Anil Kumar Agarwal was the founder-director of the Centre for Science and Environment, India’s leading environmental NGO. Agarwal spent his lifetime advocating policies that involve the people in natural resource management and learn from India’s own traditions.
Agarwal, graduated as an engineer from one of India’s leading engineering colleges in 1970, but gave up a promising technical career to become a science journalist in order to explore the country’s scientific and technological needs of its poor people.
He joined Delhi’s leading daily, Hindustan Times, as a science correspondent in 1973 and soon discovered India’s most evocative environmental movement known as the Chipko Movement in 1974. This was the first report of a people’s movement in India or probably anywhere else in the developing world to protect the environment.
In 1980, he founded the Centre for Science and Environment, one of India’s first environmental NGOs to analyse and study the relationship between environment and development and create public consciousness about the need for sustainable development. In 1982, the Centre published a pioneering Citizens’ report on the State of India’s Environment which provided an overview of the level of degradation and its impact on the people of India.
Agarwal has more than 20 books to his credit. In 1985, Agarwal co-edited the second citizens’ report on the State of India’s Environment. The arguments contained in the two citizens’ reports on the State of India’s Environment, conceptualised and co-edited by him, attracted the attention of the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi who asked Agarwal to address his Council of Ministers, a rare invitation for an Indian writer. The government of India presented Agarwal with its prestigious Padma Shri award.
During this period, Agarwal also chaired the world’s largest network of environmental NGOs based in Nairobi, the Environment Liaison Centre. In 1987, the United Nations Environment Programme elected Agarwal to its Global 500 Honour Roll for his work both in the national and international arena.
Agarwal has spent considerable time travelling to various parts of rural India to document community-based environmental regeneration efforts in villages. Agarwal’s reports have helped Indian decision-makers to understand the importance of involving people in environmental conservation and natural resource management. His work resulted in a study called Towards Green Villages: A macro-strategy for participatory and environmentally-sound rural development in 1989. The study, based on years of learning from the documentation of micro-experiences, presented a macro-strategy for environmentally-sound rural development.
In 1990, Agarwal co-authored a paper called Global Warming in an Unequal World which led to a global debate and had a considerable impact on the G-77 position in the negotiations leading up to the Framework Convention on Climate Change. It was the first time that the issue of equity had been raised in the context of global warming.
In 1992, Agarwal started Down to Earth, a fortnightly newsmagazine on environment which brings news to challenge its readers to think about sustainable development. It inspires and encourages its readers to become more environment-friendly.
Agarwal documented India’s traditional knowledge in rainwater harvesting technology and management. The book called Dying Wisdom: The Rise, Fall and Potential of Traditional Water Harvesting Systems, was published in 1997, and it has been widely read and reviewed in the country.
Agarwal has spent a lifetime advocating policies that involve the people in natural resource management and learn from India’s own traditions. He also had a deep interest in the management of pollution, especially air pollution, and the threat that environmental change poses to public health. At the international level, he has argued for equitable arrangements in dealing with the global warming problem.
Agarwal’s biggest contribution has been the development of one of India’s most influential and highly vocal environmental NGOs, the Centre for Science and Environment, which does its home work, respects people, respects science, and which promotes rational approaches to environmental management based on science and social justice.