Friday, July 27, 2012

Climate Change and IPCC: Interviewing Dr Rajendra K. Pachauri, Chair, IPCC at ISAP2012

Here is the transcript of an interview we did with Dr Rajendra K. Pachauri, DG of TERI & Chair of IPCC, during ISAP2012. Enjoy reading and let me know what you think about the choice of questions and what you would ask if you were to interview. This interview will soon appear on IGES website

[Note: This transcript is made by me based on the audio recording (available at the end of this blog post). The transcript is not thoroughly checked for errors and hence the reader is cautioned against attributing anything from this text. The original audio file is posted at the end of this blog and listening that would be much better].

Audio is placed at the bottom of this blog post

Photo credits: IGES


Madoka: 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?

Pachauri: 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 makes 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.

Prabhakar: You have been successfully leading the IPCC and the team has got rewarded for the efforts. What leadership elements were you able to bring to IPCC with the vast experience you have in the field of environmental sciences?

Pachauri: Well I don’t know what I brought to IPCC but I can tell you something that I am sure that 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 organization 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 off from a section of society you are denying yourself, something which I think is a rich treasure. Every person has something to offer and I think if your eyes are open and mind is receptive then 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, I don’t hesitate to take decisions. If a decision has to be taken I will go ahead and take the rough with the spoon but 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.

Photo credits: IGES

Madoka: 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?

Pachauri: Very difficult to look that far ahead but if you look 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 lot of gaps in our knowledge will have got filled up and IPCC may then have far more important role in communicating the science. This is something that to be quite honestly not done very well. We are not very good communicators and it is not because people don’t want to do it but it is also because we don’t have infrastructure. Some of you may not know for first 17 years of IPCC existence the size of IPCC secretariat was guess how many people? 5 people, we had secretary, deputy secretary, we had one administrative assistant, one secretarial asst, and who else and one more person. So for 17 years that is the size of the IPCC. Now with great difficulty we have reached a level of about 12 people and we have two people who are responsible for communication and to my mind that is totally inadequate and I think each one of us who is in IPCC has to be a good communicator because we are living in a period when science is going to be under intense scrutiny and we have to therefore be proactive. Whatever science we bring out, that has to be highly credible and robust science, must be communicated to 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. And 2050, well, I think at that stage we would be focusing on an assessment of different forms of energy supply, different types of mitigation strategies, because in 2050 let’s assume the world will be very very different. 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 the brain. If we ask 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 in what form but 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 and looking that far into the future your mind goes completely blank because the world is moving at such a rapid pace I don’t know what human society would be like in 2050.

Prabhakar: The climate change science has progressed at a rapid rate since the advent of IPCC. Can you please tell us where the climate science still needs to break grounds? Do you think the lack of progress in any area is feeding the climate sceptics?

Pachauri: 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 are 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 new form of knowledge and there were lots of people who didn’t want to accept that knowledge. In the 4th assessment of the IPCC, there is an expression clearly mention about changes in the mitigation actions in the energy supply industry and it says that 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 some fundamental implications for number of human activities and 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 best science we can and you know it is for the society to decide. If society trusts scientists, and thank god they still do, and 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 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 and I don’t have a choice and I don’t intend running away from it. I am talking candidly to all of you, who said that I should step down as a 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 is a process, there are co-chairs of working groups who are responsible for that product, I am not responsible for that product. NO, as a Chairman of IPCC, the buck stops here and I take the responsibility for everything that happens and therefore not once did I raised a finger to say somebody else is 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 are thousands of findings that are solid, that are backed by best scientists in the world, backed by all the published literature that has 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 nocks that will come from all kinds of quarters. I think it was the President Truman who said “if you can’t take the heat get out of the kitchen.” If you are holding this position then you take brickbats you take bokeh whatever comes your way.

Prabhakar: 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?

