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hen I landed in Delhi this winter, I was in for a surprise. Their new, high-tech airport is just amazing – I mean, I thought we had landed in Singapore by mistake! As we (the travelers on the PIA flight from Delhi to Lahore) got in line for the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) counter for passport control, I noticed a line around the block for NRIs (Non-Resident Indians). No wonder India’s economy is booming – the reverse brain drain sure helps as thousands of educated and talented Indians from around the world come home to develop their mother country.
I was in Delhi to attend a briefing on climate change organized by the well known Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). In fact, it was thanks to their connections that we Pakistani journalists even managed to get visas to India in these troubled times. The CSE is a not-for-profit environment organization based in New Delhi. Remember the pesticides in cola bottles story that broke in India a few years ago? Well that was thanks to the research done by the CSE which was set up in 1980 as both a watch dog and think tank on all matters environmental. Their mandate has been to “research, publish, train, and disseminate information to make people more aware of a sustainable future”.
The CSE was founded by the late Anil Agarwal (who also designed their elegant office building which is energy efficient), and is currently headed by the scientist Dr. M.S. Swaminathan and the famous environmental activist, Sunita Narain. I had heard Sunita speak at a seminar on low carbon futures in Copenhagen and was quite impressed.
Sunita is a passionate advocate of renewable energy (solar) and rightly insists that mitigation by rich countries is crucial for a low carbon future. She is also an outspoken critic of the developed world’s double standards – their refusal to cut their carbon emissions (especially the US) and their insistence upon the developing world (especially India and China) to do more instead to mitigate the effects of greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere, and warming up the planet and causing climate change.
She is very adamant that rich countries should be held accountable for their historical responsibility of having caused climate change in the first place due to the industrial revolution. They have already used up their common atmospheric space. For her, the crucial question is: How will the world share the remaining carbon budget? According to Sunita, if the world caps the temperature to a 2 degrees rise at the end of the century without an agreement on how the burden will be shared, “it will be iniquitous and unacceptable” as it will be the developing countries who will be told to reduce emissions and compromise on economic growth.
At the briefing that took place just before last year’s Cancun Climate Change Conference in December 2010, Sunita had invited India’s eloquent Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh, to explain India’s position and their (low) hopes for a positive outcome in Cancun. She urged Jairam not to give in to the Western world’s pressure and reminded him that as the Environment Minister of a large emerging economy like India, he had an important role to play in defending the developing world’s right to grow and utilize the remaining carbon space. “I’m a fighter,” said Sunita, “and I will keep on fighting against inequity and injustice.”
After the briefing which took place in the city center, I was invited to visit CSE’s office which is a bit far from where we were staying. I took the underground metro to get there, since it was also rush hour and Delhi’s traffic can be a nightmare. The metro is spotlessly clean and very orderly and easy to use – the first compartment of every train is reserved for ladies only and I got on to it. I must say, I really enjoyed the train ride – the ladies were so polite and made room for each other. From sari-wearing grannies to jeans-adorned youngsters, it was great to see such a diverse group of women.
The CSE building is amazing – they certainly practice what they preach because on the structure’s roof are large solar panels and I was told that the building produces its own electricity. There is also rainwater harvesting with underground wells and the building’s waste is treated on the premises in a large tank. In the back is a lush garden with green lawns. Sunita was not in the office that afternoon, unfortunately – she had gone to visit some schools since CSE actively works with Delhi’s citizens in spreading environmental messages. From issues like air pollution to tainted food products, the CSE covers it all – they regularly produce posters and pamphlets and even have an in house magazine.
I was more than happy to meet the staff of Down To Earth, CSE’s popular fortnightly magazine that was launched in 1992. Since then it has been consistently keeping its subscribers up to date about the latest environmental issues. According to the CSE, “It has truly lived up to its reputation as an easy to understand A-Z guide on the environment, which is topical, trustworthy and comprehensive”.
Papia Samajdar, a CSE staff member who had helped to organize the climate change briefing, gave me a guided tour of the building. It is rather large, with several floors and a cafeteria on the roof with a great view of the old part of the city (where the Qutab Minar is located). In the back they have another building where the library is located. This is also where they hold various trainings and it is an airy, spacious structure which is also quite cheerful. I thought of all the NGOs we have in Pakistan, working for the environment – they really should take a leaf out of CSE’s book and make their buildings energy efficient!
Papia recommended a visit to the nearby Qutab Minar complex and off I went. That visit merits an article of its own, so I’ll end with Sunita’s feisty analysis of the Cancun Climate Change Conference: “Let us be clear, Cancun makes no pretence that global equity is a principle best trashed into the world’s dustbin. Just consider. All previous drafts of this agreement stated that developing countries would have equitable access to the global carbon budget. This has been crucially diluted in the Cancun agreement. It reads in a fuzzy and meaningless way that there will be ‘equitable access to sustainable development’. We have surrendered our demand to apportion the global atmospheric space based on our right to development… But the spin masters want us to believe otherwise. The Western media is hailing Cancun as the much-needed breakthrough. That’s because the Cancun deal protects the interests of the rich polluters. It is their prize”. Well said Sunita, don’t ever stop fighting!
Rina Saeed Khan is a freelance journalist