Racing their way to Net Zero

Simon Mundy, Moral Money Editor at the Financial Times, discusses Race for Tomorrow, his new book on the global scramble to respond to climate change on our new weekly show ‘Climate Course Correction’.

Mundy began his reporting career in Johannesburg, where he covered Southern Africa for the FT and spent seven years in Asia, heading the FT bureau in Seoul and Mumbai. He spent two years travelling through 26 countries on six continents as part of his research for the book. Excerpts:

Simon Mundy, Moral Money Editor at Financial Times

What made you write ‘Race for Tomorrow: Survival, Innovation and Profit on the Front Lines of the Climate Crisis’?

When I was in India, I worked on an article about droughts in western India. I visited an area of Maharashtra called Marathwada, where they have been suffering very severe droughts for several years. I spent several days there meeting farmers, visiting their farms and reservoirs that were completely dry. I spoke to meteorologists who made it clear that this was part of a trend towards worsening droughts.

The things I saw there shook me up. This was the first time that I had really been exposed to the direct impact of climate change. I had always thought about it as somewhat abstract or long-term. But the urgency of it struck me and it gradually occurred to me as a journalist this is by far the biggest story of my lifetime.

The more I looked at climate change, I realised it’s complicated and a lot of people can feel intimidated about it. I thought of writing a book which wasn’t about giving my opinion rather about stories of people.

Why would people be interested in picking up a book on climate change?

A friend of mine, who worked in publishing, told me people don’t really want to read books about climate change. This is not to criticise previous books on climate change, but the fact is many people have been a bit deterred from engaging with them.

I felt if you make this book about human drama, human ambition, human tragedy, and inspiring tales of courage, then people would be interested. The people, culture and places in this book are so diverse. From winemakers of Chile to mammoth tusk hunters in Siberia, to featuring the royal family of Saudi Arabia and exploring illegal cobalt miners in Congo…the list is long. It was a privilege to go on this two-year journey and meet such an incredible range of people.

How are individuals and communities working towards mitigating climate change?

People at every stratum of the economic pyramid are racing to respond here. In north-eastern Ethiopia, I met herders who always had an austere lifestyle. They have been living in this dry and difficult environment, but it was sustainable. However, now they are really being pushed to the edge of survival. There are similar stories with some communities in Mongolia, Greenland, and Bangladesh, where people are struggling to keep some of these very rich, long-lasting and valuable cultures alive. They have learned how to live in synchrony and symbiosis with their environment.

But then on the other end of the global wealth pyramid, the richest people in the world are also working towards climate change. In many cases, they see this as an opportunity to capitalise on the great economic trend. I met someone who became a billionaire in the e-commerce sector, and now working with clean tech and electric transportation. Various tycoons from Europe and the US have been featured in the book. So, rich people are also jumping into this opportunity.

You also talk about people destroying the environment, especially the Amazon rainforest. Take us through it.

When I was deep in the Amazon rainforest, I came across Ezier, who was in the process of burning down a section of the rainforest. He had bought the land and had decided to turn the land into cattle pasture. He wanted to become a rancher and he spoke frankly about why he was doing it. He said, “Look, you come from this rich country, where you have different options around what you can do with your life. I have two options– I can be poor or I can clear rainforest and raise cattle.” It was difficult for me to condemn him wholeheartedly. It’s complicated.

But, of course, I also met many others with different perspectives in Brazil. These young people are showing extraordinary courage, trying to protect their land against invaders, who are trying to burn down the forest. The Amazon rainforest is crucial for all of us, it is an important carbon sink.  

You have attended COP26. How was it and what are your expectations from COP27?

COP26 was a huge event and much bigger than it has ever been. Agreements on methane and deforestation were laid down. Progress was made on carbon trading. It was relatively promising as compared to previous COPs. But there was an under-representation of people. A very few underprivileged people, who represent the majority of the world, attended it. The developed countries were over-represented. I think of places such as Congo…who was really representing them? Most people in COP26 lived conveniently and were removed from those communities. But why has that to be the case? Could there be a UN programme that can help these communities to represent themselves? Since COP27 is taking place in Egypt this year, I am hoping we may see a better representation from Africa.

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