Sunita Narain is an Indian environmentalist and political activist, who was awarded the ‘Padma Shri’ by the government of India in 2005. She often advocates a theory, proposal, or course of action for the green concept of sustainable development to the government of India. In 2005, she worked in constructing community-based water management blueprints in India with the government of India and also received the World Water Prize for her contributions to rainwater harvesting. She is the director-general of the Centre for Science and Environment (India-based research institute), editor of ‘Down To Earth’ a fortnightly magazine, and the director of the Society for Environmental Communications (founded by CSE in 1992).
Sunita Narain was born on Wednesday, 23 August 1961 (age 59 years; as of 2021) in New Delhi, India. Her zodiac sign is Virgo. She is graduated from the University of Delhi in 1983, India. She earned a Doctor of Science (Honorary) degree from Cranfield University, UK. She received a D.Sc. Degree (Honorary) from the University of Calcutta, India. She was honoured with a doctor in Geosciences and Environment (Honorary) degree at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland. She earned a Doctor of Laws (Honorary) from the University of Alberta, Canada. CSE India
Hair Colour: Black
Eye Colour: Salt and Pepper
Parents & Siblings
Her father’s name was Raj Narain, who was a freedom fighter, and he started his handicrafts export business after India’s Independence in 1947. Her mother’s name is Usha Narain. Her father passed away when she was eight, and her mother took over the responsibility of the family business and supported the family. Sunita Narain has four younger sisters, and one of her sisters, Urvashi Narain, is a Lead Economist at the World Bank in Washington DC. MBA Rendezvous
Husband & Children
Sunita is the Director-General of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), New Delhi, and in 1982, she started working at CSE after completing her studies at the University of Delhi. The issues related to forest management in India were considered by Sunita during her tenancy at CSE, and in 1985, she co-edited the State of India’s Environment report on Indian forest management. To prepare this report on forest management, she travelled all over India to keenly observe and understand the management of people in using natural resources. In 1989, Sunita penned the report ‘Towards Green Villages’ along with the founder of CSE, Anil Agarwal. This report highlighted the topics on sustainable development and local democracy in India. As the director of CSE, Sunita carefully examined the association between environmental issues and sustainable development in India. Around the same time, she focussed on creating public awareness for the requirement and importance of sustainable development in India. In the 1990s, Sunita has worked as a researcher on global environmental issues as the Director of CSE. This research includes issues related to climatic change, water-related issues, and forest-related resource management agendas in India. In 2005, in an interview, Sunita said that her company CSE was told to suggest solutions to the problems in tiger conservation policy in India (a national task force), which was set up at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s office. She stated that she was heading the task force along with the forest wildlife experts in India. She said,
We recommended a complete change in [tiger] conservation management, which was accepted by the Prime Minister. In India, where we have a large population living in the vicinity where animals live, there is a need to practice another form of conservation, which is called co-existence. We have already tried exclusive conservation for the last 30 years and it has not worked. Now we need to try more inclusive conservation methods.”
In 2006, under the supervision and leadership of Sunita Narain, the Centre for Science and Environment, India, presented a disclosure of high level of pesticide cocktails present in American brands, Coke and Pepsi, to the government of India. In an interview, Sunita said that these soft drinks were unsafe and unhealthy to drink, and public health remained severely compromised. She said,
Soft drinks remain unsafe and unhealthy. And public health remains severely compromised. Worse, even the directions given by the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) have been disregarded: standards for safety have been finalized but blocked because of company opposition. This is a grave public health scandal. We initially started with mineral water.”
She further revealed the coca-cola controversy and said that she took the sample of the raw water that was used by these companies, and the Centre for Science and Environment found a huge amount of pesticides in it. She said,
When we took a sample of the raw water that is used by these companies, we found huge amounts of pesticides in it. When we then took a sample of the so-called treated water, we found pretty much the same pesticide content. Around that time, someone told us to look into soft drinks too. That’s how this controversy began.”
In 2008, on a ceremonial occasion, Sunita delivered a formal speech titled “Why Environmentalism Needs Equity: Learning from the environmentalism of the poor to build our common future” of K R Narayanan (former President of India) at the ANU in Canberra, Australia. Climate change, fuel cost, biofuels, and food security were the focused areas of the speech. Blog Tom Sunita often raised issues of her concern and expertise at various forums across the world through her public speeches. As director-general of CSE, over the years, Sunita Narain has also developed a management and financial support system with over 100 staff members at CSE. In a conference held after the Paris Agreement (COP21) in 2015, Sunita Narain, after the conference, stated in an interview, that the budget in the agreement had various wins and losses to the developed and underdeveloped countries from the Paris Climate Change Agreement.