Pachauri: 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 in Nov last year a special report on extreme events and disasters and we have not said that this is the problem that will takes place only in the future, we have given clear evidence that some extreme events and disasters are taking place today and have been taking place since 1970-s and 1980s. We have also said that if the world doesn’t mitigate the emissions of greenhouse gases, then for instance heat weaves that are currently taking place once in 20 years will take place once in 2 years by end of the century and the extreme precipitation are on increase in frequency and intensity almost all over the world. We are providing messages based on science which can be backed up which has enough substance behind it. I don’t think we need to give an alarming message. But one point I would like to emphasize which 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 others. I think we need to highlight the problems on the basis of equity and we must as you know all members of human society on this plane must clearly identify who is going to be the most vulnerable and why. And I think if that raises alarm, fine. As long as you are saying that 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 a much more optimistic picture of what RE can do and is doing than 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 and therefore while of course if we don’t do anything then there would be possibly some cause for alarm but there is 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 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, then it is friction; right?

Madoka: 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?

Pachauri: Even in the UNFCCC, it clearly talks about CBDR. There are two words are here which are important, ‘common’ and the other one is ‘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 the point I would like to make is that you know we really have to create a level of ambition which to my mind is missing at this point of time and this is where knowledge has to be the driver of that ambition. I am afraid and I have said publicly, each of COP that takes place 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. Go 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 and I don’t think they have slowed down their efforts to move in 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 economy of the world. 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.

Audio of interview with Dr RK Pachauri, Chair, IPCC. 24 July 2012, ISAP, Yokohama, Japan

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Community based Approaches: Their Importance and Relevance for a Comprehensive Development in Today’s Vulnerable World. Interview with Dr Atiq Rahman, Executive Director, BCAS, Bangladesh

The original version of this interview can be found at:

We had an opportunity to interview Dr Atiq Rahman, Executive Director, BCAS and Friend of the Earth awarded during ISAP2011. Here is the transcript of the same. Read it and let me know your views on the choice of questions and what you think you would ask if you had a chance.

Photo Credits: IGES, Japan


Prabhakar: At the outset, can you please introduce our audience to the institute you are currently leading and basic values and approaches you are trying to promote through your work?

Dr Rahman: I am the technical head of Bangladesh Center for Advanced Studies. BCAS works at different levels, with the communities, local level planning, international agencies, and global systems. The publications from BCAS show the work we do. I sit in various government committees while working with an independent institute like BCAS so what I say here comes from both the perspectives. 25 years ago, while teaching at Oxford University, I said that Bangladesh will go under water. I was at the peak of academia when I moved to Bangladesh to work with BCAS. I made that decision since I believed that there is much to do in my own country to improve the policy processes by linking to the science. We developed a model where the policy, science and people are linked. We do implementation of ideas up to the pilot phase, to the level at which we establish science beyond reasonable doubt, and let others multiply them. In most industrialized countries, the science and policy talk to each other as most environmental problems have scientific basis. The same is required in climate change too. However, some policy makers are influenced by the oil lobbyists and other industry agents and are taking the policy in a wrong direction. We realized that in non-functioning democracies, represented by huge number of countries, people are not included in the debate and the policy is hijacked by the industry. Over the years with dedicated work, we have challenged the science-policy model and changed it into science-policy-people model. Environment and development are very much linked. In climate change, most of the professionals are from environmental background and hence it became ‘environment only’ problem. Soon we realized that we have various sectors involved in it such as infrastructure, food, rural areas etc. So, now, we are talking about developmental implications of climate change. This understanding brings poor people into the domain of decision making. Environment and development, poverty alleviation, good governance and economic growth are the elements that make our concept of sustainable development where other crosscutting elements interact.

Okubo: Now, it is clear from your discussion that your institute in particular and Bangladesh in general has been promoting community based development to an extent that people look at Bangladesh as a land of community based approaches (whether it is for disaster risk reduction or climate change adaptation or other areas). Can you educate us on what made this possible and what lessons other countries can learn from this great success story?

