On Conservation and Climate – Part 1

On September 23, the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit was held in New York City to bring about action to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. Three days before the Summit, on September 20, about 4 million people participated in climate strikes worldwide to advocate for increased climate action [1]. The strikes continued till September 27, happening in 4,500 locations across 150 countries [2].

Protesters hold a sign reading Global Climate Strike.
Canberra Climate Strike 20th September. (Photo by Stephen Smith, Creative Commons)

In India, there were 26 events across the country, with more than 14,000 people signing up [3]. The results of the Summit were mostly positive as important commitments were made in many areas. Still, there is much work to be done, especially from the major economies. India did not pledge to reduce its use of coal, while the U.S. did not even speak at the conference.

The conversation on climate change and climate action is complicated. India is forecast to become the fifth largest economy in the world by the end of 2019 [4]. It is the fastest growing trillion-dollar economy, with a strong emphasis on manufacturing and services. India also has the second highest population in the world after China. Its GDP per capita is therefore much lower, only $1,982 [5]. Is it fair for developed countries (who have historically caused the most greenhouse gas emissions) to ask developing countries to cut down their emissions? Even so, how do developing countries commit to climate action without compromising their own development?

This brings us to development and conservation.

These two terms are often assumed to be in conflict with one another, as development, especially economic development, often relates to the process of modernization or industrialization. To achieve a sustainable future, however, we need both thriving human communities and healthy natural ecosystems. It is important to realize that economic and environmental goals are not mutually exclusive, that we can and need both to survive and thrive. It is through this understanding that we have seen a rise in conservation and sustainable development.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals were developed in 2015 with targets to be met in 2030. Out of the 17 goals, three directly relate to the status of our natural environment: Climate Action, Life Below Water, and Life on Land. These are not isolated challenges; each of the UN Sustainable Development Goals build on one another. About 35% of India’s population lives within 100 km of the coastline, making them especially vulnerable to sea level rise from climate change. India also accounts for 7-8% of the recorded species of the world, with only 2.4% of the world’s land area, making it critical to conserve natural habitats and protect India’s biodiversity [6].

Colorful diagram of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals.
List of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. (Source: www.un.org).


To meet these targets set by the UN Sustainable Development Goals, there has been a rise in Clean Development Mechanism projects in India, along with the development of State Action Plans on Climate Change, a National Clean Energy Fund, and the National Adaptation Fund for Climate Change [7]. Additionally, India has made progress to the specific goal Life Below Water, as recorded in their 2017 Voluntary National Review Report on Implementation of Sustainable Development Goals [8].

Environmental conservation in India has been around since the 20th century. The most well known legislation is the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972, providing for the protection of wild animals, birds, and plants (amended later multiple times) [9]. There is also the Forest (Conservation) Act of 1980, with amendments made in 1988, the 1986 Environmental Protection Act (EPA) [10], and the Biological Diversity Act, 2002, made to meet the obligations under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) [11].

As I am placed as an AIF Clinton Fellow with the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust (MCBT) this year, I hope to delve deep into the conversation on conservation, climate action, and sustainable development in India. How effective is environmental regulation and policy? What do people think of conservation? What about climate change? What are the most effective steps to climate action in India? How do local environmental organizations fit into all of this? Where is sustainable development headed in the future?

I hope to explore all of these questions and more while I am here in India. Additionally, I will be writing about my personal experiences in conservation– stay tuned for Part 2!


1. Barclay, Eliza, and Brian Resnick. “How Big Was the Global Climate Strike? 4 Million People, Activists Estimate.” Vox, 22 Sept. 2019. Available at: https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2019/9/20/20876143/climate-strike-2019-september-20-crowd-estimate.

2. Tollefson, Jeff. “The Hard Truths of Climate Change – By the Numbers.” Nature, 19 Sept. 2019 (vol. 573, iss. 7774): 324-27. Available at: https://www.nature.com/nature/volumes/573/issues/7774.

3. Deshmane, Akshay. “Climate Strike: Governments Need To Act, Next Generation At Risk, Says Climate Change Campaigner.” HuffPost India, 20 Sept. 2019. Available at: https://www.huffingtonpost.in/entry/global-climate-strike-india-greta-thunberg-news_in_5d849f2ce4b0849d47275572.

4. “India to Become 5th Largest Economy Globally This Year; 2nd in APAC Region by 2025.” The Economic Times, 3 June 2019. Available at: //economictimes.indiatimes.com/articleshow/69638064.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst

5. Silver, Caleb. “Top 20 Economies in the World.” Investopedia, 7 June 2019. Available at: https://www.investopedia.com/insights/worlds-top-economies.

6. “Sustainable Development Goals.” United Nations in India, 2019. Available at: https://in.one.un.org/page/sustainable-development-goals.

7. Singh, Yogesh. “Sustainable Development and India.” Jagran Josh, 22 Aug. 2017. Available at: https://www.jagranjosh.com/current-affairs/sustainable-development-and-india-1503408725-1.

8. Government of India. “Voluntary National Review Report on the Implementation of Sustainable Development Goals. ” United Nations High Level Political Forum, 2017. Available at: http://niti.gov.in/writereaddata/files/Final_VNR_report.pdf.

9. Government of India. The Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. Available at: envfor.nic.in.

10. Government of India. The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. Available at: envfor.nic.in.

11. Government of India. Biological Diversity Act, 2002. National Biodiversity Authority, Chennai. Available at: http://nbaindia.org.

Naomi is serving as an American India Foundation (AIF) Clinton Fellow with the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust (Croc Bank) in Mamallapuram, Tamil Nadu. For her Fellowship project, she is designing educational material and activities for youth and adults to learn about India’s ecosystem and to promote the conservation of endangered species in their natural habitats. Born in Taipei, Taiwan, and raised in Portland, Oregon, Naomi recently graduated with a degree in organismal biology and ecology. While at Colorado College, Naomi worked for the Office of Sustainability, overseeing various green certification programs and serving on the Campus Sustainability Council. She also worked as a lab technician in the GIS (Geographic Information Systems) Lab and as a resident advisor. She completed over 300 service hours through the Community Engaged Scholars program, was a backcountry trip leader for the Outdoor Recreation Committee, and a member of Kappa Alpha Theta. Most recently, Naomi worked as a kayak instructor at Trackers Earth, an outdoor education camp in Portland. Naomi is excited to join the AIF Clinton Fellowship and to immerse herself in the local community and culture through service.

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