Friday, March 2, 2007

Interview with R.K.Pachauri, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

`We can't shut our eyes'

R. RAMACHANDRAN

Interview with Dr. R. K. Pachauri, Chairman, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP

Dr. R.K. Pachauri presents the scientists' report on February 2, at UNESCO in Paris.

IN this interview Dr. R.K. Pachauri, who is also Director-General, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), New Delhi, speaks on the steps the government will have to take to tackle the impact of global warming. Excerpts:

The IPCC report that has just been released is a summary document for policymakers. What, in your opinion, should be the response of our policymakers now and has it been appropriate and adequate so far?

In the first place, we have to mount a major programme of research in this country. And this should be really taken up by the India Meteorological Department (IMD) because if you look at the record of what has been done by the IMD so far, they have remained sceptics on climate change all this while. And without any disrespect to anybody, this is largely because they have not done work in the field. Secondly, I think it is extremely important, and for this, really speaking, one should wait for the report of the Working Group II to start looking at the adaptation measures that we should take to counter the impacts of climate change to be able to accept the reality of these impacts. Now, this requires a fairly long-term perspective. There are some measures that you can put in place immediately, such as a very different approach to the management of water resources. There are others for which you need some scientific research and development of technology - that would be the case, say, with regard to impacts on agriculture. You need to come up with some new strains of crops that can be grown under the changed conditions. And, finally, I would say even on the mitigation side India has to see what kind of low-hanging fruits we can pluck and what are the options that we have that would give large-scale local benefits and at the same time address the problem of emissions of greenhouse gases. So, overall, what I would say is that the government has to take this whole area seriously because it could have major implications not merely for lives and livelihoods but the aggregate economy of the country. And I suppose that as a large and responsible country, we also need to look at some of the global implications. We can't shut our eyes.

You mentioned earlier that there was no Indian either from the political side or the scientific side at the release of the report intended for policymakers. Why do you think that happened?

That's an important issue. I am told that people were supposed to go; scientists had been identified to attend this session. But, you know, we have this antiquated system of government approval for travel overseas and often you would find that even the senior most government officials who have to attend a meeting have to wait till the last minute for the approval to be granted. This whole process and the system perhaps had some logic behind it decades ago. In this day and age, when you are living in a global economy, India is aspiring to have a presence on the global stage and given the fact that travel overseas is really no big deal, why should the government not amend its methods of decision making? At least for issues like this there should be a blanket approval given. There are some standard things where you need continuity; you need a certain level of expertise. So why not create a system whereby Ministries or departments are able to plan this kind of activity on a proper basis? I fail to understand why this system is bigger than us and bigger than the reality of the situation that we are facing. As a result, nobody turned up for the meeting.

Notwithstanding the fact that no one attended, what is happening on the ground? Is there an adequate mechanism and effort at systematic data gathering, establishing a proper database, communicating with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) on climatic changes and so on? Are these things at least being carried out properly?

I think the data is of course there but putting it together does take an effort. I don't think the system we have is all that user-friendly. But different Ministries, different agencies have data in their own areas of work, and one has really to put these together. In that respect, the government has been quite competent in communicating with the UNFCCC Secretariat. By and large we have been delivering on time. So I don't think there is a problem over there. I suppose one reason that IPCC has not received the kind of attention that it deserves is because in the past it used to be the IMD that really did not place any importance on IPCC's work, and I think it was only quite recently that the MoEF [Ministry of Environment and Forests] took over. But somehow the process has not been streamlined. The MoEF should set up a group of scientific personnel outside the system who would be regular participants in these meetings, and that would also ensure that there is some exercise of expertise, some continuity...

At the UNFCCC/COP (Conference of Parties) meeting in Nairobi last November, the focus was on mitigation and adaptation...

I think the focus in Nairobi was more on adaptation than on mitigation. There has clearly been a shift, and I think, the developing countries in particular are really very concerned about adaptation measures. And that came to the fore in Nairobi quite clearly.

