follows. For more conversations on the Future of Asia, subscribe to our podcast here.

Oliver Tonby: You are listening to the Future of Asia Podcast by McKinsey and Company. I am Oliver Tonby, your host and chairman of McKinsey Asia. In this series, we feature leaders from across the region to discuss the forces, the opportunities, and the challenges that are shaping the future of Asia.

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The future of sustainability: Asia’s climate change imperative

Hello, and welcome, everyone. Welcome to the Future of Asia Podcast. Today’s topic is climate risk and response in Asia. And for something a little bit different, we are joined today by three journalists and reporters from the media. The context of our conversation is, very simply, climate change, climate risk, and sustainability—our generation’s imperative. Recent McKinsey analysis looks at the longer-term impacts of climate change and the increased risk and probabilities of typhoons, of severe drought, of riverine flooding.

So, there are many types of climate risks that we face in Asia, and Asia is very much at the epicenter of what is going on with climate risk. And the question is, what are those risks, and can Asia become a leader in mitigating and countering those risks?

Today I am joined by Jessica Cheam, the founder and managing director of Eco-Business. Eco-Business was established in 2009, and it’s Asia–Pacific’s leading media organization on sustainable development. I’m also joined by Esther Samboh, the former managing editor of The Jakarta Post, Indonesia’s largest English-language newspaper.

And I am finally joined by Bibek Bhattacharya, who is the deputy editor of Mint Lounge. Mint is one of India’s premium business news publications, and Lounge is its premium weekly magazine that focuses on lifestyle, passions, and other related interests for readers. Welcome to all three of you.

Now, if you don’t mind, even before we jump into climate risk, I’d like to warm up if that’s OK. I’m going to pull a surprise on you and ask, as we’ve now lived through many months of the COVID-19 pandemic, what are some of your learnings on the personal front from the pandemic so far. Jessica?

Jessica Cheam: Thanks so much, Oliver. I think that’s a very interesting question. Everyone has had to adapt into the huge disruption that COVID-19 has caused. I think that remote working and virtual meetings are perfect examples of how we’ve had to adapt. But, I think what COVID-19 has really helped us do is actually give us some time to think and reflect, which society has needed to do for a long time, and to actually examine our current business models and the way that we respond to black swan events like COVID-19. And tying that to the topic of our conversation, looking at longer-term risks and the climate change phenomena that are coming. I think that the pandemic led us to really examine some deep-seated existential questions that we have about our lives. So, I think that’s the one silver lining from COVID-19.

Oliver Tonby: Thank you. Bibek?

Bibek Bhattacharya: Well, personally, it’s been strange, of course. I’ve been working from home for almost seven months now. What has really come home to me from the pandemic is just how vulnerable we are to shocks. Despite our infrastructure, our organizations, the full paraphernalia of the state, it still catches us completely unaware, and we’re still in many ways trying to figure out what to do. And the biggest thing is that, after seven months, we are not any closer to understanding what’s going on than we were before. I think that’s been the biggest takeaway from my work.

Oliver Tonby: Thank you, Bibek. And finally, Esther?

Esther Samboh: I think from my understanding of Jessica’s and Bibek’s points, which I completely agree with, is the fact that the pandemic has uncovered the potential as well as shortcomings of us personally and of our institutions on a professional level. I would say that digitalization has really played a crucial role, if not a forced role. During the pandemic, we’re all forced to work from home and innovate based on what we can do from behind the screen. So, overall, we have reformed the way we do things, and for me personally, it has given me time to think and reflect and appreciate the small things for the time being.

Oliver Tonby: And what are some of those small things that you appreciate?

Esther Samboh: The ability to look firmly at the clear blue sky every day. The air-quality level in Indonesia, has been really poor, but so far in Jakarta, the capital city, it’s been much better compared with prepandemic levels.

Oliver Tonby: Exactly. The clear blue sky. And any small things that you’ve rediscovered or discovered during the pandemic? Jessica and Bibek?

