Skip to main

Below is a blog post from one of our 2023 Human Rights Summer Research Grant awardees, Durga Sreenivasan, who spent the summer in India, researching the case for climate reparations for India's most underprivileged communities.
To learn more about the Human Rights Summer Research Grant, click here.


This summer, I researched climate reparations, private sector finance of the sustainable development goals, & equitable sustainable development for India's marginalized communities. Thanks to the Robertson Scholarship Program, the Dean’s Summer Research Fellowship, and the Human Rights Summer Research Grant, I got to deepen my understanding of the impact of colonialism on marginalized communities, and the linkages between these historical/anthropological issues with the action-oriented Sustainable Development Goals. My work this summer was centered around the importance of pursuing social equity in sustainable development in a hands-on way.

What started as a podcast about colonial reparations with friends for my Colonialism and Postcolonialism class became a physical exploration of climate reparations in a nation whose colonial roots run deep. My classmates and I discovered that the idea of Colonial Reparations was not a structured movement or fight yet. It was simply something that had garnered public attention because it was promoted by an Indian politician at an intellectual debate. Later, this Indian politician stated that a simple acknowledgment of one euro or pound a year as a symbolic gesture from Britain to India would be enough for reparations. Would a low-caste person in India whose family still suffers because of Britain’s further entrenchment of the caste system agree with this? I think not. It is strange that the folks spearheading these conversations do not see the worthiness of their cause, and would prefer symbolic action by colonial powers. 

In our research about colonial reparations, we came across climate reparations at the micro-scale: Duke’s town, Durham, is implementing reparations for its black citizens through green infrastructure. Unlike Durham reparations, global climate reparations have yet to be actualized. Every member nation that attended the United Nations COP27, including the US, has agreed on a Loss and Damages fund. Extrapolating this from UN speak, this means that the 200 member nations of the United Nations agreed to fund climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies in the countries hit hardest by the climate crisis. This fund will be essential to build a path forward for the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), allowing countries with the lowest capacities in the human development index to develop capacity in a way that would not worsen the climate crisis. Most of the countries in the developed world, or Global North, are colonial powers. Thus, the loss and damage fund can be viewed as both climate-focused and colonial-focused reparations. The funding of the loss and damage fund, furthermore, must deliberately benefit those who are most marginalized if we hope to target the SDGs No Poverty and Reduced Inequality in the process. 

I would like to again thank the numerous grants that funded my journey. Being in India, I got to experience the realities on the ground – I got to work on a sustainable development project, which was a case study of how the private sector can fund the Sustainable Development Goals. Teaching environmental science in a Global South country would have been impossible sitting in America. The reality is that America is the one that is one of the biggest emitters and polluters – which gives us the opportunity to be a leader in the global arena if we step up to our UN Loss & Damages funding commitments. Duke, specifically, is an American school with a colonial background that now claims to be incredibly climate-focused, and my research has helped me feel connected to my campus community and our school's mission. 

This study helped me understand climate reparations while learning about how former colonial powers and developing countries can collaborate towards our named common goal: achieving the sustainable development goals for the prosperity of our planet.