Interview with Rajendra Pachauri, Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

Rajendra Pachauri, Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

10 September 2009 – Since 2002, Rajendra Pachauri has been the Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a body bringing together thousands of scientists from around the world. It was set up in 1988 by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) with the aim of providing governments with a clear scientific view of what is happening to the world’s climate. In 2007, the IPCC issued its fourth assessment report, which found that the world is unequivocally warming due to human activities. That year the organization, along with former United States Vice-President Al Gore, was also awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its work in raising awareness about man-made climate change.

UN News Centre: You started your career as a mechanical engineer in India. How did you become involved in climate change issues?

Rajendra Pachauri: It’s an interesting transition. I was always interested in energy-related subjects and then I worked as an energy economist for a while looking at demand-side issues related to the energy sector and, in the course of that, I got very interested in the environmental impacts of energy production and use. And then I got into the issue of climate change well over 20 years ago since I realized that climate change is something that is going to have the potential to play havoc into everything that we’veThe Kyoto Protocol is being observed in its breach rather than adherence to the limits that were set. become accustomed to.

UN News Centre: What was the common perception of climate change when you first embarked on your work on climate change two decades ago? How have you seen the sense of urgency regarding the issue heighten?

Rajendra Pachauri: I think there’s been an enormous amount of movement in this field because in 1988, when the IPCC was established and when I became deeply interested in studying climate change, there wasn’t compelling evidence and we were essentially going along with what science told us. But now we have observations, we have a whole lot of data based on actions which, quite apart from the scientific assessment, we also know on the basis of observations – on the basis of what we see all around us and based on recorded measurements – that climate change is a reality. What’s also very significant is the fact that the bulk of what has happened in the last 50 years in terms of climate change is the result of human actions, so I think the level of knowledge of this field has moved so rapidly that we really have no reason for scientific doubt on human actions and their impact on the climate.

UN News Centre: After the fourth IPCC assessment report was issued in 2007, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that “the science is clear: man-induced climate change is a proven reality.” That study also found that if the world continues on its present course, greenhouse gas emissions will rise by 25 to 90 per cent by 2030, compared to 2000. Do you think that governments understand the necessity of taking immediate action?

Rajendra Pachauri: Well, increasingly, but unfortunately, there are vested interests and there is inertia in the thinking on the part of people. All of that, I’m afraid, is slowing down the process by which we might arrive at an agreement at the global level. So it’s just unfortunate that while leadership in most countries realizes what needs to be done, they are hiding behind very short-term and narrow so-called national interests that I think are coming into play.

Climate change is caused by climatic variations and human actions

UN News Centre: The leaders of the so-called Group of 20 (G20) industrialized nations and others met in July in Italy, where they agreed to a long-term goal of reducing emissions by 2050 and said that the global average temperature should not increase by more than 2 degrees centigrade. What should the heads of these nations have concluded at their gathering?

Rajendra Pachauri: The fact is that it was a positive development that they are setting 2 degrees as their goal for stabilization of the Earth’s climate. But then someone should have told them that in order to attain that limit, they have to ensure, as the IPCC has said, that global emissions peak by 2015. They completely lost sight of that, if they knew it at all. What would have been expected is that in keeping with the 2-degree target, that they would reduce their emissions substantially by 2020 because in the absence of that, the 2-degree target just seems hollow. I think that’s been a major shortcoming.

UN News Centre: In 2007, nations agreed at a UN climate change conference in Bali, Indonesia, on a two-year “Roadmap” of formal negotiations on strengthening efforts to fight, mitigate and adapt to global warming. Those talks are expected to wrap up this December in Copenhagen, with a new agreement set to go into effect after the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, which seeks to stabilize atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, ends in 2012. What is the best possible outcome of the upcoming conference in the Danish capital?

Rajendra Pachauri: I think we need a series of decisions, and one would be purely to limit greenhouse gas emissions. In Bali, what was being discussed was a cut of 25 to 40 per cent by developed countries. That was dropped more or less at the last minute, and I think we need to back to that level of reduction by 2020. We also need to see a commitment to provide adequate financial support to the developing countries for both mitigation and adaptation. Certainly some inclusion of access to technology would be necessary.

UN News Centre: Some wealthier nations are reluctant to slash their greenhouse gas emissions while poorer ones require resources and technology to combat climate change. How would you convince both developed and developing countries that cutting emissions is in everybody’s best interest?

Rajendra Pachauri: The only way developing nations would be convinced is if developed nations took the right steps. Unfortunately, the developed world has really not done anything. The Kyoto Protocol is being observed in its breach rather than adherence to the limits that were set. I think there is a loss of credibility on the part of the developed countries. I think what we really need to do is to take some firm commitments and see that they are prepared to meet the challenges since historically, the problem is the result of emissions from the developed world, cumulatively.

UN News Centre: How important is the upcoming Copenhagen conference? How would you characterize the weight of the decisions agreed upon at the meeting?

Rajendra Pachauri: What one needs to highlight is the fact that if we don’t get an agreement and the world continues to increase its emissions of greenhouse gases, climate change will take place and there will be some very severe impacts that will be felt in several parts of the world. That it clearly isn’t in the interest of anybody, irrespective of where you live. The other point that one needs to make is that this agreement will ensure that globally, we work in a cooperative spirit and bring about a very sharp reduction and deep cuts as the Bali Roadmap clearly specifies by which we would be able to stabilize the Earth’s climate. Therefore, Copenhagen is an event for which the global community has been working towards and is an extremely important step in ensuring that everybody gets involved in solving this problem.

UN News Centre: As one of the faces of the global fight against climate change, what do you do in your personal life to lessen your carbon footprint? What can individuals do to take actions against climate change?

Rajendra Pachauri: I really have one area where unfortunately I am guilty of a pretty large carbon footprint, and that is in terms of travel. That is something that unfortunately I can’t do anything about because I have to spread the message: I have to go all over the world and I have to convince people that this is a serious problem that we have to address. But in terms of my personal lifestyle, I’m very careful about not being consumptive in my habits. I’m not a consumerist, just buying stuff and throwing away stuff. I don’t do that. I’m careful about use of transport in my daily life. I make sure that I keep the air conditioner at a fairly high level, setting the thermostat at a high level so that I feel some degree of discomfort. Most importantly, I’ve become a vegetarian over the years because the meat cycle is extremely intensive. I make sure that when I move from one room to the other I switch off the lights, don’t leave them on unless I need them. I try to do what little I can.

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