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Relevance of equity in global environmental conversations

By Bharati Chaturvedi – Something telling happened in the United States a few days ago. The Department of Justice set up a new Office of Environmental Justice, or EJ. It’s a landmark acknowledgement that indigenous people, people of colour and the poor are most harmed by toxicity, pollution, climate change and other environmental catastrophes.

Moreover, it’s a win for the many campaigns and individuals who have tenaciously fought for EJ. Who doesn’t remember Hurricane Katrina or Erin Brockovich?

What do these shifting sands mean for India? As I see it, putting people at the centre of environmental discourse is going to become the new global normal. India has often pointed out the importance of equity during global environmental conversations, a hard reality which steers our decisions. Running this office impactfully will push the US to appreciate the challenges and high costs of addressing environmental injustice and ushering in equity. Point is, whose equity, whose people? Countries should not be insular in their approach, protecting those who live within their territories while abandoning others.

EJ doesn’t mean much if it’s abandoned in global conversations. The US can act in this spirit on some items of the Fourth Annual US-India 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue this April. Reliable and affordable energy, mentioned in the document, is a case of point, as India enters the era of intense heat waves. The US can take several steps that sync with environmental justice. Perhaps make new technology available or underwrite costs of recycling solar waste. The possibilities are endless once the idea of equity is jointly owned.

(The writer is founder and director of Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group)

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