Other Positions Held
Sunita Narain is the Director and Publisher of the Society for Environmental Communications, New Delhi, from 1992 to the present. She was the Research Assistant at Vikram Sarabhai Institute for Development Research Ahmedabad from 1980 to 1981. She is the editor of Down To Earth, an online magazine.
She made ‘One Point Seven’ a TV Series documentary in 2019. She filmed a documentary on Climate Change: The Facts as the Director-General Centre for Science and Environment in 2017. RiverBlue, a documentary, was made by her in 2016. She filmed a documentary ‘Before the Flood’ in 2012. In December 2012, she narrated for the TV series ‘Democracy Now!’ The documentary ‘Frontline’ was made on behalf of the Center for Science and Environment, New Delhi in 2012. Heat, a documentary, was made by her in 2008. She narrated for the documentary ‘Weather Report’ in 2008. Flow: For Love of Water, a documentary, she made in 2007. CNN Future Summit: Saving Planet Earth, a TV Special, was made by her in 2008.
- 1989: Sunita co-authored the publication Towards Green Villages advocating local participatory democracy as the key to sustainable development.
- 1991: She co-authored the publication Global Warming in an Unequal World: A case of environmental colonialism.
- 1992: She co-authored towards a Green World: Should environmental management be built on legal conventions or human rights
- 1997: She has worked on a number of articles and papers on issues related to flexibility mechanisms and the need for equity and entitlements in climate negotiations.
- 1997: She pushed the concern for water harvesting and co-edited the book Dying Wisdom: Rise, Fall and Potential of India’s Water Harvesting Systems. Since then, she has worked on a number of articles on the policy. interventions needed for eco-regeneration of India’s rural environment and poverty reduction.
- 1999: She co-edited the State of India’s Environment, The Citizens’ Fifth Report.
- 2000: She co-edited the publication Green Politics: Global Environmental Negotiations, which looks at the emerging ecological globalization framework and puts forward an agenda for the South on global negotiations.
- 2001: She wrote ‘Making Water Everybody’s Business: the practice and policy of water harvesting.’
- 2017: 5th Chukkapalli Pitchaiah Memorial Lecture at Vijayawada, and 16th Business & Community Foundation’s Annual Lecture on the topic “State of India’s Environment & Corporate Responsibility.
- 2016: BD Pande Memorial Lecture in Almora organized by Uttarakh and Seva Nidhi Paryavaran Shiksha Sansthan, ‘Plenary talk at the 50th Anniversary Conference of Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, UK. Keynote speech at Utopia 2016: Imagination und Entwurf organized by IFK International Research Center for Cultural Studies, Vienna.
- 2015: Third annual Girish Sant memorial lecture at Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai
- 2014-:20th Annual Lecture on Energy and the Environment, University of California, Berkeley, April 2014, and Water Institute distinguished lecture at University of Waterloo, Canada.
- 2012: Lecture for the Technology Mission: War for Water – Our water-waste management imperative: The need for literacy, involvement, and commitment to change at IIT-Guwahati on October 5, 2012. A Public lecture on “Who speaks for water?” at University of Alberta, Canada, March 2012.
- 2011: Speech on Climate Change: The challenge and opportunity for our world, delivered at Asian University for Women Symposium: Imagining Another Future for Asia: Ideas and Pathways for Change, held at Dhaka, Bangladesh on January 21-22, 2011.
- 2008: K.R. Narayanan’s oration on ‘Why Environmentalism Needs Equity: Learning From the Environmentalism of the Poor to Build Our Common Future, delivered at The Australian National University, Canberra.
- 2006: Presentation on ‘How to Operationalise the agenda for Water Conservation at the meeting of Parliamentary forum on water conservation and management organized by Cell on Parliamentary Forum on Water Conservation and Management, Lok Sabha Secretariat.
- 2005: Talk on ‘ Water conservation as part of Lecture series for Members of parliament, organised by Bureau of Parliamentary Studies and Training, Lok Sabha Secretariat.
