Interview with Rajendra Pachauri, Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
How has the IPCC’s 2007 Nobel Peace Prize victory changed international activity surrounding the climate change issue and IPCC’s work? Does it make IPCC’s task easier in trying to raise awareness and gain attention surrounding humankind’s link to climate change?
It has certainly raised enormous awareness of climate change because, with the Nobel Peace Prize; obviously, several people across the globe have been focusing on the work of the IPCC and the findings of our Fourth Assessment Report in particular, so, to that extent, I think that has actually helped the world in giving them information and knowledge of climate change on the basis of which I hope there will be action now, particularly at the 15th session of the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Copenhagen, Denmark in December this year. But, as far as the IPCC is concerned, yes it is a moment of great pride for all of us that the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the Panel but it also made our task a little more difficult because expectations of the IPCC are now much higher and, therefore, we will have to deliver perhaps at a much higher level than was possible earlier. So I think overall the IPCC now has to be very conscious of what people expect of us and we will have to live up to people’s expectations.
What is needed from countries with industrial sectors that emit increasingly large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere?
We have to bring about a reduction in CO2 and other greenhouse-gas emissions because, unfortunately, despite all the action that has taken place at the global level, emissions are still rising at a very rapid rate and we have to do everything possible through policies, technology development and the use of mechanisms like a price on carbon to see that we reduce these emissions as rapidly as possible. This is a global challenge in which, as the Framework Convention lays down, the developed countries have to take the lead and I hope they will have by the time an agreement exists in Copenhagen.
Can countries continue to grow economically and industrially while reducing their emissions? How do the ongoing global economic crises affect efforts to curb climate change?
It is entirely possible for an economy to grow while, at the same time, reducing or limiting greenhouse-gas emissions; in fact, even today, you find a substantial decrease across countries with some of them being very highly energy-intensive and, therefore, carbon-intensive in their growth and others being much more efficient in the use of energy and, therefore, with much lower carbon oxide emissions. So, I think there are enormous variations even today and this gives us a basis for believing that, if the best practices and the best technologies are adopted across the world, we can certainly ensure growth without any prejudice to human welfare. I also believe with changes in life style, with new technologies coming into place, these opportunities will grow much bigger and I think, in the future, the world will be able to grow with much lower emissions of greenhouse gases than we have seen in the past.
You have called on India and China to work together to improve the environmental aspects surrounding their industrial sectors and economy. What are some things that both countries could work on cooperatively and why is such cooperation needed?
I think the need for cooperation arises from the fact that there is a lot that we can learn from each other; China, of course, has gone much faster than India in recent years but it still has people living in poverty. India has a larger number living in poverty and, therefore, we have to find ways by which we meet the essential needs of the poor and by which we ensure modernization of the economic system. If we get ideas from each other, we will find the most efficient ways by which we are able to grow and yet do so without increasing our dependence on fossil fuels and ensuring that emissions of greenhouse gases do not grow at a rate that was established by the developed countries in the past.
Can ordinary people really make a difference in the absence of political will to change the current situation? Do you think there is enough grassroots support behind the need to do more to rectify the negative aspects of climate change?
I think ordinary people who are on the street can really do a lot because, in our own personal habits in the way we use energy, the way we exercise preference for those technologies, those products that are lowering carbon density, all of us can collectively make a difference and I think we have to start doing that. On the question of political will, in democracies in particular, we have enormous opportunities to create political will because, if the public wants something, then politicians will necessarily have to obey that; otherwise they will not get elected; and that is why I think grassroots movements are very important; we do not have enough of those yet but I see signs of momentum being generated by which hopefully we will see many more grassroots efforts in the future.
With the Kyoto protocol drawing to an end in 2012, what needs to occur at the UN negotiations in Copenhagen this December to replace it? Does the new agreement need to include new measures and if so, what? What will enable it to gain more universal support than its predecessor, which failed to gain the ratification of some countries?
I think today there is very little possibility that any new agreement will not be ratified by all the countries of the world. The Kyoto protocol was rejected by the USA and Australia. Australia has come back and ratified it now recently. In the USA there is clearly a distinct change in direction and resolve; so I think the success of the Kyoto protocol will be accepted by all the countries of the world. What we need basically in Copenhagen is faithful implementation of the Bali roadmap which calls for deep cuts in emissions and I think that is what Copenhagen should attempt to do; it should also provide funds for adaptation in some of the poorest developing countries and so on; so I think the groundwork has been done; what we need now is leadership from some of the biggest leaders in the world, the biggest countries in the world and, I hope, that will happen.
Now that international and national awareness about climate change has been firmly established, which adaptation measure can countries adopt to respond to the already-changing climate? How will World Climate Conference-3 (WCC-3), which you will be attending in September 2009, help with these adaptation efforts?
I think that adaptation efforts would depend on local conditions, local impacts and local capacities. I think that there is a whole range of adaptation measures that has to be taken in time whether, it is to deal with water scarcity and water stress or sea-level rise or the impacts on agriculture. World Climate Conference-3 would be an excellent gathering where we can discuss measures, we can understand what needs to be done and, on that basis, I hope countries across the word will take action and I think the Conference will also provide due momentum for the negotiations in Copenhagen and, therefore, that should help also—the timing is just right—to see that the World Climate Conference influences action in Copenhagen.
What do you view as the next major step in climate research and assessment?
Our main focus is on the Fifth Assessment Report which we are in the process of scoping out and there are clearly some areas of emphasis that we would pursue but, in general, we are certainly going to see that we fill in some of the gaps that exist. We provide greater detail on regional issues and also look at some of the socio-economic aspects of climate change in greater detail.
Are the links between climate change and weather and climate extremes such as storms and drought receiving sufficient attention in the public arena?
No, they are not receiving adequate attention although I must say awareness is growing and it is for this reason that the IPCC is considering doing a special report on extreme events because we believe this is very important as an input for risk reduction arising out of climate change and their impacts and I hope, once this report comes out, awareness will grow substantially.
Contact: MeteoWorld Editor - WMO ©2008 Geneva, Switzerland