Jessica Cheam: Well, just congregating in groups of more than five. For the longest time, we haven’t been able to see friends. And if I want to meet my family, we have to choose who we want to meet. So, that’s been quite funny, actually.

Bibek Bhattacharya: Yes, that’s correct. I think that’s very important. We understand the importance of other human beings, of human relations, better now in many ways because they are not there right now and you realize how much you need them to function not only personally, but also as part of society.

Oliver Tonby: That’s nice. I think you guys are on to something: it’s rediscovering some of the basics, the blue sky, the need and the love of being around friends and family, and just having those personal interactions. Let’s shift and talk about the topic at hand, which is climate risk and climate change. Let me just start by saying, what are some of the real impacts that you are seeing from climate risk and climate change across Asia? Let’s start with you, Bibek.

Bibek Bhattacharya: One thing that is really clear now as far as India is concerned, and more broadly, South Asia, Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh, is that the climate crisis is kind of hitting from multiple directions. It’s not just sea-level rise, it’s not just heat waves. It’s not just melting glaciers. It’s all of these things, and more. So, I think the most pressing problem for India is heat, in terms of both heat waves and chronic heat. For example, this year, we had a bit of a heat wave in the northern and central part of the country. Nowhere near as bad as a few years ago, but it was still there. And what is becoming very clear is that India is suffering from chronic heat, because from around April to just around now, end of September, early October, the days have been continuously hot, increasingly humid in many parts of the country, and this is just adding to health risks and various other factors. Now, that’s one end of it. But then again, in India this year, we’ve had a foreshadowing of the future in terms of climate risk. We’ve had a super cyclone hit the eastern part of the country. We’ve had massive marine heat waves. We’ve had other extreme weather phenomena: violent monsoon rainfall, floods, and landslides. And in many ways, it’s kind of helping us put together the larger picture of the challenges being faced by this part of Asia, which is multipronged.

I think the most pressing problem for India is heat, in terms of both heat waves and chronic heat.

Bibek Bhattacharya

Oliver Tonby: I just want to stick with you on India for a little while here. What you’re describing has some very real and very tangible effects on climate change and risk, and the obvious things that follow from that. Is this recognized by the powers that be and the leaders of the country? And is it prioritized? Especially in the current situation, with the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath.

Bibek Bhattacharya: There was actually one very important thing that happened this year, I think it was in June, that one of the central government ministries, the Ministry of Earth Sciences, issued India’s first-ever climate-change assessment. This is actually a big deal because the ministry roped in some of India’s top climate scientists and gave them free rein to look at the data, to look at trends, to look at climate models, and to do this assessment. The assessment doesn’t mince any words; it really lays out the problem as it is. And I think that’s a big first step, because once you acknowledge that there is a problem, then it’s easier to feed that into your policy positions as a government.

Generally speaking, yes, there have been quite a few positive noises from the government in terms of say, moving toward a greater share of renewable energy and looking at risk assessment and planning for risks. But this is still at a very nascent stage. Earlier this year, the Indian government announced that it aims to have about 510 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2030, which is a very laudable aim. But let’s see where it goes. I think there is a growing understanding in the various levels in state and central government that this is something that you need to factor into your policy. But as you said, right now the focus is on coming out of the massive economic damage that’s been caused by COVID-19. So, we’ll have to see what the trade-offs will be in the short and longer term.

Oliver Tonby: Thank you, Bibek. Let me move to Esther. What do you see as a real impact from climate risk?

Esther Samboh: I think that we’re seeing many impacts already in Indonesia, but I really want to touch on the food-security issues, given that Indonesia is one of the world’s major agricultural nations with vast and abundant land, and that around 28 percent of our workers are in the agriculture sector. This is the latest data from 2019. And this share has dwindled dramatically from around 67 percent in the ’70s. The Jakarta Post tried to look into the reasons behind this rapid drop in interest in agriculture, especially from the young segment of the society. We issued a special report titled A land without farmers: Indonesia’s agricultural conundrum, and our main findings were that farming is becoming increasingly less interesting as a sector for Indonesia’s young workforce. It is laborious with small yield when compared with the many costs that the farmers have to bear, including from climate risks.

