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Mitigation is not a great burden because it has many co-benefits: Dr R K Pachauri, Chairman, IPCC

Dec 26, 2014

Dr R K Pachauri is one of the most prominent leaders in the fight against climate change in the world today. As Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, he been highlighting the scientific realities of climate change the world over and as Director-General of TERI he has been working relentlessly to create a climate-friendly ecosystem in India. In an exclusive interview with Rajiv Tikoo & Anupam Hazarika, he calls for action at local and global levels to fight climate change. Excerpts:

Dr R.K.Pachauri

Going by the outcome of the recent conference in Lima, how hopeful are you about a desirable climate change treaty in Paris in 2015?

R K Pachauri: I am pretty optimistic because the awareness on why we need to take action and the scientific realities of climate change have reached a pretty high level. This was evident in Lima, too. All the negotiators were referring to the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and how important it is to take action rather quickly and adequately if we want to remain below the 2° C threshold (increase in the average global surface temperature over the pre-industrial average to avoid dangerous climate change). Since this awareness is there, the desire to act is getting stronger.

So where do climate change talks go from here?

R K Pachauri: In the first quarter of the coming year, countries are supposed to reveal their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). Two things can happen: Either, all the INDCs will add to up to something which doesn’t really put us on the path to remain below the 2° C threshold or we are doing well enough which will lead to high level of involvement on part of different countries because there will be a set of numbers and that is going to engage the attention of all the countries. You will see the numbers against the backdrop of the scientific assessment of what is required which will lead to a higher level of ambition to take action.

Do you foresee the INDCs adding up sufficiently to keep the temperature below the 2° C threshold level?

R K Pachauri: Well, initially, it would be unrealistic to expect to hit the targets right away. Perhaps there will have to be lot more discussions and negotiations to see that we come up with something that adds up to the aggregate of what is required.

If the INDCs don’t add up to the required aggregate, wouldn’t we witness more differences cropping up globally?

R K Pachauri: It is inevitable and it has been going on for the last so many years since the very first Conference of Parties. But I think everyone realises that this is a global problem and at the global level we have to do enough to be able to deal with the problem.

The INDCs will have to draw upon actions at the local level. What is your assessment of the work being done by various states in India?

R K Pachauri: In my interactions with the Chief Ministers and senior bureaucrats of various states, I have seen that now they are very concerned about what they have to do regarding climate change. Their major concerns would be on adaptation, but there would also have to be a fair amount of action on mitigation which means shifting to renewables, improving the transportation infrastructure, and taking steps which offer multiple benefits.

With regards to adaptation, what should be the main priorities of states in India?

R K Pachauri: I think a number of states need to be more proactive. There is an increasing hazard from the rising level of the sea and a number of states in India are coastal states. They certainly have to be active. The Himalayan states are also very vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, so they have to be active.

One adaptation measure that I would like to highlight is ensuring that you don’t construct eight- storey buildings in the flood plains of any river which has been flagged in the aftermath of the Uttarakhand floods in 2013. Also, caution is called for in states where a large number of farmers is dependent on agriculture and these states includes Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and several other states in the country. We really need to come up with a roadmap on how we are going to bring about a transition in agricultural practices and crop patterns towards sustainability and how we are going to cope with prolonged recurring droughts with special attention to states where there is high dependence on rainfed agriculture.

You are a member of the Prime Minister's Council on Climate Change. What is your assessment of the government’s approach on fighting climate change?

R K Pachauri: Actually the new government is pretty serious which is reflected in the change of name of the ministry from the Ministry of Environment & Forests to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change. It indicates the importance our Prime Minister places on climate change.  Secondly, setting up this advisory council, which is one of the first few bodies set up by the government and to do it in the field of climate change, itself is significant. I think the discussion on adding 100,000 MW of solar capacity, which is upgradation of the previous National Solar Mission, is a very good move and clearly shows the government’s commitment to deal with climate change through domestic action. These are encouraging signs of the priority that the government attaches to it.

TERI’s Delhi Sustainable Development Summit (DSDS) is going to be an important event between Lima and Paris.  How do you plan to contribute to the process leading to the negotiation of the climate change treaty in Paris in 2015?

R K Pachauri: DSDS 2015 is a very useful point at which we can carry out an assessment of what’s been achieved so far, including the outcomes under the framework of COP20. We also need to resolve in terms of doing enough as a follow up to the agreements we come up with by the time Paris takes place. How this needs to be done is basically by underlining the impact of climate change in terms of what would happen if we don’t take any action and highlight the actions that need to be taken. Some of these are very simple like making basic lifestyle changes and changes in behaviour but some are certainly more difficult. So we need to look at all kinds of adaptation and mitigation options and then come with a plan. I don’t regard mitigation as a great burden because it offers many co-benefits like higher energy security, lower levels of air pollution at local level and possible greater employment and so on. Going for renewable energy on decentralized scale will provide a large number of people with electricity and modern energy in their homes.

What is the theme for the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit or DSDS 2015?

R K Pachauri: The theme is ‘Sustainable Development Goals and dealing with Climate Change’ because Sustainable Development Goals are coming into existence in 2015 and we will be also addressing climate change at COP 21.

What is the action plan of IPCC for 2015?

R K Pachauri: In February 2015, we are holding a meeting of the panel where a decision will be taken on the next report and its nature. So, by the end of February, we hope to be clear about what needs to be done. In fact, we hope to get some clarity on the issues before February so that these can be amplified when we meet for the IPCC meeting.

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