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Corporate Social and Environmental Responsibility towards Climate Change Resilience 

26 November 2012 06:09:08
Corporate Social and Environmental Responsibility towards Climate Change Resilience

By Tahir Hasnain
As the pressure to address climate change increases, debates on connections between the businesses, the population and environment are being renewed. The importance of private sector involvement in terms of scaling up or leveraging public sector capital is now crucial due to two good reasons: 1) care for society and nature is linked with sustainability of the business, and 2) public funds will not be sufficient to meet the investment requirements of a successful climate change coping strategy.
A “Dialogue with Business on Resilience, Climate Change and the Private Sector in Sustainable Coastal Management” was held in Karachi organized by the IUCN’s Mangrove for the Future (MFF) Programme. A number of delegates from all over Asia Region attended the event and the distinguished speakers from government, private sector and NGOs presented business linkages with life of the coastal ecosystem and role of the private sector in sustaining coastal management. The discussion over there prompted me to write this piece and reflect some of the important issues in this regard.
Climate change is a global phenomenon and the industrialized countries are to be blamed for emitting large quantities of greenhouse gases (GHG) and global warming. Locally, nevertheless, we have been victim of the climate change impacts and among recent natural disasters i.e. heavy rains, floods, drought, earthquake and cyclones; most of them have been linked directly with the climate change. We have therefore to take care of our environment, adaptations and disaster risk management at all levels in order to build our resilience to climate change impacts.
Being bestowed with a richness of natural resources, coastal areas often have a dense concentration of business and development activities of various private and public sectors, and the local community. Mangrove forests, for instance, are extremely important coastal resources, which are vital to our socio‐economic development. A vast majority of human population lives in coastal area, and most communities depend on local resources for their livelihood. The mangroves are sources of highly valued commercial products and fishery resources and also as sites for developing a burgeoning eco‐tourism. According to a recent study, the mangrove forests have been shown to sustain more than 70 direct human activities, ranging from fuel‐wood collection to fisheries.
Coastal areas often provide lucrative opportunities for business and industry, for example in fisheries, tourism, mining and agricultural sectors. They are also the focus of rapidly-expanding infrastructure development. Much of this commerce, industry and development is taking place and in most cases with scant regard to the environment, and with devastating consequences on coastal ecosystems and local livelihoods. The destruction of coast has altered functioning of the ecosystem which is leading to permanently alter of species composition and biodiversity. As a result, it is affecting business activity as well as livelihood means of the local coastal communities. Fishing, for instance, has declined due to loss of mangrove forests, habitat degradation and climate change.
The field of coastal habitat rehabilitation has thus been steadily growing over the last two decades. Since salt marshes, mangroves, coral reefs, sea-grasses and other coastal systems have been increasingly subject to anthropogenic impacts, the corporate social and environmental responsibility issue has got prominence and as a consequence, a number of projects worldwide are being implemented to restore coastal habitats under the corporate social responsibility (CSR).
The private sector is usually considered as a profit centered segment that has little interest in social, societal and environmental issues. This kind of character is no longer going to continue. As a matter of fact, the private sector is currently more public than the public sector itself and it has to care for society and nature for its own sustainability. Consumerism has increased due to electronic information and consumers are now more vigilant and aware of importance of buying products that are produced in the environment friendly industrial units.
Furthermore, the impetus behind the rehabilitation of coastal ecosystems is due to the remarkable rise of environmental consciousness over the past three decades. The pressure from environmental activists for more conservation, sustainable use of ecosystems and the protection of biodiversity has been unremitting and its influence on governments around the world has been profound. The politics of the environmental movement has been felt worldwide and many countries have now enacted laws and local ordinances for the protection of environment, mangroves and coastal ecosystems. The private sector has therefore to comply with environmental laws of the land and invest in rehabilitation activities.
It is generally feared that through CSR activism, the corporate sector may not get encouraged to freely degrade environment and coastal natural resources and then compensate it through CSR. In view of stringent national and international environmental obligations for producing environment friendly products through environment friendly processes, it may not be true.
There are vast environmental threats associated with private businesses but, at the same time, business and industry can also provide numerous opportunities. In the case of sustainable coastal management, more attempts need to be made to directly engage with commerce, industry and the private sector in coastal management at national and regional levels.
From the corporate perspective, the potential to profit and gain from environmentally sustainable business remain little known and there is vast scope and incentives for the private sector to become engaged in activities which are supportive of environment and coastal conservation.
Investment in coastal ecosystems is therefore an effective long-term solution which also requires investment in coastal infrastructure. Hence, the private sector investment is crucial in helping the country with the effects of climate change. The corporate social and environmental responsibility demands that companies operating in coastal areas or dependent on coastal resources should invest in projects for protecting and conserving coastal ecosystem along with supporting wellbeing of the local communities.
Countries at the international level should lead a fresh drive to bring major private investment to help tackle the global threat of climate change and, through comprehensive disaster risk management, support economic growth and development in poor developing countries who are currently the forefront victim of climate change impacts.
While it is commonly argued that Pakistan is a country that is still lacking in CSR practices among companies; there have been certain groups and organizations that have taken the lead and must be lauded for their efforts in contributing to the society and people of Pakistan. A lot more room is available in the country to enhance corporate social and environmental responsibility in coastal ecosystem rehabilitation. Environmental organizations should progressively engage with commerce, industry and the private sector in sustainable coastal management.
Ideally, the private corporate sector should integrate corporate, social and environmental needs; share the financial burden of mitigating climate change; and invest in coastal ecosystem rehabilitation activities without compromising on its production processes that also need to comply with the environment safety standards.
Awareness of issues and alternatives is the area where the environmental organizations should design programmes and engage private sector and the local communities on priority basis. The newly planned industrial units should only be initiated that have built-in environment friendly technologies, processes and the ability to cope with climate change impacts.
IUCN, and more especially the MFF, are playing great roll in linking up all stakeholders from private and public sector and bringing them on the negotiating table for better integrated planning and implementation.  Similar role needs to be broadened by the local environmental groups and organizations.
Author: Tahir Hasnain is a veteran researcher, writer and development practitioner serving the non-government development sector since two decades. Currently he works with Shirkat Gah as Programme Manager, Environment & Livelihood. He can be contacted at – tahir@khi.sgah.org.pk