So, the extreme weather conditions caused by climate change, especially prolonged droughts and severe floods, have led to many crop failures across the country. And for our farmers, losing a harvest season can have very serious repercussions on the future of their production, if there’s even any. That would mean, for some, losing their jobs forever because they cannot comprehend a loss of just one harvest season. And that would leave them with no capital to start anew. So, this is particularly depressing for Indonesia because at 110 out of 113 countries surveyed by the Global Food Security Index, Indonesia ranks among the lowest in the natural resources and resilience category, and that has resulted in 22 million people enduring hunger from 2016 to 2018 due to the unavailability of food, according to various studies from the government, the Asian Development Bank, and other research institutions.

Imagine this chain of reactions from climate risks: farmers are discouraged from planting, which causes food insecurity and even hunger, which could affect nutrition, human capital development, and health. The climate risks are actually creating a domino effect, which could have knock-on effects to the country’s overall development, I would say. And to that point, the climate risks on farming have also resulted in volatile food prices. I’m not sure how the inflation system works in other countries around the world, but in Indonesia, volatile food prices are one subindex of the overall inflation or consumer price index commonly used to measure inflation. So, the so-called volatile food prices have been the main source of volatility in the overall affordability of things in Indonesia, and this has really been affecting the purchasing power of Indonesians.

The climate risks are actually creating a domino effect, which could have knock-on effects to the country’s overall development.

Esther Samboh

So, what all these points that I just raised say in turn is that climate risk can affect purchasing power. And not to mention the public-health and healthcare system issues that we also have to pay attention to considering diseases such as malaria, dengue, diarrhea, and cholera, which are quite rampant in Indonesia, and which are predicted to increase because of the rise in temperatures as water becomes contaminated across the archipelago. That, I think, is the real risk we’re seeing in front of our eyes in Indonesia.

Oliver Tonby: Let me stay with you, Esther. What you’re describing here is the negative impact on, let me call it, the livability for farmers, as the yields go up and down. You’re describing volatility of food prices, less affordability of food, and the impact on public health. I’ve personally spent a lot of time in Indonesia over the last 15 years or so, and if I go back in time, I did not hear much talk about climate change and climate risk from many of the senior leaders. Is that changing now? Do people recognize these things that you’re saying? That there’s a link to all of the problems that you’re discussing? And do they recognize this link to climate change and climate risk?

Esther Samboh: Yes and no. Fortunately, the awareness has been rising for the high-level officials in government and there are many efforts to partner with the private sector, but I would say that those efforts remain very scattered, and to a certain extent, sometimes not well organized. And as Bibek mentioned earlier, this focus on COVID-19 right now has changed the government focus toward structural reform, especially to emerge out of this crisis with a positive economic recovery trajectory.

But in terms of awareness, I feel you, Oliver. I’ve covered economics, business, and finance since 2009, and I can safely say that for the past two years, the issues of sustainability have not been considered by the government when a new factory launches. We never asked the question, “What will be the environmental impact or effects of that particular factory launch?” Recently, there has been an emergence of a lot of new start-ups and organizations, but environmental impact has not been part of the government’s talking points because Indonesia is very much focused on investment.

Oliver Tonby: Thank you. Jessica, let me shift to you. I believe you’re based in Singapore, is that correct?

Jessica Cheam: Yes, that’s right.

Oliver Tonby: You focus on all of Asia. So, give us a little bit of the Pan–Asian view, if you will, and then also zoom in on Singapore specifically.