Dr Rahman: I am both a geo-engineering scientist and a policy expert in community based adaptation. Bangladesh has a tradition of local level management partly due to the culture and partly due to the failure of the government. ‘Democracy is democracy of the elected’ and ‘richness is the richness of elected’. So, the question is how to reach the people? Bangladesh is one of the highly disaster prone countries in the world. We thought that the best way is communities leading their own life and not to wait for scientists to tell them to adapt. Communities are already raising their land in the coastal areas and nobody told them to do so. You will find several such practices prevalent among communities. Using community approaches, we are able to solve problems that are long-term in nature. For example, the saline front has already moved deep into the land where we planted the varieties developed for future and these varieties could able to give good yields. This understanding may not come without understanding of the local issues and indigenous knowledge. Development community tries to do development but with limited results since the baseline is shifting based on which decisions are to be made by these communities. Once these development communities talk with climate change communities, they understand the issue clearly and are able to achieve good success as in the case of Action Research for Community Based Adaptation (ARCAB). Several local NGOs are coming together to make development climate friendly. International NGOs came together and have decided to work with BCAS where this ARCAB was designed. These lessons would be taken to other countries like Africa, Latin America etc spanning for 30 years. It is a long-term social learning where baseline will not be the same. We have developed a methodology called participatory monitoring and evaluation where people are involved using the indicators identified by participatory approaches. The SEI, Oxford University, Harvard University etc are helping us with the science part of the process. We hold world conference on community based adaptation every year that is gaining attention by the world community. We would soon be publishing a book from this exercise by the contribution of the conference participants.

Photo Credits: IGES, Japan

Prabhakar: One of the understandings from your discussion is that community based approaches are good in developing countries where governance problems are the reason behind many problems. Do you think these approaches are applicable in developed countries and if so how they can be fit into the context?

Dr Rahman: Communities are communities wherever they are, whether in developed or developing; I have worked with communities in both countries. The story I told about developing countries is slightly better in developed countries. When I was visiting Japan years ago, everybody used to wear formal dress and there used to be only one NGO and NGOs used to be perceived as anti-government. That Japan has changed now, correct me if I am wrong, my last three days of experience tell me that the recent earthquake has shaken the psyche of Japan and you have realized that the infrastructure cannot solve the problem but you need some community involvement. Now, you are talking about dignity of the people, inclusion of the people (can we include everybody from all ages and socio-economic groups etc) etc. We have been working with communities in Bangladesh for years where communities have said that they need some ‘fall back mechanism’ such as animals etc which they can use after they return from a cyclone shelter after the cyclone. So, the systems need to consider things like if old people can be evacuated or not. These approaches would have to be ‘molded’ to Japanese conditions. One should also know the limits, what one can do and what one cannot do. For example, one cannot remove the nuclear radiation for several years down the line. Appropriate support such as shelter, water, food, employment should be provided. One should rejuvenate the local industry. One should also remember that a 1000-year event need not necessarily repeat only after 1000 years but it may come even in the next year but the probability may be low. So, policy makers need to keep this probability aspect while planning for disasters.

Photo Courtesy: IGES, Japan

4.       Questions from the audience:

a. Can you tell us how effective it would be to take the climate change debate to the UN Security Council for its intervention?

Dr Rahman: Security Council may not be able to make much difference to the climate change problem. It has not been able to do anything of this sort other than stopping big wars. The problem is not with the Security Council but with the failure of the UNFCCC system. My long association with the UNFCCC indicated that it has its own limitations. When Kyoto Protocol was agreed with targets, people said that it is the best protocol one could achieve. It indicated that we could work out a lowest common denominator and our governments couldn’t even achieve it. Most population in some developing countries is still undernourished and they are not able to feed themselves but still they are talking about mitigation. So, it is a failure of the governments. Security Council may be able to stop a war or bring additional money but climate change has enough money built into the system so it may not make much difference. You may not agree with my opinion and I would be happy to listen.

b. You said most of the professionals in climate change are from environmental field and though over the years there has been infusion of social and policy professionals into the process, do you think governments are still approaching the problem in a single discipline or multi-discipline?

