Event ReportsPublished on Oct 20, 2021
The road to Glasgow: Creating an India-UK research ecosystem
On October 11, 2021, Observer Research Foundation (ORF) in collaboration with the Nehru Centre, London, hosted the second event of “The Road to Glasgow”, a three-part series on the UK-India partnership leading up to COP26 and beyond. The theme of the session was ‘Creating an India-UK Research Ecosystem’, and discussed the importance of research partnerships in the post-pandemic era between India and the UK in tackling the threat of climate change by means of sustainable solutions. The event opened with a welcome address by Amish Tripathi, Director of the Nehru Centre, and was moderated by Kate Hampton, CEO, CIFF. It featured Rakesh Basant, Professor of Economics, IIM Ahmedabad; Vaishali Sinha, Chief Sustainability Officer, ReNew Power; Manoj Ladwa, Founder and CEO, India Inc. Group; and Rebecca Fairbairn, Director, UKRI as panellists. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the UK’s effective and internationally integrated research establishment, as well as India’s independent capabilities in absorbing such research and developing impressive global tech. In the post-pandemic era, emphasis has been placed on coming up with sustainable solutions that are dependent on collaborative research and can be implemented by growing economies like India. The discussion focused on India and the UK strengthening and expanding their existing research links, and using those ties to seek solutions in matters of climate tech and sustainability. It also analysed the relationship between industries and research institutions in an increasingly commercial environment, as well as the potential for an India-UK fund dedicated to research and development in public institutions that would be mutually beneficial. The session began with remarks from Kate Hampton who emphasised the need to remember that in the build up to COP26, it was not just about commitment but also about delivery. Delivering on the established climate goals would require more than just technology—it would also need human capital investment, knowledge, business model innovation, and academic collaboration. She also pointed out the importance of public-private partnerships as countries established themselves as competitors and collaborators. Professor Basant spoke of several interesting collaborations between the UK and India on clean energy, technology, and water, and explained that such experiments should be extended to include more institutions and be provided with greater funding. He also highlighted the importance of mission-driven projects that are developed through informed discussions amongst the involved parties, resulting in a wide variety of avenues being available to pursue objectives related to climate change. He also suggested a model of a cluster of industries and institutions working together to improve the collaborative process. Vaishali Sinha brought a more commercial perspective to the discussion. Despite India and the UK being two major players, there hasn’t been enough engagement on the industry-academia front as seen in other parts of the world, particularly in light of the proactive leadership on climate that both countries’ leaders have shown. Aside from an industry-academia partnership, we see an increased participation from the private sector in brand new sectors with evolving opportunities, like digitalisation, wind, hydrogen, storage, etc. She also pointed out the great opportunity for institutions of the Global North to come and test their research in the Global South. Taking the example of IIT’s collaboration with Stanford and Caltech on localised solutions, she explained the importance of increasing efficiency, and hence, profitability. Rebecca Fairbairn echoed the statements made on the importance of research and innovation in tackling the climate issue, but also laid emphasis on the need for a broad approach. It’s imperative that we not just focus on technology, but in learning from each other and our respective cultures and developing both localised solutions as well as those that can be globally applicable. Manoj Ladwa spoke of the vibrant history of collaboration between the UK and India across different sectors and mentioned two pillars upon which the discussion on climate change and collaboration would rest—higher education and business to business connection. A lot of the groundwork has already been done through the efforts of the countries’ leaders, and further focus has to be placed on deliverables. With regards to financing, suggestions were made on risk-mitigation instruments that both governments would contribute to develop the UK-India partnership, greater spending on the Indian government and private sector’s part on the green energy transition, as well as pursuing unexplored possibilities in the realm of climate, robust industrial partnerships, and R&D. Further integration of higher education and youth scholars would also introduce new perspectives to the discourse on climate action. The task of tackling climate change remains a daunting effort, of which certain goals have already been met, and many more are yet to be achieved. It is imperative that given the opportunity, developments be made on an individual front as well as in the existing UK-India partnership. By broadening research links between the two countries and refocusing conversations on climate efforts, India can build technology and innovative structures with the UK, so that the mission of targeting climate change and achieving a sustainable and green future can be completed successfully.
This event report is written by an ORF intern, Noyontara Gupta.
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