Jessica Cheam: Thanks very much, Oliver. If I may, I actually would like to take the global view because I have been reporting on climate change and climate risk for more than a decade now, and the last two or three years, I’ve actually spent a lot of energy going to the Arctic and Antarctica, looking at what’s happening there, and what we’re seeing is really terrifying. Antarctica, melting at a record rate. Record temperatures in the Arctic summer, causing an unprecedented loss of sea ice volume. And what happens at the poles obviously affects the rest of the world. And what we’re seeing with climate change impacts specific markets: Australia, the US with the wildfires, the droughts in Chennai, flooding in Jakarta, rising sea levels, and rising temperatures here in Singapore. This really paints a picture of many ecosystems reaching their tipping points. And I think that there’s a conversation now about to what extent is climate change locked into our global environment, and how can we respond to that. So, the picture is actually quite grim from having reported on this for more than ten years, and you can see that there is a definite economic cost and impact on businesses.

So, if you think about climate change in a regional picture, I think that what we’re looking at is not just extreme weather patterns but the loss of biodiversity and our natural world. And I think that also has an impact on the availability of raw materials and resources. A lot of businesses are on that journey—discovering how climate change and how climate risk impacts them. And so far, with this journey, I think some companies are doing better than others, and some governments do better than others. And now, I think what we need to be worried about are the stranded assets in the future, whether certain infrastructure projects actually become obsolete because of climate change, and how governments and organizations will respond to that.

So, there’s going to be a lot of capital reallocation that we’re going to be seeing and the price of assets being readjusted for climate risk. There’s one more thing I’d like to add here, something that people don’t often talk about, and that is the biggest climate risk—the breakdown of society, social instability, and the risk of a civil war, because communities are fighting for water, food, and energy. People think that climate change is just a physical event, but it’s not. It actually ties into a lot of the social fabric of the societies that we live in. And so, I think this needs to be talked about a little bit more because governments will have to face this issue head on if they’re not prepared for it.

Oliver Tonby: Asia’s standing in the world has changed, and it’s clear that while the focus was once on how quickly the region would rise, the reality now is all about how Asia will lead. So, keep listening to the Future of Asia Podcast.

Jessica, I heard you saying some governments are doing more, doing better, and some companies are doing more, doing better. Let me start with companies. What are some of the companies that are doing better? What do they do?

Jessica Cheam: The companies that are doing better have traditionally been those that are publicly listed because they are mandated to make climate-risk disclosures. So, they have a little bit more impetus to look at their climate-risk strategies, how they disclose their climate risk, and how they manage that risk. So, the listed companies that you see in Europe, the US, and Asia are the ones that are articulating a strategy, and some are doing better than others, such as those that have used science-based targets, for example, to look at how robust the targets are and what their responses are. And the others are those that disclosed on TCFD, [Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures]. That’s something that’s more Western, I suppose, led by Europe and the US.

It’s a growing movement that is led by the G20 group on finance, and it’s really forcing organizations to look at what their climate-risk strategy is, articulate it, and then respond. Because if you don’t have a strategy, you don’t think about it, then you’re really unprepared. And I think in Asia, this is really nascent. We’re seeing some companies in Singapore, for example, maybe three or four companies, that are in science-based targets and have adopted TCFD guidelines, and actually some of them are still struggling to understand and to respond. So, I think that we need to help organizations understand and embrace climate-risk thinking.

Oliver Tonby: All right. Thank you. Esther, I saw you nodding when Jessica was talking about what some of these companies are doing. Would you care to add to that?

Esther Samboh: Yes. It’s really interesting that Jessica mentioned that because here in Indonesia there’s only a few companies that are transparent in terms of their efforts at sustainability. I’m also increasingly seeing a lot of incentives for workers, for those who are taking bicycles to work, taking public transport to work, giving subsidies for solar panels, things like that. I think our mandate, as well, as journalists, is to not only cover the naked truth about the environmental effects of climate change but also to push the initiatives that these very few companies in Indonesia are doing to address climate risks.

Oliver Tonby: Got it. Bibek, in India, are there any shining stars amongst companies when it comes to what they’re doing?

Bibek Bhattacharya: As Jessica was saying, a lot of the larger listed companies are trying to move in this direction, with varying levels of success. I think the more important thing, as far as India is concerned, is that a lot of our top corporate houses are actually now making pledges of certain carbon goals, and working with research organizations to figure out how they can be future-ready in terms of mitigating for carbon. And also, I think that no matter what happens, India as a country is seriously looking at industrial decarbonization. Most of the time, this is the push–pull of whether or not to get rid of, say, our reliance on coal energy or something like that, and that is couched in the language of jobs—that so many people will lose their employment if we move to renewables, or something like that. But I think it’s getting increasingly clear.

