India Climate Leader 2019: Sunita Narain

Sunita Narain, Director General of the Centre for Science and Environment

Sunita Narain is a Delhi-based environmentalist and author. She is currently the Director General of the Center for Science and Environment (CSE: and Editor of the biweekly magazine, Down To Earth ( 

Narain plays an active role in policy formulation on issues of environment and development in India and globally. She was a member of the Indian Prime Minister’s Council on Climate Change and has been awarded the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian honour. 

In 2005, the Centre for Science and Environment was awarded the Stockholm Water Prize under her leadership. In 2016, Time Magazine listed her as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. 

Narain’s work is to research the interaction between food and the environment. Her interest is to ensure that countries in the Southern world do not adopt highly chemical intensive agricultural systems as they do not have the capacity to mitigate and manage the toxic fallout on the environment and human health.

Professional Career 

Narain began working with the Centre for Science and Environment in 1982, working with the founder Anil Agarwal while completing her studies at the University of Delhi. In 1985, she co-edited the State of India’s Environment report and then went on to study issues related to forest management. For this project, she travelled across the country to understand people’s management of natural resources.

In 1989, Narain and Agarwal wrote ‘Towards Green Villages’ on the subject of local democracy and sustainable development. In her years at the Centre, Narain has studied the relationship between Environment and development, and worked to create public consciousness about the need for sustainable development. In 2012, she wrote the 7th State of India’s Environment Reports, Excreta Matters, an analysis of urban India’s water supply and pollution.

Over the years, Narain has also developed the management and financial support systems needed for the Centre, which has over 100 staff members and a dynamic program profile. In the early 1990s, she became more involved in global environmental issues and she continues to work on these issues as a researcher and advocate. Her research interests are wide-ranging: from global democracy, with a special focus on climate change, to the need for local democracy, where she has worked both on forest-related resource management and water-related issues. 

In 2008, Narain delivered the K R Narayanan Oration on “Why Environmentalism Needs Equity: Learning from the environmentalism of the poor to build our common future”. Narain also appeared alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in the documentary Before The Flood and talked about the impact of climate change on the Monsoon in

India and how it affects farmers’ communities. 

Narain’s efforts in combating climate change are conjoined with evidence based research in working with businesses and multi-stakeholders; she advocates the point that any action undertaken by stakeholders has to be well thought through to avoid any potential fall outs that may negatively affect people and the planet. 

One of her key efforts most recently has been to combine her knowledge, experience, and know how to demonstrate the benefits of organic food and its impact on health and climate through town hall meetings. These meetings provide cooking demonstrations by leading chefs in front of large audiences from all walks of life as an effort to share insight with the general public on issues of food, health, and climate change. 

Quote by Sunita Narain post COP 25 held in Madrid and what it entails for countries like India: 

“So, what should be done? There is nothing wrong with setting a net-zero target, per se. But the objective should be to incentivise countries to do more at home and then to buy whatever remains through global trading systems. But this means setting a base price on carbon trading — below this rate (say $100-150 per tonne) projects would not qualify.

This would mean that only those projects would be funded that would be transformational, and not transitional, in the developing world. Countries like India could leapfrog to much cleaner futures. We could avoid first polluting and then cleaning up. This is the future we seek. But for this to happen, for once, climate agreements must walk the talk; not just talk the talk.” 

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