1. IGES Home
  2. ISAP Home
  3. ISAP 2012 Home
  4. Interactive Dr. Rajendra K. Pachauri
ISAP2012
ISAP Interactive Session with Dr R.K. Pachauri
Date / Time 24 July 2012  14:15-15:00
Venue Pacifico Yokohama Room 511/512
Guest speaker Dr Rajendra K. Pachauri, Chair, The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Director General, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI)
Interviewers SVRK Prabhakar, Senior Policy Researcher, IGES
Madoka Yoshino, Associate Researcher, IGES
Facilitator Mr. Taka Hiraishi, Chair, IPCC-TSU

Brief profile
Dr. Rajendra K. Pachauri
photo
Since 1998, he has also been Chancellor, TERI University. In April 2002 he was elected as Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Dr. Pachauri has a PhD in Industrial Engineering and a PhD in Economics. He has been on several international and national committees including membership of the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister of India, the Advisory Board on Energy (ABE) which reported directly to the Prime Minister of India, a Senior Advisor to the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme and several others. He has been President (1988) and Chairman (1989-90) of the International Association for Energy Economics (IAEE). He has been President of the Asian Energy Institute since 1992. In April 1999, he was appointed Member of the Board of Directors of IGES and held this appointment till April 2012.

Key Discussion Points
--- We know Dr. Pachauri as a professional, as eloquently introduced by the Chair. Can you please tell us about Dr Pachauri as a person, his likes and what he stands for?
Well I don’t know if I am qualified to answer that question, probably my colleague Mr. Hiraishi can tell better about me. But since you asked the question, I am an individual who basically likes human beings. I have lot of friends all over the world and frankly that is a huge asset. I have excellent friends with several of them in Japan. Once we make friends in Japan they are there for life, they are all-weather friends. As Mr Hiraishi mentioned, I keep myself busy and that is what keeps me going. These are exciting times and we should make use of every minute we have otherwise we miss out so many things that are exciting. I always tell my colleagues that whatever they do they should do it with sense of joy. Though I may not be able to interact with most staff at TERI, I tell them this whenever I have opportunity to interact with them.

--- You have been successfully leading the IPCC and the team has got rewarded for these efforts. What leadership elements were you able to bring to IPCC with the vast experience you have in the field of environmental sciences?
Well I don’t know what I brought to IPCC but I can tell you something that I am sure Taka san will stand by. I try to treat everyone equally. This is something that is part of my nature. When there is a plenary session and somebody wants to talk about something and they wanted to give a point of view, I try my best to give everybody an equal chance and I also try to be fair. I may not always succeed; after all I am a human. But I believe the strength of IPCC is of course its scientific community, but it is also an organisation which is run by all governments of the world and therefore every government has a right to be heard and for its views to be taken into account. And I try to maintain a level of fairness that doesn’t discriminate between different countries and I hope I do that even in my personal relationships. I try to be friendly with everyone and listen to everyone and you gain a lot from that because you know if you shut yourself out from a section of society, you are denying yourself. This is something which I think is a rich treasure. Every person has something to offer and I think if your eyes are open and your mind is receptive, you certainly gain by interacting with everybody.

So, I think this is all I have been able to bring to IPCC. One thing I will say, though, is that I don’t hesitate to take decisions. If a decision has to be taken, I will go ahead and take the rough with the smooth . I think when you are chairing a body like IPCC, you have to be decisive after listening to everybody, after you hear everyone’s point of view. At the end of the day, you have to take a stance, you take a decision and I try to do that.

--- Thanks, I would also like to keep my eyes open. Since you have been leading IPCC, where do you see IPCC will be in 2020, 2030, and 2050? What role can science play in the fight against climate change?
Very difficult to look that far ahead but if you look at 2020, that is the time when we bring our 6th assessment report and I am sure it will advance our knowledge on every aspect of climate change substantially. If we look at 2030, my feeling is that a lot of gaps in our knowledge will have been filled up and that IPCC may then have far more important role in communicating the science. This is something, to be quite honest, that has not been done very well. We are not very good communicators and it is not because people don’t want to do it but it is because we don’t have the infrastructure. Some of you may not know the size of the IPCC secretariat for the first 17 years of existence. Guess how many people there were? Five people: we had a secretary, deputy secretary, one administrative assistant, one secretarial assistant, and one more person. So for 17 years that was the size of IPCC. Now with great difficulty, we have reached a level of about 12 staff. We have two people responsible for communication, which to my mind is totally inadequate. I think each one of us in IPCC has to be a good communicator because we are living in a period where science goes under intense scrutiny which requires us to be proactive. Whatever science we bring out, it has to be highly credible and robust, and must be communicated to the public because we are dealing with the subject that is directly at the core, at the center, of the public policy.

