exclusive interview. NOBEL PEACE PRIZE WINNER RAJENDRA PACHAURI
We congratulate Dr. Pachauri on the Nobel Prize and ask for his reaction to the criticism that however important the work on climate change may be, it is not peace work per se.
Rajendra Pachauri: There is a broad consensus that climate change may lead to increased conflicts about access to drinking water. In countries with a rain-fed agriculture there will probably be massive movements of people. To put it briefly: in many places in the world, there is a very close link between stability and security on the one hand and climate on the other, and today there are no more purely local conflicts. That is how I understand the message of the Nobel committee: if we do not take climate change seriously today, we run the risk of ending up in a world full of conflicts tomorrow.
Climate sceptics like Björn Lomborg and Vaclav Klaus claim that the scientific consensus about climate change is a form of totalitarian thinking.
Pachauri: That is hilarious. I do not know any system that is more transparent than the IPCC. And none of the authors of the IPCC reports are selected on the basis of their political beliefs. Fortunately the number of “climate sceptics” has gone down substantially. Perhaps that is why they have become shriller. Because scientific evidence is now really becoming so widespread, people are better informed and do not listen to those critics anymore.
The working procedure of the IPCC prescribes that scientific knowledge can only be published after negotiations with the member states’ governments. This probably means that a number of things that you know will not even get published. Don’t you feel frustrated about that?
Pachauri: I am actually very positive about the working practices of the IPCC. The panel brings together the best scientists and experts from all over the world and at the same time it engages governments. We base ourselves on peer reviewed scientific literature – the IPCC does not carry out any research itself. At every stage of the drafting process our researchers review and assess this literature and in the end we actually present that work to governments. We have to take into account their comments or at least record the reasons why we disregard some of their remarks. For every comment we maintain a record of what was done with it. So that is a very transparent procedure. The real negotiations only come in at the very end of the process, when the report is ready and the summary for policy makers is presented. At that point governments tend to question the authors about every single word.
Can you give an example of a fact or an opinion that was cut in this process?
Pachauri: I cannot really give you any specific example. But suppose there would be a statement like ‘the impacts of climate change on changes of precipitation in this or that part of the world could be dangerous’. Well, I can assure you that there would be a question whether the use of the word “dangerous” is actually justified and what it really means. In that sense the negotiation process with governments is often enlightening. Sometimes a position may be scientifically totally valid but it may not be formulated properly to convey the right message to policy makers. In order to fully achieve their goals, the findings of the IPCC must be accepted by governments. After all, that is what makes these reports so meaningful.
The main message of the presentation of the UN environmental report in Brussels on 25 October 2007 was that politicians evade their responsibilities towards their societies and future generations.
Pachauri: I really would not blame politicians as a tribe. In the end they do what the public asks them to do. That is one of the reasons why I have been pushing for more communication efforts within the IPCC for years: people should know what we know. If people feel that their future is going to be jeopardized by the climate change, the public will ask more clearly for actions to eliminate or minimize those risks. Citizens should tell their politicians that they are not going to accept the current status quo. That is exactly what is happening today.
You believe that scientists have to awaken the public. But what if the public does not respond (sufficiently)?
Pachauri: Scientist are no gods. We should not get arrogant or think that we have to control the destiny of humankind. Our job is to come up with solid scientific findings as well as to make sure that this knowledge is communicated – to me both activities are equally important. Communicating our findings is not a one-shot affair, it should be a continuous effort. If we do this properly, then society has to decide about the conclusions. No scientist is superior to the wisdom of hundreds of millions of people who have to think about their future together.
Is the business world assuming its full responsibility as to climate? Or do governments have to force companies?
Pachauri: At the moment businesses are certainly not yet doing enough. The only reason that will urge companies to change their attitude, is profit. As soon as companies understand that the markets of the future will require low-carbon technologies anyway, they will provide low-carbon products. Governments should lay down the necessary legislation or regulations, but companies also have to read the writing on the wall. Even in countries where the government is not doing anything for now, business leaders should know that within ten years they will actually have to follow global arrangements. Those who understand today that the future should look different, will be able to gain most profits later. The smartest companies have pretty good antennae telling them what is going on and what will happen in society.
Tata, the company that funded your research institute in New Delhi, announced recently that it will introduce a 100,000 rupee (1,760 Euros) car. Isn’t that going to be a catastrophy for India’s air quality and for the global climate?
