Climate in focus: insights from our team – Sharmala Naidoo
Our climate change expertise was one of our areas that grew most in strength when the European international development operations of Coffey and WYG merged to form Tetra Tech International Development Europe in 2020.
The combined depth of knowledge and experience of our team is the backbone of our support to governments and organisations as they take action to adapt to the effects of a changing climate, build resilience and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
As preparations for COP26 put climate change in the global spotlight, we’re taking this opportunity to introduce our climate and environment team, who bring together decades of experience across a wide range of climate change priorities. This series of profiles will shed light on their work and thoughts on climate change, in the past, present and future.
We start our series with Sharmala Naidoo, who developed and leads on the implementation of our climate and environment strategy.
Sharmala Naidoo has over 25 years’ experience designing and leading large-scale climate, energy, water and green growth development programmes across the world. As one of the leading members of Tetra Tech International Development's climate and environment team, she has designed innovative ways of working with the private sector to build climate resilience along agricultural supply chains, recommended how climate change could be mainstreamed into FCDO programmes in India and the Occupied Palestinian Territories and led the mobilisation of more than £120 million to build climate resilience into transboundary water infrastructure in southern Africa.
Having managed Official Development Assistance to the South African government, she is also aware of the positions, needs and internal mechanisms within recipient governments. She has decades of experience leading embedded teams on multi-million-pound projects on behalf of the UK government and international finance and development institutions.
In your 25 years of professional experience on climate, where have you seen the most change in the work that you have done?
The growth of the knowledge base around climate change since the 1990s is quite staggering, and really shows the strength in the climate movement. When I first started working on sustainable development, during my first master’s degree, there was only one book I could use to support my thesis: Green Development by Bill Adams. Talking about climate and environment had you boxed into ‘the green fringe’.
Now there is the UNFCCC with the annual COP negotiations on commitments towards addressing climate change; there are several dedicated global and national climate funds, green bonds are successfully being issued; environmental, social and governance considerations are being integrated into global industries and investors are being forced to move towards socially responsive investing, promoting environmentally friendly business practices and the conservation of natural resources.
All of that is the change that stands out to me, with more and more people like me ready and able to contribute to address the challenges and risks of climate change. However, the IPCC report offers the evidence that this positive change is not fast enough nor deep enough – we need to radically up the scale and the pace for humanity to survive, and only have a slim window in which to do so.
Speaking of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report, it made it clear that the next decade is make-or-break for climate change. What are your thoughts on it?
The report is scarier than we had anticipated in that we could reach a 1.5°C increase in temperature within only two decades – we have a significantly small window in which to reduce GHG emissions. However, we don’t need the report to tell us what we are already observing – the recent wildfires across the world and the flooding we saw in western Europe are stark examples of the impacts of a changing climate. While richer countries can bounce back with relatively deep pockets, poorer countries do not have such resources and the poor and vulnerable in these countries become even less able to adapt to climate change. This makes climate financing critical, and rich countries need to deliver on their financing commitments.
Finance alone, however, cannot get us out of this. We need visionary and honest leadership from governments, corporates and civil society and the willingness to change how we produce and what we produce while paying attention to issues of equity in global development. This sounds like a real mouthful, but each part is critical. We really need to be brave enough to grapple with the complexity of climate change and issues around water, energy, food, conflict, jobs, growth, poverty and inequality -both nationally and globally, and to collaborate across political differences; indeed, across differences of all kinds.
On the positive side, we have a clearer sense of both the scale and pace of action needed to address the challenge. So, we need to get to work transforming how we live and work and what we work on. It is only if we take a radical and transformational approach that we can even dream of delivering for all. I used to attend G20 Finance Ministers meetings when I worked at the South African National Treasury, so I’m particularly interested to see the G20 response to the IPCC report, in solid commitments to financing and targets.
What are you working on now?
I am currently working on several projects that are helping countries to prepare for COP26. We are working with the UK mission in the Occupied Palestinian Territories to consider how to support the Palestinian Authority to prepare for COP26. The OPTs are a particularly interesting – and challenging – place to carry out this work. Given the political and security problems in the territories, attention is largely focused on the short-term, day-to-day challenges they face, and longer-term strategic objectives like climate change are hard to get integrated into the broader socio-economic objectives. We’re having conversations with the UK mission about how climate change is an integral part of the food, water, energy approaches in a conflict prone area, and what conditions are necessary for climate action to be successful.
I am also leading the mobilising finance workstream of the FCDO/ICF supported Climate Resilient Infrastructure Development Facility (CRIDF) in southern Africa, which aims to support climate resilience infrastructure in transboundary river basins. CRIDF has made some exciting and innovative strides with financing solutions to promote biodiversity in transfrontier conservation areas and to green agricultural supply chains, working in partnership with the private sector. The team has developed several innovative models and partnerships to finance climate resilient water infrastructure in southern Africa.
I’ve also recently worked with our team that manages the FCDO's Nigeria Infrastructure Advisory facility (UKNIAF), to integrate climate change into the objectives and activities and develop smart indicators to measure progress. As an expert on the FCDO Climate Mainstreaming Facility, I used my experience from when I advised on integrating climate change into FCDO portfolios in India and in the OPT, to help inform this work with UKNIAF programme. As follow up to this work, I am also supporting the UKNIAF roads team to develop a climate smart roads asset management methodology. I love the variety of issues I work on, the different countries I get to learn about and the great teams I collaborate with.
What are your hopes for COP26?
This is a tough time to be hosting COP26 – because the understandable focus on the pandemic over the last 18 months has taken attention and, crucially, funding off the climate crises. This, however, makes COP26 even more important, to serve as a much-needed checkpoint in the global climate change journey.
I hope that lessons we’re currently learning from the pandemic are considered at COP26. I think the pandemic has provided us with a new window to see the divide between the North and the South. The COVID-19 response hasn’t been globally coordinated – the North has made huge progress on vaccine development and roll out, leaving the South far behind. Yet it has also highlighted the inescapable fact that we are an interconnected world and reducing the infection rate in one country is ultimately worthless if not done in every country. We have been provided with some invaluable lessons – on financing, supply chains, and on adaptation and resilience.
I hope that COP26 negotiators consider and apply these lessons during the COP negotiations. Post-pandemic recovery is an opportunity to have climate change considerations – resilience, poverty reduction, inequality reduction – integrated into the recovery actions. I see it not so much about building back better which could imply ‘let’s do more of the same, just better’, but more about building back differently, using lessons from the pandemic to improve the ambition, reach and commitment to the global climate response and paying much more attention to the structural causes of national, regional, and global inequality.