- 2004: A lecture was given as part of the Leaders in their field lecture series on ‘Urban life – a living hazard’ at the India Habitat Centre. A lecture at the Global Conscience on Simultaneous responsibility to the environment and poverty? Organised by the Ecological Council, Copenhagen, Denmark. A Keynote lecture at the workshop on rainwater harvesting – How to make it a public movement organised by the National Botanical Research Institute, Lucknow, India. An Inaugural address at the state level media seminar on rainwater harvesting organised by Jalanidhi and Press club at, Thiruvananthapuram, India. A Lecture titled ‘From Your Flush to the River: Delhi’s responsibility for a clean Yamuna’ as part of the Agenda Delhi series of lectures organised by India Habitat Centre and Indian Express at the India Habitat Centre.
- 2003: A lecture was given at the 2nd International Symposium on ecological sanitation at Lubeck, Germany. A Lecture on Human Health and Ecological Security organised by the Foundation for Ecological Security at the India International Centre, New Delhi. A Foundation Day lecture was given at the Ladakh Ecological Development Group at Leh, Ladakh. A Keynote lecture at the International Conference on Public-Private Partnership organised by Swiss Coalition of Developing Organisations at Berne, Switzerland. A Council of Scientific and Industrial Research Diamond Jubilee lecture at the National Botanical Research Institute, Lucknow, India. A speech was given at the Symposium on the Johannesburg Challenge: Perspectives and Priorities, Berlin, Germany, organised by the German Council of Sustainable Development.
- 2000: The Future of India’s Urban Environment, paper presented at the Swedish-Asian Forum on the Future of Asia’s Environment, Stockholm 15-17, 2000. A lecture is given to members of the US-India Roundtable on the issue of “Health and Environment” New York, America. The Global Dialogue on Natural Resources: The Sustainability Challenge lecture at EXPO 2000, Hanover, Germany. My Agenda for Johannesburg”, at the conference “ Countdown for Johannesburg” organized by the Heinrich- Boll Foundation.
- 1999: What possibilities there are for Green Politics in Asia and what is meant by Green Politics in the Asian context, Colombo, Sri Lanka. We all live downstream: Urban industrial growth and its impact on water systems; plenary lecture, 9th Stockholm Water Symposium, Sweden.
- 1998: NGO workshop on Emission Trading and Entitlements: organised by CSE and co-sponsored by German NGO FORUM, Stadthalle, Bonn, Germany.
- 1997- Multilateral Environmental Agreements and the World Trade Organisation at the Symposium on Trade, Environment and Sustainable Development, Organised by the World Trade Organisation, Switzerland. Environmental Security, plenary talk at the Open Meeting of the Human Dimensions of Global Environmental Change Research Community, IIASA, Austria. How to build bridges between trade, environment and development to improve the effectiveness of global environmental policies at the Implementation of Multilateral Environmental Agreements: Ways and Means’s workshop organised by Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment, The Netherlands. Sustainable development from the perspective of the South at the ‘Way out of the Growth Trap” Congress organised by the Heinrich-Boll-Stiftung, Germany. Government’s Agenda or Ours? The NGO Agenda in the forthcoming period at the workshop, Beyond Rio, organised by World Economy, Ecology and Development, Germany.
- 1996: Public Debate with Andrew Steer, Director, Environment Department, World Bank, on Global Environmental Concerns – At whose expense? at the Head to Head Debate organised by the Oxford Centre for the Environment, Ethics and Society, Oxford, UK. Publishing Environmental News: How do you support sustainable development, at the Workshop on Reporting for Sustainable Development in the Asia Pacific organised by UNEP, Beijing, China.
- 1995: Public Debate with Wolfgang Sachs, Chairperson, Greenpeace, Germany on “Towards Global Governance”, at the First Conference of Parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change, Berlin, Germany.
- 1993: Public Debate with Hans Alders, Dutch Environment Minister organised by the Evert Vermeer Foundation of the Dutch Labour Party, The Hague, the Netherlands.
