The international climate community suffered a rocky finish to 2012 with slow progress, lacklustre ambition and a leak of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) authoritative Fifth Assessment Report (AR5).
At the centre of this is Dr Rajendra K. Pachauri, chair of the IPCC and director general of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI). The Verb recently spoke with Dr Pachauri from his office in Delhi, India about the latest round of UN climate talks in Doha, Qatar, the leaked draft report and his optimism about the future.
On insufficient Doha progress, Dr Pachauri suggested that negotiators should be mindful of the consequences of inaction on climate change when they approach the negotiating table.
“My main concern is that there isn’t enough discussion on the scientific realities of climate change and this is what I tried to say in my address to the conference,” Dr Pachauri told The Verb.
“If there were a little more focus, a little more attention, to what would happen in different parts of the world if we didn’t take action, it seems to me discussion would have been a little more driven by a higher level of ambition.”
People are becoming increasingly disengaged with the issue of climate change as evidenced in Doha with the limited media coverage compared to prior conferences. Dr Pachauri hopes that the pending release of AR5 will recapture the world’s attention on climate change, but its future publication should not be used as an excuse to delay action.
“We certainly are looking forward to brining out the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report but if a review has to be taken, as it is intended, between 2013 and 2015, then I think a lot of that review can start with a lot of the information we already have,” Dr Pachauri expanded.
“There is a wealth of information, such that the review can be initiated right away. At least there could be a kind of preparative phase that doesn’t need to wait until the report is released.”
Climate change sceptic and blogger Alec Rawls caused controversy when he leaked an early draft of AR5. While the leak did draw attention to the IPCC, Dr Pachauri does not think that it will be helpful to the IPCC’s cause.
“It’s difficult to say whether [the leak] will be positive, but it clearly is a deviation of understanding that you have with the reviewers. For a number of reasons, we treat the drafts as something that is not to be made public, because you know that it’s a work in progress.”
“You don’t want to send out half-baked messages to the world until you are absolutely sure. We have a solid process in place involving the role of governments and the review [needed] for the final draft.”
“We believe that until the draft is set and accepted it really shouldn’t be made public, because you are sending out information, which may be overridden by new information when it becomes available between now and the final publication. I’m not too sure if the leak would help. I really wish something like this had not happened, but it had.”
“We promptly put up a statement on our website putting forward our position [on the leak].”
Looking forward, Dr Pachauri is hopeful that the UN climate change process can work constructively. He remains optimistic that between now and the self-imposed 2015 deadline, a common agreement on a new comprehensive treaty to tackle climate change can be found.
“I suppose I am one of those incurable optimists who would never take a pessimistic view on anything. Looking at the extent of awareness that is growing on some of these issues; even in the case of North America there is clearly a shift in perception.”
“Now, whether that is purely temporary or has some firm roots that would allow it to last; I don’t know. But it’s also very heartening that at the ground level, in parts of the world there are some very admirable actions taking place at the level of cities, states and provinces.”
“I think something is happening and things are changing. Whether this will lead to some tangible outcomes in the next year or two, I don’t know, but 2015 is still a couple of years away. I expect things will certainly move in the right direction by then.”
Dr Pachauri is currently in Hobart, Australia for the IPCC’s Fourth Lead Author Meeting.
Interview by Michael Mazengarb, photo from PopTech (Kris Krüg).