There are two aspects. One thing that is getting increasingly clear is that if work starts now, by the time a lot of India’s goals become immediate goals, especially to the UN and the UNFCC [United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change], by 2030, we actually may be looking at a paradigm shift even in terms of looking at things from the point of employment. For example, as part of my podcast, I was speaking to a gentleman who works with the government to figure out policy regarding energy, clean energy, and other climate-change-affiliated things. What he said to me is that, when you look at the employment coefficient, of say, solar energy, it’s about 3.5 as compared to 1.5 for coal. So, if you are really guiding your country’s policy, and if companies are guiding their own policies, from the point of view that there are a huge number of jobs that can be created from renewable energy, how do you roll the ball so that the process gets started?

Oliver Tonby: Just to understand, you’re basically saying that there are more jobs to be created within renewables—power unit for power unit—than there is in coal.

Bibek Bhattacharya: Yes, more that can be created than what already exists in coal. But the other part of the dilemma is that a lot of the new renewable-energy jobs may not be in the same geographies as the coal jobs. So, yes, you might generate more employment, but it may not be in the same area where, say, coal is generating employment. So, that is something that you definitely need to look at because a sizable number of people are employed in the sector. The other part is that, even when it comes to India’s energy efficiency, as Jessica was saying, there’s increasing fear of more and more stranded assets because a lot of the older carbon-based energy production is, frankly, not financially viable. Like, our discoms [distribution companies] are facing massive losses, and government bailouts are happening regularly. So, the question really is, how long do you keep bailing out forms of energy creation which are no longer economically viable? How do you shift that money toward renewables? How do you ensure that the carbon-based power generation you already have is as clean and there is as little waste as possible? So, how do you maximize efficiency in the existing fossil-fuel energy economy, and how do you transfer more money and more subsidies toward raising India’s renewable-energy component?

Oliver Tonby: Let me ask you one other question, Jessica. If you were in front of a board, what would you tell them?

Jessica Cheam: Well, I think that Asian boards, especially, really need to take climate risk seriously. In the past, it’s always been like a fringe issue that perhaps the HR unit or comms unit looks at. But today, boards that do not look at climate risk are going to be at risk of being totally irrelevant, and it’s really changing the business landscape. I’ll give you an example. I sit on the board of ComfortDelGro, which is one of the world’s largest transport companies, and climate risk is something that is really important because we are seeing the electrification of the transport system—moving from fossil fuels to electricity. We’re seeing the abandoning of diesel and internal combustion engines [ICE] into electric vehicles. And if you don’t think about some of the future business models that you can adapt, then you’re seriously going to be out of business in a very short five to ten years.

So, when you talk to boards, I think that they really need to think about how to integrate this climate-risk thinking into all levels of the organization. It can’t just be something that one department looks after; it has to be something that is organization-wide. And when I earlier mentioned science-based targets, climate-scenario planning, enterprise-risk management, looking at climate events, these are things that boards absolutely need to think about today because this is going to hit them sooner or later.

Oliver Tonby: Thank you. Bibek, you look like you had a point of view on this, too.

Bibek Bhattacharya: Well, it’s almost exactly the same as Jessica was saying. But the one thing I would like to say, is yes, boards absolutely need to realize that if they are not factoring in climate change now, they are making their own businesses unviable. They’re not even in the very short-term future. And also, the other thing is that, it’s not enough to talk about climate change and sustainability as part of your corporate social responsibility or your philanthropy. You actually need to make that a part of your business strategy. You need to think about it as much as you think about your bottom line. And that’s the only way that this can work, and that’s the only way that your company can work as well.

Oliver Tonby: “Only way your company can work.” That is the takeaway from your comment.