Pachauri: It could be. If we are going to multiply the number of cars on our roads, we are asking for trouble. I would have preferred to see Tata investing money in the development of proper public transport solutions. That would have been good business and good social policy as well. But if they are marketing such a small car, they are probably meeting an existing demand. Everybody wants to drive a car these days.
Should environmental regulations be imposed at a global level or rather on a regional scale, thus allowing for more divergence on the basis of development levels?
Pachauri: Climate change is a global problem requiring a global approach. With regional regulations you might miss some possibilities and opportunities that a global approach can offer. Anyway you need a solid coordination between the different countries as well as synergies between regions.
Should emerging economies like India, China and Brazil take up obligations for reducing their CO2 emissions?
Pachauri: Half a billion people in India do not have access to electricity today. In that context it would be suicide for any government to promise that the country will reduce its emission of greenhouse gases. Moreover it would be unethical and inequitable with regard to the poor of today. The framework convention to address climate change was concluded as early as 1992. For fifteen years the developed countries have hardly done anything to show that they respect the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. It would therefore not be serious to expect India and China to do what the rich countries have failed to do. I think the German chancellor Angela Merkel is taking the right approach. She proposes to negotiate on the basis of per-capita emissions. Still this should not mean that developing countries aspire to reach the same emission level as the industrialized countries have today. That would be suicide at a global scale. The rich countries should achieve a substantial reduction of their emissions whereas developing countries are allowed to increase, but to a level that is much lower than that of Europe or the US today. If it is possible to get an agreement about that, I think it is a matter of technical arrangements to achieve an acceptable level for all the parties involved.
Is there any link between climate change and the rapid growth of international trade and globalizing economies?
Pachauri: You cannot talk about development these days without looking at the impacts of climate change. Some regions will be more severely affected by the consequences of climate change – sub-Saharan Africa, parts of South and Southeast Asia and maybe some countries in Latin America. Particularly in those regions climate change concerns should be integrated in development processes. Institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund should be more aware of that reality too.
Do you see a contradiction between the North and the South in the discussion on climate change?
Pachauri: Climate change is a truly global problem you cannot divide between two hemispheres. Still you have to allow for some differences between countries and regions when looking for initiatives and solutions. India, for example, should urgently take the path of sustainable development instead of following the disastrous way taken by the developing countries. A country like Ghana should develop its infrastructure and its processing industries, to finally get out of the colonial dependence of export of raw materials. And a country like the UK should become the global leader in reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. Thus it would be much easier for developing countries to follow that example.
You cannot expect African countries to reduce their CO2 emission, certainly not as long as North America is not doing the same. Countries like Bangladesh, India and the sub-Saharan African states should mainly focus on adapting to climate changes, whereas European and North American countries should devote themselves to changes. But you cannot just neatly divide what is required and fair or possible in the different parts of the world: every country will have to adapt and they will all have to make some changes as well.
Much of the international focus has been on C02 emissions. Are there any aspects that have remained outside the public debate?
Pachauri: One of the most startling conclusions in our fourth report is that a temperature change of 1.5 tot 2.5 degrees will result in the threat of loss of 20 to 30 % of the species we have assessed. This means that we certainly will have to pay more attention to the aspect of biodiversity, first and foremost in our communication.
President Bush recently announced to take new initiatives to reduce CO2 emissions. Is that good news?
Pachauri: I was quite happy about his statement that he tries to achieve an agreement within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). I think he certainly has changed his position. The question is of course whether an agreement will be possible that goes beyond the commitments of the Kyoto Protocol.
The White House believes that climate change will also bring along some health benefits.
Pachauri: If you live in the coldest parts of the world, I suppose a warming will have some health benefits. In our second report we also indicated the areas where benefits may be expected, but we also qualified that those benefits would only be available up to a certain level of temperature increase. Beyond that level, there will only be disadvantages. So behind the very temporary and local happiness about warming lies a period of global, dark misery.
Still you are an optimist?
Pachauri: Yes, absolutely. I will always see the brighter side of things, even if there is complete darkness all around.
After a long cricket match the Jet Airways team is lying defeated and exhausted on the grass of the TERI research centre in Gurgaon. The TERI-team owes its victory largely to the strong throw of the Nobel Prize winner during the second half of the game.