Compiled by Savithri Rodrigo


Dr. Ravi Fernando envisions change towards a sustainable and greener economy

Q: Why is it important to focus on the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in response to the climate emergency?

A: The climate emergency is real amid soaring global temperatures. The past 20 years recorded the highest temperatures over almost three million years and continue to break records. In Sri Lanka, 2019 was the warmest in the last 140 years.

Greta Thunberg explains the climate emergency best when she says: “Our house is on fire!” Which of the 17 SDGs should be mobilised with urgency to put out the fire? The most urgent solution is SDG 7 – affordable and clean energy.

Q: Have climate agreements and conferences made a difference?

A: In 1987, the UN commissioned Brundtland Report outlined the catastrophe awaiting the planet if it continued to burn fossil fuels. The Rio Earth Summit 1992 attracted UN signatory nations and leading businesses to commit to changing the status quo and exit fossil fuels. In December 2015, 196 UN signatory nations agreed to dramatically reduce carbon emissions.

Three decades after the Brundtland Report, carbon emissions have increased from 200-250 ppm to 417 ppm in 2020. Compromise and lack of focussed action have resulted in the climate emergency we face today.

Q: What are the challenges of transforming a shareholder value creation focus into triple bottom line mindsets?

A: Most business schools have taught the subject of shareholder value maximisation at any cost, leading to corporate leaders striving for short-term profits. This concept guides all decisions to date.

Sustainable development was first defined in the Brundtland Report. By 1997, John Elkington mooted the concept of the triple bottom line and 2010 witnessed the concept of strategic corporate sustainability, which I presented.

Most CEOs and boards encompass corporate leaders who are not exposed to emerging concepts, which are only now finding their way into business school curriculums. The challenge is to educate them on the need for a ‘climate emergency response strategy’ and focussed mobilisation of UN SDG 7.

Q: How have geopolitics impacted the climate emergency?

A: This has sidetracked nations from focussing on strategic solutions to counter the climate emergency – and have refocussed attention on short-term economic gains with fossil fuel based energy and transportation or logistics.

Global power blocs have compromised commitments made to date including the December 2015 Paris Agreement, delaying a shift away from fossil fuels and leading to the climate emergency.

Q: Which nations, territories and businesses are leading the way?

A: The EU, Scandinavia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Hawaii, Scotland, Portugal, Bhutan and China are leading the way in exiting fossil fuels. Major businesses leading the charge include Google, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Tesla and Patagonia.

Q: What lessons can Sri Lanka implement in the near term?

A: Strategic corporate sustainability dictates that sustainability mindset leaders are game changers. For example, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa categorically reiterated a commitment to Sri Lanka being 80 percent renewable energy driven by 2030.

However, this requires leadership aligned to the vision at all levels with policies established to incentivise renewable energy and curb fossil fuel emissions. It is crucial to educate leaders on the potential national devastation due to climate emergency impacts, to inspire and motivate them to move forward with urgency.

Q: How has technology impacted the climate emergency response?

A: Responses are rapid and evolving. Emerging technologies that impact the climate emergency are renewable energy and battery solutions, which include wind, solar, wave and biofuels; electric transportation; nanotechnology; 3D printers; precision agriculture achieving crop yields with 90 percent less water; AI and robotics.

Q: What’s the prognosis for Planet Earth by 2030?

A: The short-term focus on seeking economic profits at any cost and persisting with fossil fuels will prevail until 2025, which would worsen the climate emergency.

Global temperatures will increase by between 1.5 and 2.5 centigrade by 2025, leading to economic devastation of US$ 54 to 67 trillion, according to a 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, which cites sea level rises and extreme weather impacts.

These catastrophes may prompt leaders to exit and ban fossil fuels, moving to renewables while reforesting the planet by 2030.

The interviewee is the Chairman and CEO of  Global Strategic Corporate Sustainability