- The sentence “UPL was owned by the “brother of underworld don Dawood Ibrahim,” was published in the report of a magazine in 1995, which was written by Sunita Narain in her report against Mumbai-based agrochemical company UPL (United Phosphorus Limited). The Bombay High Court filed a defamation suit against Sunita Narain on 15 March 2015 and asked her to remove this allegedly defamatory sentence. First Post
- In 2020, Sunita Narain commented on the controversial draft ‘Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).’ Her views on this draft affected the diversification of the Mollem and the Jolly Grant airports projects in India. She said,
This is the final nail in a coffin. But you already have a coffin made out of the corruption of environmental clearance procedures. The scrutiny of projects is being done today by faceless committees who take no responsibility for their decisions. For instance, the Navi Mumbai airport proposal went through years of convoluted decision-making. Environmentalists opposed it, but the government finally cleared it with conditions. Once the airport is built, is there any way to check whether those conditions have been complied with? No, because there is no monitoring. The EIA notification has already been killed by successive governments, not just the current one. We should be demanding a better process of environmental clearance instead of clinging to the draft.” The Hindu
- On 28 March 2017, in an interview, Sunita Narain criticized Yogi Adityanath’s shutting of the meat markets in Uttar Pradesh as ‘militant vegetarianism’ and pointed it as the step followed by Yogi Adityanath after the Indian Central government’s demonetisation policy and regarded it as “cruel demonetization.” She further stated that she did not recommend vegetarianism to the Indians as the meat was an important source of protein for a large number of people in India. She said,
I would not advocate vegetarianism for the following reasons. One, India is a secular nation and the culture of eating food differs between communities, regions, and religions. This idea of India is non-negotiable for me as it reflects our richness and our reality. Two, meat is an important source of protein for a large number of people, hence critical for their nutritional security. Thirdly, and this is what distinguishes my Indian position from the global: meat-eating is not the key issue, it is the amount that is consumed and the manner in which it is produced.”
She further added that many farmers depend on livestock rearing and agriculture in India, and it was the economic security of millions in the country. She said,
I, as an Indian environmentalist, would not support action against meat is that livestock is the most important economic security of farmers in our world. Indian farmers practice agro-silvo-pastoralism, that is, they use the land for crops and trees as well as for livestock. This is their real insurance system, not the banks. Livestock is also not kept by large meat businesses but by big, small, marginal and landless farmers. It works because the animals have a productive purpose: first, they give milk and manure and then, meat and leather. Take that away and you will take away the base of economic security of millions in the country, greatly impoverishing them.” DNA India
Awards, Honours, Achievements
- 2002- Dr B.C. Deb Memorial Award for the popularisation of science by the Indian Science Congress Association, Calcutta.
- 2003- Dadabhai Naoroji Millennium Award by Dadabhai Naoroji International Society, New Delhi.
- 2003- Rotary Eco Foundation Award – outstanding work done in the field of rainwater harvesting in Delhi and surrounding areas.
- 2004- She received the Chameli Devi Jain Award for Outstanding Women Media person.
- 2005- She was awarded the Padma Shri by the Government of India.
- 2005- The Centre for Science and Environment under her leadership was awarded the Stockholm Water Prize.
- 2006- Bharat Shiromani award by Shiromani Institute.
- 2008- Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation water award.
- 2008- Dr Jean Mayer Global Citizenship Award, Tufts University, Massachusetts.
- 2008- Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation water award.
- 2009- She was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science by the University of Calcutta.
- 2009- She was conferred with the Raja-Lakshmi Award from Sri Raja-Lakshmi Foundation, Chennai.
- 2011- The Citizen of the Decade Award 2011′ from the Rotary International District 3201, Kerala.
- 2011- The M R Pai Memorial Award instituted by All-India Bank Depositors’ Association (Mumbai).
- 2012- Kirloskar Vasundhara Sanman by Kirloskar Vasundhara International Film Festival, Pune.
- 2012- Doctor of Laws (Honorary), University of Alberta, Canada.
- 2014- Energy and Environment Foundation Global Excellence Award in Renewable Energy by Energy and Environment Foundation Delhi.
- 2015- Centre for Science and Environment got the Public Institution of the year award by Business Standard
- 2016- Narain was named to Time Magazine’s list of 100 Most Influential People.
- 2016- Narain received the IAMCR Climate Change Communication Research in Action Award.
- 2017- Sri Chukkapalli Pitchaiah Foundation Award for 2017 instituted by the Sri Chukkapalli Pitchaiah Foundation, Vijayawada, Andra Pradesh.
- 2020- She won Edinburgh Medal.
- Reportedly, Sunita Narain attended her first environmental workshop in 1979, when she was in class 12. The Gandhi Peace Foundation in Delhi, India organized this workshop.
