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


  1. Pachauri claims: "...the point is, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the science."

    Mr. Pachauri is deluded, and his self-assurance completely unwarranted. There is no greenhouse effect, of increasing temperature with increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide, as promulgated by the current climate consensus and the very political IPCC. The Venus/Earth temperature ratio, at points of equal pressure over the range of Earth tropospheric pressures, is essentially a constant (precisely 1.176, both above and below the Venus cloud layer). If there were a greenhouse effect, the Venus/Earth temperature ratio would not be a constant, because that supposed effect is ADDITIVE in temperature, not multiplicative as the constant ratio implies. Even more revealing, and fundamentally definitive of the true physics, the 1.176 ratio is just that expected solely from the difference in the two planets' distances from the Sun, and nothing else. Venus's atmosphere has over 2400 times the carbon dioxide concentration as does Earth's (96.5%, vs. Earth's 0.04%) yet there is not the slightest indication of a greenhouse effect, only the effect expected by the difference in solar distances.

    That Venus/Earth temperatures comparison, comparing temperatures at points of equal pressure in the two atmospheres, which I did in late 2010 and which should have been done 20 years ago by climate scientists (and the greenhouse effect dropped from science then), fundamentally corrects climate science on a whole handful of basic points concerning the physics of atmospheric warming. The consensus that is so self-assuredly promulgated by the IPCC and Mr. Pachauri, is in fact incompetent. My Venus/Earth comparison should be front-page news around the world, and climate science should be fundamentally re-thought--not least, because my simple and clear analysis confirms the Standard Atmosphere model, which represents a stable atmosphere, not at all subject to runaway global warming OR cooling.

  2. Thanks Harry for that passionate message. I am sorry, I am not from physical sciences. I can understand what you are saying. Dr Pachauri is not saying something from his own research, he is only speaking from what thousands of scientists have confirmed and reported in peer reviewed journal papers.

    However, in science we need a consensus which means your finding would have to be globally recognized and agreed by major scientists in that field. Currently, there is more consensus on the strong signal for man-induced global warming.

    Dr Pachauri was very clear, he agrees that science thrives by questioning. So, keep doing what you have been doing. We need people from both sides discussing in a healthy manner.