Episode 13: with Titta Lassila from Save the Children

Titta grew up in Finland, and from an early age, she was passionate about environmental issues. During and after finishing her master’s degree in environmental biology she worked for different environmental organisations in Finland with themes varying from international environmental and development policy to tropical forest protection and sustainable rural development. During the years in conservation, and from experience in Madagascar, Peru, Indonesia and Argentina, she realised that it wasn’t the planet that needed protection but the people, which made her an advocate for environmental and climate justice. Currently, she works as a climate change and environment advisor for Save the Children. 


Tita grew up in Finland, and from an early age, she was passionate about environmental issues. During and after finishing a master’s degree in environmental biology. She worked for different environmental organizations in Finland with themes varying from international environment and development policy to tropical forest protection and sustainable Rural Development during the years in conservation, and from her experience in Madagascar, Peru, Indonesia, and Argentina, she realized that it wasn’t the planet that needed protecting, but the people and this made her an advocate for environmental and climate justice. Currently, Titta works with Save the Children in climate change and is an environmental advisor.   

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And I really love your realization about wanting to save people, and transition to environment and climate justice. Talk to me about how do you define risk? And what do you see as the centre of risk when you consider the environment in your work? (1:57) 

For me, really the question that needs to be turned around. So instead of asking, what kind of risk do we face in our operations daily? I’m constantly asking, okay, how can we minimize and manage the risks that our operations our actions pose, on the environment and healthy climate? So for me, risk is really something that we contribute to actively or passively. And we need to minimize it in order for us to survive and thrive as humanity together with the rest of nature.  
Yeah, when we talk about risks, we’re often focusing on the risks to organizations, humanitarian organizations, for-profit companies, companies in London, Washington, New York, Paris, Germany. And in those cases, it’s quite clear who we’re talking about the risk is going to affect, who you think about when you talk about a risk to whom or a risk to what?  

Normally, you tend to focus on economic risks and the risks for the operating environment. But I think of risk for the environment, for people, and most of all, if we are working in an environment where we are not living in so in development, for example, where my background lies, the risk for local people who are directly dependent on the natural resources, the climate, the climatic variability, the climatic stability, environmental stability of the environment that they inhabit. So both the entire environment and the people.  

I mean the environment, and the climate crisis we face is an existential threat. And I think most people accept that now. And therefore it does demand a transformative change in how we live, how we work, how we understand the world around us, how we consume products, and how companies even producing them and how they’re marketing them and selling them. What are the potential costs of doing nothing? Many of our listeners are risk management professionals. Can we talk to them about what are the impacts of potentially overlooking sustainability and climate change?  

Yes, it’s interesting to see how the discourse has changed, say during the last decade. So we do talk about the risks much more than we used to, which is great, but it’s also interesting when we say the cost of doing nothing and look at, for example, the Red Cross report from two years back, and they are looking into the cost of doing nothing from the humanitarian perspective. Of course, they find that cost of doing nothing in the face of climate change is a huge goal from the humanitarian and economic point of view. But then they address directly that they are not even looking at security, or epidemics conflicts, or heat waves or any complexities around those issues. So it’s interesting that we really don’t even know. But for example, the World Economic Forum in their global Risk Report for 2021. Actually, four out of five of the top risks by likelihood are directly linked to the environment. So extreme weather, which we are already facing dire consequences of the failure and climate action, and the environmental damage caused by us people. And even the fifth one in the top five is infectious diseases, which is very much linked to environmental destruction. So the more we encroach the environment, the more we destroy the habit of ecosystems where wild animals live. And the more we trade animals, the more we increase the risk for future epidemics and global pandemics. And even in the 10 Global Risk Report, the top risks by impact half of the top 10 are environmental risks. So the cost of doing nothing is really too big to be taken. It’s really not a matter of choice, whether risk managers or whoever is in dire need of addressing the climate crisis and the environmental crisis. It’s really a matter of emergency, and everyone in any business needs to look into this as fast as we can, because, by 2050, half of the world population will face water shortages, we might have 200 million people annually in the need of humanitarian assistance. By the end of the century, we might have 1 billion people on the move, because they cannot continue living in the countries in the areas that they have been living in because of extreme heat, droughts, flooding, water shortages, food insecurity. So it’s a really serious situation.   

I mean, a hugely impactful numbers, you talk about eater, I mean, by 2050, half the world facing water shortages and 1 billion people on the move. It’s great to do even more discourse about the environment. And it’s timely that the recent World Economic Forum Global Risk Report identified climate-related risks is some of the top concerns to business. And we’ll link to that report in the show notes. So if we turn the question around environmental and climate-related risks, what can they do to minimize and manage the risks that their operations and their companies create for the environment?  

Well, it’s all about now, now that we are recovering from the COVID-19 pandemics slowly. But the first key thing is to focus on green recovery. And we’re not on track at the moment, according to the latest analyzers. So the recovery is not green enough, despite all the talk. Everybody needs to step up in their ambitions, and companies that have faced difficulties during the pandemic, and are now boosting the growth. It needs to be done in a greenway. So investing in green infrastructure. And of course, this depends on what business you’re in. In terms of funding, we need to find ecosystem-based solutions to adaptation. We need to find scenarios and really look into how we can adapt to future climate change, biodiversity loss and all that in a way that doesn’t harm the environment. And really looking into nature-based solutions in everything that we do in planning in architecture, infrastructure development, international development, everything, and really building the resilience from a nature perspective.

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