So I expect this is what 2030 would be like. As for 2050, well, I think at that stage we would be focusing on an assessment of different forms of energy supply and different types of mitigation strategies, as I assume the world will be very, very different in 2050. I don’t know what human beings would be doing. Perhaps we won’t be punching into computers and whatever we want to do would be read directly through neural activity that takes place in our brain. Asking somebody to write a letter in his or her handwriting, I think that will be impossible in 2050; nobody will be writing by hand so I don’t know what kind of report IPCC will bring out in 2050 or in what form. Yet I expect it would be something that would deal with the kind of transition we have to bring about, and what transition we have succeeded in bringing about. Looking that far into the future, your mind goes completely blank as the world is moving at such a rapid pace I don’t know what human society would be like in 2050.

--- Climate change science has progressed at a rapid rate since the advent of IPCC. Can you please tell us where climate science still needs to break ground? Do you think the lack of progress in any area is feeding the climate sceptics?
I don’t know if you saw the cartoon that I projected this morning, which showed a person saying that 2500 scientists tell us that human beings are responsible for climate change and the other guy says I need a second opinion. So, you see the point is there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the science. But if you look at human history, at every stage when new knowledge has come out, there were people who question it, which is healthy. I think science only thrives by questioning, and there are some people who opposed it violently. I am using the word ‘violent’ deliberately because you know it was just about 500 years ago that people were burnt at the stake. People had to give up their lives simply because they articulated a new form of knowledge and lots of people didn’t want to accept that knowledge.

In the IPCC 4th assessment report, there is an expression clearly mentioning the changes in the mitigation actions in the energy supply industry. Listing all the barriers that might come in the way of mitigation, it says that vested interests could stand in the way of bringing about changes in the energy supply industry. I don’t want to point a finger at anyone but all I want to say is whenever a new knowledge comes out, this science of climate change has had some fundamental implications for number of human activities. Therefore, I would say that it would be naive to believe that everyone would accept it. We don’t expect everyone to accept it. But there are some who will question it for valid scientific reasons and we welcome that, and some who will question it for other reasons.

Therefore, we have to bring out the best science we can and you know it is for the society to decide. If society trusts scientists, and thank god they still do, I think in the end the science and knowledge will prevail. I realized that it is not going to be an easy journey. I have personally realized it because I have been a subject of personal attacks. I have been the subject of all kinds of slander and insult but I suppose that is part of the responsibility that I carry. I don’t have a choice and I don’t intend to run away from it. I am talking candidly to all of you. When some said that I should step down from the chairman of IPCC, I said NO. I mean I am standing on firm grounds. Why should I step down? I have not done anything wrong. I could easily have said that the error that took place about the Himalayan glaciers was not an error by me. There was a process and there were co-chairs of working groups who were responsible for that product and I was not. No, as Chairman of IPCC, the buck stops here. I take the responsibility for everything that happens and therefore not once did I raise a finger to somebody else that they were responsible and I am innocent. So, you know, there was that error. There were 3000 pages of printed material in the IPCC 4th assessment report.

There were thousands of findings that are solid, that are backed by best scientists in the world, backed by all the published literatures that have been reviewed. We made one stupid error and I am certainly not going to step down for that reason. Why should I? So, this is where I think science has to take some of these knocks that will come from all kinds of quarters. I think it was President Truman who said “if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.” If you are holding this position, you take brickbats, you take bouquets, whatever comes your way.