Even with regard to adaptation measures within the country, what kind of studies do we require, what kind of programmes should we launch? Is there a clear thinking on that front?

That clarity has to come in. I don't think it's there at this point of time, and this would certainly involve several departments and Ministries of the government. The MoEF by itself cannot do everything. You take a sector like agriculture. It's for us to see what impacts climate change will have on agriculture in different parts of the country. And this will be a varied set of impacts. It's not something that's going to be uniform. So firstly you need research on assessing the impacts and seeing exactly what the extent and intensity of these impacts would be. We really don't have much research going on in this regard. Being a large country there would be large regional variations and you have to do [studies] on a regional and sub-regional basis. There is this place in Kerala [Kuttanad] that is below sea level but which actually is the rice bowl of Kerala. If the sea level were to rise by six inches or a foot in that area, we need to be concerned about what kind of measures we need over there. We don't want to be swamped by sea flowing in or for that matter even saline water intruding into inland areas, and these are things that need to be assessed on a very location-specific basis. It's high time we started doing that.

What kind of capacities do we need to build in terms of our mitigation efforts?

We need to work in two areas. One is to develop new technologies. This could be done through partnerships between institutions in the developed North and institutions in the South. The second area where we need to develop some expertise is in terms of policymaking that can promote cleaner technologies because you really don't have the kind of incentives to do that. When you take an area like automobile manufacture, I believe a country like India should be promoting the development of really energy efficient cars. But I don't think we have placed any importance on that so far. You need a package of policies, fiscal, regulatory and even in terms of ensuring that you make a choice of the right kinds of designs and so on, which would make a substantial difference to our dependence on imports of oil as well as on emissions of all kinds of pollutants, not just carbon dioxide. So these are the kinds of areas where capacity has to be built, and we are not doing anything. And if we are not doing anything, you can well imagine what is happening in far less developed countries in Africa and in other parts of Asia.

Does IPCC's forthcoming report on vulnerability and adaptation gel or match with the basis on which discussions took place under UNFCCC in Nairobi?

Our Working Group II report will come out in early April. My expectation is that it will provide a lot more information and material that might help negotiations on adaptation measures. Because it would be documenting the kind of impacts that are likely to take place and the kind of adaptation measures that need to be taken. So that, I think, should act as a spur for informed discussions on adaptation at the UNFCCC/COP [meetings] starting with the COP13 in Bali in November. Of course the synthesis report will be ready in November and that will be an extremely readable document. And I think that would really complete the task of informing the Parties to the Convention.

With discussions on post-2012 Kyoto commitments currently going on at the Working Group level at the UNFCCC, do you think that the new targets could include commitments from countries such as India and China as well?

I would say that while these long-term limits and long-term targets that these Working Group analyses are coming up with are in some sense arbitrary at present, eventually such limits are definitely going to drive the negotiations for the post-2012 period. There will be a link and that's one of the reasons why there is pressure on countries like China, India and Brazil [to make commitments on emissions] because they say that the amount of reductions that is required is not going to take place by the efforts of developed countries alone.

How do you compare our efforts to reduce emissions with those of China's?

I am a member of the China Council [for International Cooperation on Environment and Development]. There has been a growing awareness in the Chinese government to bring about emission reductions and improve energy efficiency. I must say that the Chinese have a vision that by and large has been realised. I remember in the early 1980s, before modernisation, when they said they would quadruple the gross domestic product by 2000 but only double the energy consumption. They have been able to achieve that. Now, it's a fact that at that stage China was a very inefficient economy in terms of energy consumption. The fact is that they set certain goals for themselves and achieved them and they are doing the same now. I am sure they will succeed because there is a certain monolithic kind of will power and drive that works through the entire system. I don't think we have that kind of vision.

Vol:24 Iss:04
URL: http://www.flonnet.com/fl2404/stories/20070309004101700.htm

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