The IKEA Foundation helps many organisations accelerate their efforts in combating climate change. Facts and figures speak for themselves, but who exactly are the people behind this extraordinary work? In this storytelling series, we spotlight brave individuals who move mountains in their climate action strategies and solutions. Today: Shloka Nath, CEO of the India Climate Collaborative.
Many of us who work in climate are here because we’ve witnessed injustice in the world. We’ve either lost something or someone or some place that we care about. My story in climate came to be because I realised that the spaces I care about were disappearing. My connection to what truly mattered to me was under threat.
My father is an avid wildlife photographer and conservationist. He’s the reason my brother and I grew up devoted to the natural world – and I grew up roaming in the jungles of India. Here, I learned the healing power of this earth we share very early on.
It’s the knowledge that we’re not separate selves but are deeply interconnected. We are part of nature. The Buddha once said that we’re a sacred forest. I think he knew we were part of a larger system long before we did.
Loss, healing and resilience
As I grew older, I lost a lot of these pieces of myself. It was only many years later, when my brother passed away, that I was brought back to the beauty of what I loved. My brother has been my inspiration. He always said that our planet contains more mystery, love and beauty than the human heart can possibly hold.
I think the resilience that we can learn from this planet is more than protecting ourselves from storms and floods. It’s about how we understand ourselves, how we connect with others, how we support each other, and how we sustain life. It’s the basis of the way we care for each other and listen to each other. It’s about how we make space for healing.
It’s not just about the planet, it’s about us. How do we develop symbiotic relationships with each other? How can we reimagine human civilisation in a way that is circular, mutually beneficial and infinitely sustaining? How do we create systems where people can be safe and healthy?
Building climate philanthropy
The India Climate Collaborative (ICC) was built to be an ecosystem enabler. We were created to drive efficiencies within the Indian climate ecosystem and build the field of climate philanthropy in India. We’re doing our jobs right if everyone else gets to ‘do climate’.
I think the biggest moment I realised I was making an impact was when a climate event we held at the ICC this year was oversubscribed. It was major shift from six years ago when we had our first ICC meeting. Then we were still convincing philanthropies to come to the table.
Now there’s a recognition within the Indian climate ecosystem that there’s no critical pathway to sustainable development that is innocent of climate. And I think a large part of that is due to the field-building work we’ve done in the ICC.
Learning from indigenous people
The looming threat of disaster comes hand in hand with the urgency and importance of this work. But communities who face these exigencies day in and day out give us inspiration and hope. That’s what sustains me.
A couple of years ago, I travelled to North East India, to a forest that receives more rainfall than anywhere else on Earth. It’s the home of a hill tribe called the Khasi. During the monsoon, villages are often cut off by floods. The landscape is transformed from a forested canopy into isolated islands.
To adapt to this environment, the Khasi people create living root bridges by guiding and growing tree roots into a carefully woven scaffolding. Multiple generations of men, women and children take care of these roots and make a structure that gets stronger with age. It’s a 1,500-year-old tradition and there are over 75 of these incredible structures.
For generations, the Khasi have dealt with environmental extremes like flooding. They’ve done this by becoming more attuned to and working with nature. It’s an example of how we can learn from indigenous people to embrace our roots and build resilience into our lives.
India leading the way
I hope that in 10 years’ time the ICC will have built the field of climate philanthropy in India to the extent that we’re no longer needed in our current form. I’d love to see tremendous momentum around climate action in India, so it can claim its role as both a climate leader and its responsibility as the world’s third largest emitter.
I’d love in 10 years for India and the Global South to be leading on a people-centric, inclusive climate dialogue that is represented on the global stage.
And I’d love for the gaps in climate finance to be covered and for organisations on the ground to receive the funding they need to scale impactful climate solutions.
If I had a few minutes on the main stage at COP28, I’d say that philanthropy is uniquely positioned to bring stakeholders together with common interests and a common purpose.
The scale of the climate crisis today requires cooperation on a massive scale. I’d want India’s philanthropists to acknowledge that they have a crucial role to play in building equity into the global climate agenda.
For that to happen, we need representations from civil society, which is working relentlessly on the ground to support vulnerable communities. We need to focus on aligning the interests of different stakeholders so that we can present a unified vision and agenda.
Optimism and inspiration
My personal hope is that the climate crisis is not a doom and gloom story for the human race, but one of optimism and inspiration. And that it’s a means by which we can build back authenticity, vulnerability and connection into human life.
I hope it’s a means by which we learn to embrace and respect other living beings. And it’s an opportunity not just for a connection with each other, but to deeply understand what is essential for all living beings.
I hope the climate crisis brings us together in new ways. It’s a crisis that raises a question about what it means to be human. I hope we answer this question sooner rather than later.
Shloka Nath is CEO of the India Climate Collaborative (ICC).
The IKEA Foundation is supporting the partnership of the American Friends of EdelGive Foundation and the ICC to improve the collaboration of actors within the Indian climate ecosystem in a way that is fair for everyone in the pursuit of its 2070 net-zero emissions targets.
The IKEA Foundation is supporting this work because we believe that improving people’s livelihoods and protecting the planet must go hand in hand, so that no one is left behind in the transition to the 2070 net-zero pathway.