On Monday 30 November, Earthwatch in collaboration with HSBC and the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) invited local community members to join them to celebrate the official launch of the Earthwatch India Regional Climate Centre (RCC) at the small town of Sirsi in India's Western Ghats.
The centre is the Indian hub of an ambitious five-year global research programme into the impacts of climate change on forests. It is one of five similar climate research centres throughout the world operating under the umbrella of the HSBC Climate Partnership Programme. The others are located in North America, China, Europe and Latin America.
A seminar attended by local officials and community members entitled ‘Changing climate: global challenges, local solutions' was hosted at the centre on Monday 30 November. Speakers included representatives from Earthwatch, IISc and HSBC. Sirsi residents also shared their experiences of how climate change is impacting their lives.
The launch followed events in Delhi on Friday 27 November, to communicate Earthwatch's programme of research and corporate engagement in India. At Delhi's Habitat Centre, Earthwatch led a workshop on corporate sustainability attended by senior representatives from the corporate sector and inaugurated by the Chief Minister of Delhi, Ms. Sheila Dikshit.
Later in the day, special guest Dr P. J. Dilip Kumar, Director General of Forests for the Ministry of Environment and Forests, opened an evening reception showcasing Earthwatch's work in the Western Ghats through the HSBC Climate Partnership.
Dr Monowar Khalid, Earthwatch's India Climate Centre director said: "In the Western Ghats communities are heavily reliant on forests for food and fuel, and also as a source of income. Through the research programme that we are implementing in Sirsi alongside IISc, hundreds of HSBC employees will work alongside field scientists to enable large amounts of data to be collected. This data will help us to understand how these forests are responding to changes in climate and recommend ways in which they can be better managed for the benefit of the people, plants and animals that depend on them."
Professor N. H. Ravindranath of the IISc leads the research programme in the Western Ghats. He explained the importance of the research: "Forest ecosystems are highly vulnerable to climate change and the impacts on biodiversity are irreversible. There is an urgent need for long term monitoring and adaptation to climate change in biodiversity rich regions such as Western Ghats."
The collaboration is Earthwatch's first major programme in India.
"Earthwatch has pioneered its unique ‘Citizen Science' model around the world for almost 40 years," said Earthwatch Executive Vice President Nigel Winser. "Climate change is an important issue that affects every man, woman and child on this planet. Indian government and scientists recognise the risks and understand the need for action and so are in a strong position to respond to the need to combat climate change. Earthwatch is delighted to launch our programme in Sirsi at this crucial time. We feel our approach to research and education can make a significant impact in this key region."
Earthwatch India Country Director Raghu Saxena said: "By involving employees in hands-on scientific research and an innovative learning programme on climate change, we are working with HSBC to empower employees to become advocates for positive change in their homes, communities and work-places. It's a privilege for Earthwatch to partner with HSBC, who are leading the field in corporate sustainability, and the Indian Institute of Science, a highly respected and long established research institute in India."
Over the four years that the India RCC is operational under the HSBC Climate Partnership, almost 400 HSBC employees from across the Indian sub-continent and the Middle East will work alongside the researchers at the RCC, developing skills and knowledge to enable them to drive change towards more sustainable business practice.
Earthwatch and HSBC will also set up six Local Volunteering Projects across the country with a range of research partners and environmental NGOs over the next five years. These projects will provide opportunities for HSBC employees to contribute to valuable conservation and community projects close to their workplace.