15 July 2022 12:29:32 IST

Akshaya Chandrasekaran is Sub-Editor, businessline. She covers education and start-ups for fortnightly supplement bloncampus, and writes features on brands and advertising. You can write to her at akshaya.c@thehindu.co.in and find her on Twitter at @akshayaiyerr

Anant University’s big bet on climate change  

The study of climate change is the “new computer science.” | Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Before the pandemic muscled its way to the fore of worldwide concerns, the need to address climate change, and education institutions’ uniquely strong position to do so, had increasingly spurred top B-schools and engineering colleges to direct major resources toward the issue. Anant National University (AnantU) Ahmedabad intends to stake out an early lead in the field by launching a four-year undergraduate B.Tech degree in climate technologies. For the academic year 2022-23, the varsity has so far received 2,500 applications from 72 countries, of which 42 per cent are girls. The cohort will have 60 students and the classes are set to begin in August 2022.

Miniya Chatterji, Founding Director, Anant School for Climate Action, believes now is the time to build skilled talent for the massive amount of climate jobs globally. Chatterji is CEO of Sustain Labs Paris, a company based out of India and France that turns around large traditional organisations to make them more sustainable. Students of this programme can avail the industry networks of Sustain Labs. 

Previously, she was Chief Sustainability Officer for Jindal Steel and Power till 2017, and prior to that, she was working at the World Economic Forum. The BTech programme is also a member of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Solv(ED), an initiative aimed to support people aged 24 and under to tackle global challenges.

What is the need for an exclusive BTech course focused on climate technology?  

Similar to the digitisation wave two decades ago, we are amidst a transformation of all organisations towards net zero. Responding to international regulatory and market pressures, and the net-zero targets, every company, big and small, needs to mandatorily deploy technologies and other mechanisms that can transition their businesses into the net-zero economy. But there is a serious dearth of skilled engineers who can perform climate simulations, develop infrastructure, and create new technologies that will mitigate emissions.  

In other words, climate jobs are booming with no takers. Venture capitalist John Doerr, who funded Stanford University’s new climate school this year, said that “The study of climate change is the “new computer science.” The key reason for establishing the programme is to technically skill our youth to be recruited for the massive amount of climate jobs globally.  

At Sustain Labs, we work with 200+ companies in India, UAE, Europe, North Africa, and the Asia Pacific. I could see that companies are desperate to find skilled people to help them deliver company-level targets to reduce emissions. I have been advocating for India’s first climate school for a while, but little did I know then that I would be the one establishing it. Ajay Piramal, President of AnantU, generously stepped forward to fund the establishment of the Anant School for Climate Action.    

The role of technology in the climate crisis, what is its significance? 

Regulatory, investors and industry peer pressures on companies globally to mandatorily reduce their GHG emissions have led to a frantic search for appropriate technologies that can help companies meet their net-zero targets. Awareness, technology, and funds are the biggest gaps that separate us from successfully mitigating climate change.  

A Bachelor of Technology specialising in Climate Change directly addresses at least two of the three gaps, and hopefully the third as well. We need to conduct accurate climate simulations, scale up renewable energy infrastructure, explore alternative low-emission fuels, build a hydrogen economy, and innovate with carbon capture technologies.   

What are some of the unique course modules that have been included in this BTech degree that one might not find in conventional engineering degrees?  

There are several pioneering aspects to this unique programme. Here are some that I am most delighted about. First, every student in the B.Tech degree will receive micro-grants from MIT Solv(ED). Each student will need to identify and run their own climate-related social project using the grant and will be coached by the MIT Solv(ED) team on how to do so. I am sure our students will be thrilled by the experience and will learn a lot.  

Further, there is also an exciting and unique emphasis on climate modelling, simulations and making climate predictions that I think students interested in computer sciences would thoroughly enjoy.  

Third, is the emphasis on applied research all through the programme. Students will be part of live industry-related climate projects from day 1 of the course that they will pursue in the state-of-the-art climate lab. The entire eighth semester focuses on industry immersion and placements are guaranteed in India and abroad.  

Finally, the multidisciplinary in course not only brings together climate simulation, environmental engineering, energy sciences, climate chemistry, and mathematics, but also climate finance, design thinking, behaviour sciences, and the study of technology and society.       

Miniya Chatterji, Founding Director, Anant School for Climate Action, and CEO, Sustain Labs Paris

Considering this is a very niche course, did you have trouble finding the right faculty? 

We hired our faculty from amongst the faculty teaching at the Anant Fellowship for Climate Action which we have been successfully running for the last three years. The award-winning scientist in Washington DC Dr Arpita Bose has joined us as a faculty member. We are excited to welcome Prof Sunil Shastri from the UK who has taught marine and environmental policy at the University of Hull from 1994 to 2018 as a faculty member as well. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA will also be running a MOOC each year for our students.    

So, in terms of placements, what sort of jobs do the first batch of students prepare for? 

The transition plan to net zero is clearly laid out for most of India’s largest 200 companies. At Sustain Labs, we rank India’s largest 200 companies each year on their sustainability performance and so we know them all intimately.  

These companies know what they have to do but inertia sets in when it comes to the availability and affordability of technologies to be deployed, hiring appropriately skilled people to run the transition, and funds.  

The largest 1,000 companies listed on SEBI have also been asked to mandatorily report on their Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions such that these companies will also feel the pressure of mitigating emissions. I would say that it is the bulk of the SMEs that have little incentive, resources, and know-how to make the transition to net-zero.  

Sustain Labs takes the responsibility of placing the B.Tech students across companies that we work with and know. So, all the students at the BTech specialising in Climate Change will be easily placed in India and abroad - that is an aspect I am hardly worried about.