Bankers turn climate crunch champions!!

This is a guest post from a friend - P, who is working for HSBC. P is very interested in CSR activities and any extra-curricular activity that takes place in HSBC. P was recently selected to actively contribute to HSBC’s environmental initiative, and as part of this initiative P went to the forests of Western Ghats in Karnataka with a team of about 10 people (selected from all over the world) and worked with some leading scientists for 10 days. In the forest P helped these scientists conduct numerous experiments and work on environment conservation.

In this post P has shared the work done by the team during this forest visit and Climate Championship program of HSBC in general.

Bankers may not be the world's most popular people, but at HSBC we have the good of the planet at heart – the bank has invested $100 million in the employees, to assess the potential effects of climate change and preach the green gospel to colleagues back at the office.

HSBC is doing so through the climate championship program which is a collaboration between HSBC, the Earthwatch Institute, the Climate Group (an international NGO), the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). All of these 4 institutions play different roles in this partnership.

Of the $100 million that HSBC has invested in the partnership, $35 million will go to Earthwatch. Some of this fund will be spent on environmental projects (tree planting, river cleaning, for instance) in cities where HSBC has offices and where its employees will be encouraged to get involved. But the bulk of it is for training the climate champions, each of whom will spend 2 weeks at one of five regional centres, in India, China, Brazil, Britain or the USA. The sites chosen in these countries are biodiversity hotspots (regions with a significant reservoir of biodiversity that is under threat).

When I got selected for the Climate Championship program, I was on cloud nine, especially because their acceptance rate on applications is one in five. 'We are looking for people who have demonstrated a commitment to combating climate change, who have already shown initiative and leadership,' says Rachel Phillips, the head of learning at Earthwatch. I felt proud of myself and was eagerly counting days to the program.

On April 12th, 2010, a small crowd had gathered on the ragged road that runs out of Sirsi, a town in the southern Indian province of Karnataka. We are bankers, but here, far from the computers and air-conditioned offices, we are spending a fortnight working alongside scientists conducting the largest ever field study on the long-term effects of climate change and human behavior (farming and logging, for example) on the world's forests.

We were a disparate group from Dubai, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India; 10 of us, our common bond is “HSBC”, which has flown us here to get trained as 'climate champions'. After two weeks of field work, lectures, films and workshops we will emerge, a green task force whose mission is to spread the word about climate change among our colleagues and implant the principles of sustainability into HSBC's corporate DNA.

Sirsi in the Western Ghats, a 1,000-mile range of rolling hills regarded as one of the world's top 10 biodiversity hotspots: it boasts 139 species of mammal, 508 birds, 179 amphibians and more than 5,000 flowering plants. This is where the Indian regional Climate centre is located. And the project that the scientists are working on is “Impact of climate change on Forests”.  

In centuries past, forest composition has changed – species have died off or migrated – with climatic variations, but now these changes may be influenced by human activity such as farming. By measuring trees repeatedly over a number of years we can see which ones are growing and which aren’t which ones are thriving and which are dying off. It will give us a feel for the way things are changing. The overall aim is to gain information on the best management practices to maintain forests under climate change.

Tree measurements are the backbone of this study which is trying to measure the carbon content of our forests. The work is repetitive and labour-intensive but with the help of us, the climate champions, it is estimated that 60 years' worth of data will be gathered in five years. (At the end of which it is hoped that HSBC will renew its commitment or that the project will be taken on by another corporation.)

At all of the centres the research is essentially the same, with regional variations (in Wytham Wood volunteers also trap and record small mammals). In each forest, sample plots of one hectare (100 x 100m) are marked out, and all sizeable trees therein tagged, numbered, measured and identified. The plot is then subdivided. A 10 x 10m patch is cordoned off in which all the smaller trees (shrubs, at least 1.5m high with a girth of less than 5cm) are marked and measured, and in a 2 x 2m patch the smallest (herbs, less than 1.5m high) are recorded in terms of number and species. The leaf litter and dead wood in the smallest plots are also collected and weighed, and soil samples are taken so that carbon content can be gauged. The density of the forest canopy is observed. And also the coordinates of the tree are mapped on graphs which essentially is called mapping.

At Sirsi the project is being run in conjunction with the scientists of Indian Institute of Science. We worked in a dense patch of the forest from about 9am until at least 2pm each day, with one short break. To stand in the dappled light of the forest with the warmth of the sun on your shoulders is to experience tranquility! My enjoyment of the field work turned to awe when a 300-year-old tree was pointed out to me. I just stood there staring at it, thinking, "Wow." (And the tragedy is that someone could cut that down without even thinking about it). We also did see snakes, especially the green snake which is camouflaged in the trees. (Thankfully it was not Vipers which we were told were a threat in this area). The litter on the ground helped us to cruise through the forest making immense noise so that animals would flee!

The data gathered then have to be input (a slow process when as many as 800 trees may be measured in a morning), before the evening's lectures at which facts, both gloomy and terrifying, come thick and fast. The following is a sample selection:

If sea levels continue to rise they will displace the 200 million people who live on coastal plains, and have a severe impact on capital cities including London, New York and Sydney.

Species migrate when threatened by climate change. Hence Nairobi, which was built above the altitude at which mosquitoes live, is now experiencing malaria – as are parts of France.

A two-degree increase in temperature means a 66 per cent decrease in wheat production in Britain, and in India a drop in farm revenue of between nine and 25 per cent.

By 2050 the global population will have reached 9.5 billion, leaving 1.63 hectares of land per person as against 7.91 in 1900.

If governments were to act now to correct climate change it would cost $184 billion, or one per cent of global GDP. If they wait until 2050 it will cost between $920 and £3,680 billion, or between five and 20 per cent of global GDP.

After dinner there were screenings of films such as Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth and Leonardo DiCaprio's The Eleventh Hour etc. which were super inspiring and kept us going. Each day was something different. We learned the science of climate change, perception about it, and also politics of it! We also had to present, taking it in turns to explain what each office was doing to reduce its carbon footprint. There was hot competition. Energy-saving ideas ranged from the simple but effective (halving the size and ply of tissues) to the high-tech (person-sensitive lighting). Banning paper cups in favour of china or tin mugs seemed universal, as did programming printers to use both sides of a piece of paper. In some offices printers were activated by each employee's ID lanyard, which then recorded how many sheets of paper they were using each month. We got to know facts like in the United States one climate champion's paper reduction exercise saved his office $100,000 a year.

There was so much more we did, and experienced that it’s impossible to fit everything here! We were literally eating climate change, drinking climate change and sleeping climate change! We were like sponges, soaking up the information fed. And by the time we reached the end of the program, we were a highly motivated and bonded team, and we had fixed our group goals and also individual ones with specific projects we would pursue once back to office.

We were now armed with the facts we need to woo others to the cause, and then, through role play, brainstorming and workshops, we were given the skills with which to do so. I was really shocked by how ignorant I was before I came here. I knew at the end of it, that I will be able to make the information interesting when I get home and will do my best to convince people. It will be difficult to convince some….but it’s important to be the change you want to see around you!

I would like to end this note by the saying….
The only way to predict the future ....... is to create it!!


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