Every time she gets on a plane, Deepa Gupta wrestles with an inner guilt. "It's hard. The choice is between checking my carbon footprint and deciding not to fly and come home to my parents," says Deepa over phone from Sydney, where she is visiting her parents for two weeks.
But the 21-year-old has made such tough choices before. Like when she told her parents—who wanted their daughter to study finance and "make lots of money"—that she wanted to go to India to work on developmental issues.
So in 2007, when her friends came back from the UN climate meet at Bali and spoke of Kartikeya Singh and how he was the only Indian face there, Deepa wanted to know more. By early 2008, the two had got down to forming the first Indian Youth Climate Network.
Finally, Deepa took a semester break from the University of Sydney, where she is studying for her BCom, to go India. She will have to hop between the two countries till she graduates and then hopes to settle down in India by 2010-end. Her parents had emigrated to Australia in 1987 and Deepa, who has "roots all over the place"—from Orissa to Rajasthan to Gujarat—knew of India as the "special place" she came to for her vacations.
The climate meet at Poznan was her big moment, where she, Kartikeya and six others from IYCN took part, along with 500 young people from around the world. As she stood for a press conference, looking at the camera lights that flashed in her eyes and the microphones that hovered over her head, the petite girl realised this was special—not just for her and India but for all the poor nations that get the short end of the climate stick. And then she spoke of the right to survival, of people in the Sunderbans who drink saline water, of her bhaiya in Rajasthan whose tap has suddenly gone bone-dry, of her father's family in Orissa that had to wade through neck-deep water as they stepped on carcasses and corpses during the 1999 cyclone and how, poor nations will see a lot more of this—for no fault of theirs.
Deepa and her team also got UN negotiators from over 80 countries to sign on a survival pledge that calls for a commitment "to a global climate treaty that safeguards the survival of all countries and peoples". But the Indian delegate didn't sign, saying he wasn't authorised to do so! "These are challenges we face. We have no delusions of changing things overnight but we've got to start somewhere," she says. Watch out for her at the UN Copenhagen climate meet in December 2009.

... contd.

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