Let me go back to you, Jessica. Now, with a Pan–Asian lens, what are some of the efforts you would like to see in place? If you had a magic wand, what would you like to see in place as a series of initiatives cutting across the entire region?

Jessica Cheam: Thanks, Oliver. I wish I had that magic wand. I would do a lot of things. But I think it has a lot of potential for Asia to take the lead. You asked me a question about Singapore earlier, and I forgot to respond. But, if you look at the country, it’s a low-lying island and we suffer from urban-heat-island effect, flash floods, rising sea levels, and for the first time, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, at the National Day rally last year, said, “climate change is an existential issue for us.” He pledged $100 billion in climate-adaptation efforts, and he promised to decarbonize Singapore’s economy. Now, this is actually quite a big commitment because Singapore is very reliant on the petrochemical industry. Our Jurong Island hosts the biggest petrochemical complexes in Asia, and I think that you are starting to see governments really respond to this climate risk and thinking very, very strategically about what is the long-term viability of these projects. And so, if you ask me, I think that Asian governments need to build resilience into their responses. They must take into account both mitigation and adaptation at the same time, and they must be simultaneous strategies that they roll out at the moment. And also, I think where COVID-19 is concerned, something that’s quite interesting that’s happening in Europe, which I hope to see more in Asia, is tying stimulus measures to climate-friendly outcomes and positive sustainable-development outcomes. For example, if you bail out an airline or you bail out a transport company, you can actually dictate that investments go into cleaner technologies, to aid the energy transition, and to decarbonize economies.

I think that there are some very positive signs coming out. If you look at China, for example, it made a pledge to become climate-neutral. Singapore has made a similar pledge: to become climate-neutral by the second half of the century. South Korea has a similar kind of pledge. So, I’d like to see more of the emerging Asian countries coming up with both climate statements and targets. If you set the target really high and you fall somewhere below, at least you’re still getting somewhere. Whereas, if you don’t have the political will or the conviction to commit in the first place, then it’s very difficult to move governments in that direction.

Oliver Tonby: You use the words “build resilience into responses.” What does that mean in practice?

Jessica Cheam: It’s building on what Bibek said, that if we are going to spend taxpayer money, we should spend it on cleaner technologies and innovations that drive decarbonization, rather than reinvest it back into old sectors—that’s not going to get us where we need to be. And so, things like research and development in the future industries that we want to see should absolutely be where the priority areas are for governments.

Oliver Tonby: Got it.

Bibek Bhattacharya: Actually, I would like to add to what Jessica was saying. To my understanding, when we talk about building in resilience, it also refers to how you respond to risk. So, a very tangible example of this is there was the super cyclone Amphan which hit eastern India at end of May this year. It’s the perfect lab experiment of climate change because it actually became supercharged into a super cyclone almost overnight, thanks to a marine heat wave in the Bay of Bengal, which was caused by various other factors, starting with a decade of storing of heat in the ocean. But be that as it may, because there was a good enough window of warning that the cyclone was approaching.

By that point, both Indian central and state governments were very good at taking immediate disaster-control measures. So, millions of people were shifted away from low-lying areas and, thankfully, fatalities were few. But, this is the problem: now we are kind of locked into this cycle of saving people whenever an extreme climate event happens. But, we still haven’t gotten to the point where we say, “hey, this is something that’s probably going to happen every other year.” So, we have to do more than just rescue those people and return them to the devastated landscape, just so they can pick up the pieces until the next cyclone hits.

So, you have to build in this understanding of how you respond to risks. Do you need to relocate those people, give them perfect compensation for doing so, and create jobs for them elsewhere, so that they are happy to move and so you don’t have to go through this cycle every year, which is a self-fulfilling, pointless thing? So, yes, that’s another way of looking at it in terms of state readiness.

Oliver Tonby: Esther, let me ask you the same. If you had the magic wand for Indonesia, what would you do?