--- Even with increased scientific understanding of climate change, reflecting science to policy and then to action is not happening at a rate it should happen. What is your opinion? Lack of urgency is often voiced and one of the reasons put forward was that the climate change has not been portrayed as an imminent threat. Do you think the tone of climate change message need to be a bit more aggressive? Do we need to sound like an alarmist?
Well, we should be truthful in our message. Now, if that is an alarming message, so be it. If it is not an alarming message, fine. But the fact is, we brought out a special report on extreme events and disasters in November last year and we have not said that this is a problem that will take place only in the future. We have given clear evidence that some extreme events and disasters are taking place today and that they have been taking place since 1970s and 1980s. We have also said that if the world doesn’t mitigate the emissions of greenhouse gases, then, for instance, heat waves currently taking place once in 20 years will take place once in 2 years by the end of this century. Extreme precipitations are on the increase in their frequency and intensity almost all over the world. We are providing messages based on science which can be backed up, and which has enough substance behind it. I don’t think we need to give an alarming message.

But at one point, I would like to emphasize what unfortunately doesn’t get enough attention. Climate change will not have uniform impacts on everyone. There are some people who are obviously going to be far more vulnerable than the others. I think we need to highlight the problems on the basis of equity. All members of the human society on this planet must clearly identify who is going to be the most vulnerable and why. If that raises alarm, fine. As long as you say what is scientifically truthful, I don’t think we should hesitate to provide people with bad news. But at the same time, we also have to provide what can be done. This is where we have also brought out a special report on renewable energy sources and climate change mitigation which gives you much more optimistic picture of what renewable energy can do and is doing compared to what has been known in the past.

So I think people have to realize that we are not helpless. Human society has enormous strength, has enormous capability and it has a great opportunity. Therefore, if we don’t do anything, there would possibly be some cause for alarm. Yet there is a lot that we can do which is actually attractive and we have brought that out very clearly. So I think what we need to provide is a balanced scientifically robust message. We shouldn’t label it as alarmist or frightening, we just have to bring out science for what it is. Knowledge has to be truthful; if it is not truthful, then it is not science, it is fiction, right?

--- Economic recession is predicted to continue for another couple of years. Developed countries are facing financial crisis. Do you think developing countries should do more to fight against climate change?
Even within the UNFCCC, it clearly talks about common but differentiated responsibility (CBDR). There are two words here which are important, ‘common’ and ‘differentiated’. If it is common, every country of the world has to be part of shouldering that responsibility. Therefore, I would not exclude any country in the world. Since this is a global problem we have to come up with global solutions. But I would like to point out that you know we really have to create a level of ambition, which to my mind is missing at this point of time and is where knowledge has to be the driver of that ambition. I am afraid and I have said publicly that each Conference of Parties (COP) that takes place and spends two weeks, what are they talking about? They are talking about narrow short term political issues. I would wish that they would spend 3 days just talking about scientific facts. If they were to do that, I am reasonably sure that people would come up with far better solutions than what we have today.

So, I think that is the real challenge before us. We have to somehow make sure that people understand what is at stake. To my mind, financial crisis and economic recession actually gives you opportunities. Because you want to create jobs and you want to take some initiatives. Going back to the time of the recession in 1930s, the US was able to pull out of that recession because it could take certain bold measures and implemented number of activities which were clearly not even on the ground at that point of time. Even today, there are some countries that are doing better than others despite the recession. I don’t think they have slowed down their efforts to move into a direction they think will be more sustainable over a period of time.

So I am prepared to have a detailed economic debate on this, nothing to do with climate change, what is required to revive the world economy. It seems to me that the financial crisis shouldn’t come in the way of bringing about desired change. I think we are clever enough, and we have resources enough to bring about shift in the direction we have set ourselves if we set ourselves in that direction.

Observation of the interviewers/acknowledgements
We thank Dr. Pachauri profusely for his valuable time in interacting with the participants at ISAP 2012. Dr. Pachauri shared his experience of working with IPCC in a candid interaction with IGES researchers. He treats everyone equally and as a result he is able to give a chance to everyone to be heard equally. He believes in science standing tall and be able to be open to criticism. He doesn’t believe in climate change messages being made more ‘alarming’ to bring attention to the subject but instead the science should be communicated as is. He observes no significant impact of financial crisis on climate actions of many countries and opines that these crises should provide opportunity to move in right direction.

Go to top of page