Gautam Adani, addressing the J.P. Morgan India Investor Summit, argued that climate justice must be a priority when making policy to reverse climate change

“As if the pandemic were not enough”, noted Gautam Adani, chairman of the Adani Group in a wide-ranging talk at the influential J.P. Morgan India Investor summit, “another challenge looms ahead of us and India will have to play a major balancing role.” Itemizing the crises of the 21st century as the bursting of the dot com bubble and the housing bubble and the ‘green swan’ event of the pandemic, Mr. Adani described climate change as the next and most dangerous challenge facing the world. The science shows that mankind teeters on a precipice.

But, he said, science could also pull us back from the precipice while ensuring that the poorest among us do not disproportionately bear the responsibility of returning the world back to sustainability. If the need to achieve net zero emissions “deprives a developing nation’s people of hope and opportunities to better their lives”, Mr. Adani said, “the search for sustainability will itself become unsustainable.”

Gautam Adani speaks at the J.P. Morgan India Investor Summit, 2021

Mr. Adani said that without “pointing fingers”, it had to be recognized that even a century ago, the West was burning more metric tonnes of coal than India produces today. He cited a 2019 Stanford University study that showed that the gap between the world’s poorest and richest economies is 25% larger than it would have been without global warming; India’s economy is 31% smaller than it would have been without global warming. India accounts for only 3% of the excess carbon in the atmosphere while providing for over 17% of the world’s population in one of its fastest-growing economies. Remarking on the vast difference between the impact of electricity consumption and transportation to the carbon footprint and the impact of agriculture, Mr. Adani pointed out that the “prosperous man in the brightly lit home with more than one car in his driveway” was not best placed to “insist that the poor farmer give up his only cow and keep his house dart to save the Earth from greenhouse gas emissions.”

“In my country”, he added, “more than a quarter billion households and millions of small businesses that generate jobs rely on the availability of cheaply produced electricity. To switch off that power source without an economical alternative in place would put hundreds of millions of people on an accelerated path to darkness.” But there is an economic opportunity worth trillions of dollars and tens of millions of jobs in effectively combatting climate change, in relying on market forces and technological innovation to generate cheap, green energy. The Adani Group is, as its chairman was quick to say, “putting our money where our mouth is.” Some 75% of planned capital expenditure until 2025 will be on green technologies. By 2030, Adani will become the first Indian company to power all of its data centres through renewable energy. And within the next four years, Adani’s renewable power generation capacity will triple from 21% now to a high of 63%, growth unmatched by any company anywhere in the world. “Several existing industries,” Mr. Adani acknowledged, “will be disrupted and made redundant.” But as new industries are created to take their place, opportunities will emerge for India and Indian companies to lead the way towards a more sustainable future.

The pandemic, Mr. Adani argued earlier in his address, showed that self-reliance was the key to growth, that Indian success would be built by Indian companies. He called on critics to recognize the positives of India’s response to the Covid crisis, including a vaccination effort unmatched in scope and pace across the world. India’s logistical issues when it comes to vaccinations, he said, are the equivalent of those faced by 87 countries across Europe, North America and Oceania. This side of the story, he said, had been ignored in the rush to find fault and lay blame.

In keeping with his largely positive, optimistic take on India’s economic future, Mr. Adani indicated the Adani Group’s own remarkable growth. “A one rupee investment in Adani Enterprises, that was our first IPO (initial public offering) in 1994, has given a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 36% over the past 26 years compared to a 10% return by Indian indices.” The Adani Group’s future growth would be underpinned by “two of our newest and most exciting businesses. The airports business and the Adani digital businesses.” Adani businesses will be at the cutting edge of future Indian growth, of “an India that taps into its own markets, an India with a system that is based on dignity and equality, an India that has the courage to aspire.” Never, Mr. Adani concluded, has India precipitated a global crisis. Instead, “[we] have always stepped up in support… This collective spirit is embedded deep into us and comes from our ancient learnings of Seva Parmo Dharma—which translated means ‘Our primary duty is to provide service to mankind.’”

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