- In 2006, in an interview, Sunita Narain said that when she was studying at Delhi University, she was allured towards environmental and climatic issues in India; however, the environment was not taught as a subject to her. She said,
The environment was not taught as a subject in any college in India at that time. In the 1980s, I happened to meet Kartikeya Sarabhai, son of renowned scientist Vikram Sarabhai and director of [the] Vikram Sarabhai Institute for Development and Research, Ahmedabad, who offered me a position as a research assistant in the institute and there was no looking back. This was followed by a short stint at the Natural History Society, Mumbai, doing audio-visuals on environmental issues.”
She further revealed that the Chipko movement influenced her to consider climatic and environmental issues in India as her specific working areas. She said,
During the late 1970s when the Chipko Movement started in the Himalayas where women were protesting to save forests, I realized that environment conservation was my calling.”
- Reportedly, Sunita became a part of the Chipko movement (a forest conservation movement in India, which began in 1973 in Uttarakhand, India) immediately after completing her school studies, and she opted for correspondence graduation. Meanwhile, she started working with the’ Vikram Sarabhai Centre for Development Interaction’ in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, set up by Kartikeya Sarabhai, one of the world’s leading environmental educators.
- Sunita’s analysis on urban water supply and pollution in India was listed at seventh ‘State of India’s Environment Reports’ in 2012. The title of the analysis was ‘Excreta Matters.’
- Reportedly, both nationally and internationally, Sunita is an active participant in civil society movements. A number of public campaigns and research projects are supervised by the Centre for Science and Environment, India under the leadership of Sunita Narain.
- Sunita met with a serious accident that happened near the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi, on 20 October 2013. Her bicycle was hit by a speeding car when she was cycling to Lodhi Gardens from her house in Green Park. She suffered orthopaedic injuries and facial wounds.
- Sunita Narain said that the Supreme Court of India gave orders to restraint diesel vehicles that were older than 10 years. Through a video, on December 15, 2015, Sunita explained the court order to stop the registration of diesel cars with engines larger than 2000 cc.
- Sunita Narain is an eminent author and often discusses her books, and their impact on social and environmental changes in India. Her book titled ‘Why I Should Be Tolerant’ was discussed by her through a video in 2016, and in the book, she explained the blunders people were committing while exploiting the natural resources and were creating a climatic crisis in India.
- Sunita Narain discussed the global warming issue with Leonardo Dicaprio on 5 December 2016, while promoting her self made documentary with Leonardo Dicaprio on environmental and climatic global warming issues globally.
- In 2017, Sunita Narain praised the Indian women who use their housekeeping skills to save water usage at home. She further requested the women of India that they should use little water at home to reduce future water crises in India.
- In 2017, at the Jaipur Literature festival, Sunita Narain delivered a speech while highlighting the deglobalization during climate change. She further said that focusing on the new pathways for sustainable development in India was the key method to reduce globalization issues.
- On World Environment Day, on 4 June 2019, Sunita Narain answered the questions to the interviewer related to air pollution in Delhi, India.
- Sunita was the chairman of the WHO-UNICEF-Lancet Commission in the year 2020. The project she was heading was titled “A future for the world’s children?”
- Various Indian magazines and tabloids have often seen featuring Sunita Narain and her journey on environmental degradation and exigencies of climate change on their cover pages.
- On 29 May 2020, on the Locust attack in India, Sunita Narain gave an exclusive interview and suggestions to the Indian farmers and government through an Indian news channel. She discussed its connection to climate change in India.
- On March 22, 2020, on World Water Day, Sunita Narain spoke through a video on water conservation at the times of COVID-19. She said that the cautious usage of water was a must amid novel coronavirus.
- On 2 May 2020, Sunita Narain explained ‘The World After Coronavirus,’ and she discussed the challenges and opportunities we would face post-coronavirus.
- According to Sunita Narain, she preferred to be at home in her free time with her mother and sisters. In an interview, She stated that she liked to spend her evening with her family members, and she might have regrets about not having her own family; however, she did not have the time to think about it. She revealed,
When I am not fanatical about bringing about change, I prefer to be home with my mother and sister in the evenings. Two of my sisters are married, and someday I might have regrets of not having a family of my own, but right now I don’t have the time to think of it.”
- Sunita Narain often speaks at public meetings and gatherings on various environmental and climatic issues in India. She is regarded as a prominent public speaker in India.