Dr Rahman: Reality is that it is neither single nor multi-disciplinary but it is the dollar that is dictating the decisions being made. No decisions are made in the UNFCCC negotiations, all decisions are made back in the country, in the ministry of environment. However, no MOE personnel are trained on negotiations, negotiations are about legal issues, foreign affairs, and it is about protecting the best interest of the country and environment is about protecting the common interest. Everybody’s individual interest must fit into common interest. Other problem is every policy maker has 5 year tenure while the climate change is a long-term problem which needs new ways of governance. All the available funding is neither additional nor adequate. NAPAs are being poorly supported, not even equivalent to the money spent by UN agencies on their sanitation consumables. If we want to go fast, single disciplinary approach is the way; however, if we want to go far, multi-disciplinary approach is the way. We need to change the attitude of finance ministries regarding the climate change funding. It is the least priority for them, indicated through the junior most officers they send to any climate change meeting at national or international levels. No single ministry talks to other ministries in our countries.

c. Citizen from Japan: I liked your comment about the ARCAB. I know that there are similar projects going on everywhere but the problem I see is that they are isolated and not connected to other processes.

Dr Rahman: We call this a garland theory where no bead is connected to another bead. NGOs have limited time line where they have to spend the money, so end up pushing the money and spending on bad projects. I think one need to give responsibility and respect to the recipient of the fund, make it participatory, and give time to them to implement while making them accountable. Evaluation has to be continuous but not at the end. So, most of the time, these projects can be termed as ‘the world of mutual cheating.’ Research has become so predictive that even communities know how to respond to any survey, they will start answering questions even before they are asked. We need to learn from bad practices as well. Plagiarism has become so rampant too in this information age. No new ideas are being developed without deep thinking. I think the day we develop that deep thinking, we are able to identify solutions to the problems we are facing today. This is resultant of several problems such as pedagogic, allocation, gender etc.

c. Prabhakar: How do we link the Rio+20 with the community based development model?

Dr Rahman: I was very much involved with the Rio process in 1992 as a part of the Global Forum on Environment and Poverty. A group which was few in number has grown to 10,000. I said at that time that the climate convention is not going to solve the problem. Biodiversity convention is a problem of people, who destroyed their biodiversity and wants others to protect it; climate change is a problem created by developed nations and faced by the poor people; and desertification convention has no teeth in it, it is meant to satisfy African countries. Instead, we proposed a poverty convention. New York has destroyed its wetlands and created the city that is today and the very same country say that we need to protect our wetlands. It is for these countries to solve the issues they created and then talk with the poor. However, we need to move forward. So, we had Rio+10 where MDG was an outcome. Rio+20 is about green economy and institutional structure. We haven’t achieved much on the green economy. Green economy will be possible only if there is enough happening in terms of alternative energy, food systems etc. We didn’t do any of this and want policies, this may not work well. One of the tragedies is that where are the young people shouting and fighting for green economy? The global job market has changed, and the smarter people from developing countries are going for global market, like Google jobs. We need to bring them back to the land that needs them. We need to bring back the idealism. When there is no idealism, we get what happened in Norway. With idealism, we should be able to say that there will not be a single person on the planet who will go to bed with hunger. This is what Security Council should have achieved but it didn’t. I may have given some pessimistic view of UN system but that is a perceived reality. The point I am making is that we have to have a vision for the planet, so that the population growth is controlled, so that we have less people and less carbon. Climate convention was supposed to reduce GHGs as per the Kyoto Protocol, but we increased the emissions instead. It is just about carbon. We have ocean acidification, nitrogen and phosphorous cycles that are going to be a huge challenge. We need young people to fight for these causes so that we are able to feed everybody on the planet. This is just about basic needs such as food and water, not even about flying and driving. There is more food on the planet than we need, more medicines than we need, and more water than we need; why that one third of the world is starving, something isn’t right!