20 July 2009
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


The head of the United Nations panel of climate-change experts today said he was encouraged by climate pledges at the recently concluded G-8 summit but was also concerned that “we have very little time” to reach even those general commitments, which still fell short of what was required by science.

“The certainty with which we can make projections is getting higher and we think its time for the global community to take action,” said Rajendra Pachauri, Chairman of the Nobel-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) during a Headquarters press conference.  “We can’t put stability and peace at risk by ignoring the impact of climate change,” he warned. 

Just back from a meeting in Venice where the panel had begun outlining key developments and proposals for its Fifth Assessment Report, to be released in 2014, Mr. Pachauri called for unprecedented global cooperation to come up with the right policy mix to comprehensively tackle the “progressively serious” impacts of climate change.

He said the outcome of the G-8 talks in L’Aquila, Italy, featuring the world’s largest emitters, had been “mixed […] a bit of a dichotomy”.  On one hand, the leaders had agreed to a so-called “aspirational” goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent up to 2050, and to seeing that temperature increase did not exceed 2º C.  “But on the other hand, they haven’t taken into account the IPCC's formula that if we want to limit the increase to 2º, we have to ensure that emissions peak no later than 2015,” he said.

“They pledged deep cuts [in emissions], but they were not specific about what those cuts will be,” he continued, stressing that he saw “glaring gaps” that needed to be filled between such pronouncements and policy action in the immediate term, and to limit temperature rise by the end of the century, to stabilise atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases at or near current levels.

Responding to questions, he said the clean technologies required to achieve that were already developed or on the verge of commercialisation.  Also needed was a mix of policies that would spark that kind of development.  To that end, the media could be important in raising public awareness about the science of climate change, which in turn could spur politicians to adopt the right mix of policies.  As things stood, all countries, rich and poor, would have to adopt measures to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change.  “We must look at the effects on sustainable development -- that should be the ultimate goal,” he said

For instance, at L’Aquila, G-8 leaders had committed to bolstering agricultural sectors in developing countries, he said.  However, it remained to be seen what would actually be delivered to address well known deficiencies in that sector that was so critical to development, but also powerfully impacted by global warming and weather anomalies.  It was clear that as temperatures continued to rise, small-scale farmers were going to be the worst hit.

Meeting their needs required not just money for immediate relief, but also research and development for new crops and agricultural procedures, as well as a range of other things that became much more crucial when viewed thorough the prism of climate change, he said, adding that investments in infrastructure and public transportation would also be critical.

Asked about persistent differences between the United States and China and other large developing countries over emissions targets, Mr. Pachauri said he was hopeful that those could be ironed out in an accord to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, at the upcoming United Nations climate change conference, set to take place in December in Copenhagen.

He said he had been encouraged by United States President Barrack Obama’s engagement and commitment.  Also encouraging had been the swift approval of the American Clean Energy and Security Act by the United States House of Representatives last month.  However, that climate plan was now headed for the Senate, where a similar outcome was far from certain.  So while Mr. Obama’s Administration was “doing its best”, the question of whether that was good enough hinged on the way legislation was passed in that country.

“I remain cautiously optimistic,” he said, telling one reporter that talk of a political stalemate only made him more determined.  If nations did not reach “a good agreement” in Copenhagen, then clearly, the humanitarian and economic costs would be great, especially for the world’s poorest countries and peoples.  He said, however, “Signs might not look all that bright, but I’m confident that in the end, things will come together […] at least I hope so”.

He went on to say that the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report, which was being shaped by some 200 renowned scientists and climate experts, would examine the effectiveness of past policies and actions, and plot the way forward.  The full Report would be released in 2014, but a special examination of the impact of extreme weather events would be issued in 2011.  The Report would be heavy on regional details and examine integrated approaches to climate adaptation and mitigation, irrespective of the outcome of the Copenhagen meeting.

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For information media • not an official record