Esther Samboh: That’s a very interesting question, Oliver. I just feel that we all need to be on the same page on the realization that this is dangerous; this is something that we need to address sooner, rather than later. And we’re already seeing this commitment in the Paris Agreement—countries around the world getting together in this effort. But the political-will aspect of that, agreeing to something is one thing, right? But realizing that this is something that needs to be a high priority for all the leaders across Asia, I think it’s very important.

So, this alliance should be built upon the objective of not only reducing emissions but also addressing the climate risks. So, if you ask me what would I do with that magic wand, I would create a wave that sends across the minds of every leader in Asia that this is something we need to address and you need to have the political will to not only agree on this but also to trust the science, the research, and the experts who are working on this, because I think we’re also seeing a lot of efforts on the research front being made. But a research paper is not public policy, so I would like to see more public-policy action and this alliance taking shape sooner rather than later.

Jessica Cheam: Just adding on to Esther’s point, I think that there is a lot of room for Asian countries to work together on a coordinated strategy toward climate change. Right now, it’s very disparate, and everyone’s doing their own thing. And if you look at the Nordic countries, for example, the way that they trade energy, it’s such an amazing story. On one day, they can be 100 percent powered by wind energy, and then if they have excess, they sell it to another country. If just Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia could do that same thing, imagine the energy-security boost that we would get, the rapid decarbonization that we would see. And I think on that front, government-level coordination probably isn’t quite where we need to be. So, I just wanted to acknowledge that point.

There is a lot of room for Asian countries to work together on a coordinated strategy toward climate change. Right now, it’s very disparate, and everyone’s doing their own thing.

Jessica Cheam

Oliver Tonby: I don’t have a magic wand, but we do have the ear of many senior people across Asia. So, if I ask each of you, let’s do one sentence each, what is your one sentence, ask, or piece of advice to the senior leaders that are listening to this podcast. In one sentence. Esther, let’s start with you.

Esther Samboh: Acknowledge the risks, have the political will, and trust science.

Oliver Tonby: Thank you. Bibek?

Bibek Bhattacharya: I will give you a line, but I’ll need to elaborate on it a bit. This is something that both Jessica and Esther were saying. I think multilateralism needs to become cool again. Countries need to work together because there’s only so much that individual countries can do. There is quite a lot that they can do, but they do need to cooperate, at least with their regional neighbors, because we share everything. We share rivers, we share cultures, we share risks because the glacier may be in one country, and the river runs through another. So, you have to cooperate. I think this understanding that you need to work as a collective, whether it comes to people, whether it comes to corporates, whether it comes to countries, is very, very important right now.

Oliver Tonby: And Jessica, one sentence.

Jessica Cheam: My one sentence would be within one year, I’d like to see your organization publish a report that sets out your climate-risk strategy, how you’re going to respond to it, and how you’re going to deliver it.

Oliver Tonby: To all, let’s just remember that we are all citizens of a country, we’re all inhabitants of one Earth. What’s your one wish of each and every one of us as inhabitants of this one Earth? Bibek?

Bibek Bhattacharya: I think probably the biggest thing would be to make all your decisions through the prism of compassion. Because once you do, I think it’s important to understand what another person is going through so that you can formulate your responses to the way you live according to that. So, I think, yes, that’s the most important thing for me.

Oliver Tonby: Thank you. Jessica?

Jessica Cheam: I think for me, it would be that we should vote and buy with values at the center of it. Because if we vote in the right governments that are putting in the right policies to enable a more resilient and sustainable future, then we have a shot at solving this problem. And to buy and support only companies that are doing the responsible thing, who are going to be part of the future. Do not support companies that are part of the past, vested-interest, old business models, old ways of exploiting the natural world and society. I think that’s really untenable. And if we have this massive movement, every single citizen making decisions on those values, I think we can see change that we want to see.

Oliver Tonby: Thank you to all three of you. I’m not going to try to summarize, but I will end by saying, I think make every decision with compassion to your fellow inhabitants, and vote and buy with values at the center. That’s what I take away from this conversation, and many other things, too. Thank you so much to Esther. Thank you to Bibek. Thank you to Jessica. And thank you all for tuning in today. Thank you so much.

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