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'Climate change reports not diluted'

Dr R K Pachauri, Chairman, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
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June 04, 2007
Dr Rajendra Kumar Pachauri chairs the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which jointly won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former United States vice-president Al Gore on Friday, October 12. In June, published a five-part interview with Dr Pachauri.

In honour of his tireless work to alert the world to the dangers of global warming and climate change, which has brought the IPCC the Nobel Peace Prize, we repost that interview:

Not too many Indians are aware that at the heart of the global debate on climate change is an Indian. Dr Rajendra Kumar Pachauri is chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, established by the World Meteorological Organisation and the United Nations Environment Programme, to investigate global warming and its consequences for Earth.

This year's IPCC reports have startled world leaders out of denial mode. No longer, it appears, can climate change be dismissed by policy-makers as a monstrous crank theory conceived by a renegade scientific community.

At this week's G-8 summit in Germany, climate change and the threat it poses to the future of humanity will be one of the main subjects of discussion, treated almost on par with that other horrific challenge to the way we live, terrorism.

In an extensive interview to's Nikhil Lakshman, Dr Pachauri -- who heads the The Energy and Resources Institute in New Delhi and is arguably India's leading enviromental scientist -- discusses the IPCC reports and what we ordinary folk need to do to preserve our planet from the dangers of global warming. A week-long series:

Are you satisfied that this year's IPCC reports have adequately conveyed the consequences and dangers of climate change?

I think they have because there has been an enormous amount of interest on the part of the media, and as a result I am sure our message and the essential findings of the reports have been conveyed widely across the world.

I feel generally satisfied but then this is only the start of a process which has to continue because let us face it, people have very short memories and right now, of course, the reports may create a bit of a stir. But over time people will forget about it and it will be business as usual. We have to think of some means by which one can keep reinforcing the message effectively.

Would you have been happier if the reports had been presented in the form they had been drafted by the scientists, because if you look at the American newspapers, for instance, there has been a lot of criticism about the way some countries watered down the conclusions?

No, I don't think they watered it down. The whole process of the IPCC is such that the summary for policy-makers is approved literally word by word by the governments. They (the government) have the immediate right to ask questions about every finding, every single piece of assessment that is contained in the reports.

The authors (of the reports) are present there and they have to answer those questions. They have to provide references, they have to provide a basis for why a particular conclusion has been arrived at. Often, to be quite honest, the kinds of suggestions that you get from the government representatives actually improves the quality of the reports.

So what we are really getting is a reality check on the part of the people who are involved in policies. And there are two benefits, one which I said you provide something in the report that is totally defensible and if it is not defensible then the authors decide to drop it. Secondly, I think what happens as a result is that you get a buy-in from the governments.

Once a government has approved a report then they necessarily have to accept ownership of it. Therefore, when it comes to any follow-up, no government can deny accepting the IPCC report. Because acceptance has been ensured through the process. So I don't think it (the IPCC reports) were watered down. Yes, there are always some modifications, and that is why we discuss these things for a period of four days or longer, which happened in this case.

Please describe to us the days leading to the presentation of the reports and the all-night discussions between the scientists and the policy-makers and your role in bringing about a satisfying conclusion.

Basically, you go through every sentence, line by line, you go through every word literally and as we go around the text, then people are free to discuss, debate, question what is there in the draft report. Then you sort of change it online if there is a need to do so. And since it is line by line you are talking about a 20, 21 page report.

Obviously, it takes all of four days and in this case it took longer because we worked right through the night. There were a few tricky issues and there you run into differences of opinion.

You then set up what is known as a contact group and that contact group meets outside sessions. And people who have very strong views about a particular issue participate in this contact group and we try to come up with any resolutions of any differences that arise.

How many countries were involved in this?

I think in Brussels, we had 114 countries.

And how many scientists?

There were the coordinating lead authors. I would say maybe 20, 25 which is the representative of the total number of scoentists who participated in the report.

And the policy-makers who took part in these discussions were also well informed individuals?

Oh yes! Because you know we go through a process of reviews of the draft. The drafts are sent out to governments and to experts for their review. And these are governments who have read the drafts, send in their comments and are totally familiar with the text. So essentially they are people who know what they are talking about.

So you wouldn't agree with the criticism that countries like China, Russia [Images], Saudi Arabia and the United States actually diluted the report?

I wouldn't want to name any countries but you know there are always some countries are always a little more active than others. I don't think there has been any case, so I wouldn't use the word 'dilution'.

If you can't really find cogent reasons for defending what you have said, then clearly you just have to drop it. But what I'd like to say is that there has been no material change or alteration in the report as such. There might be some minor things that have changed but the basic thrust of the report has remained just as it was.

I read that some scientists are so displeased with the process that they have vowed not to be involved in IPCC discussions again.

I said elsewhere -- it was reported also -- that after you have a 24-hour session literally, and at the end of it, somebody asks me, "Would you work for the IPCC again?" my instinct would be to say, "To hell with it! I am not interested." It is strenuous, it is a tough process and obviously people do get flustered, they lose their cool, they lose their tempers so if somebody walks out and says that they'll never work for the IPCC again, it really doesn't mean very much, it doesn't amount to anything.

In some sense you can say it's a lover's tiff, nothing more than that.

As chairman of the IPCC, what is your role?

The co-chairs of the working groups essentially run the meetings. I am there only to facilitate things if we run into any problems, if we run into any difficulties. I am there to understand what kind of roadblocks are coming in the way and how one might be able to remove them.

The overall IPCC meeting I chair myself. When the synthesis report is presented, which will be in November, I would chair that meeting so I will be at the receiving end.

With the working group report, it is the co-chairs of the working group who are the ones responsible for producing that report so they are the best ones to handle that session and defend everything as far as that report is concerned.

So, you are essentially a builder of consensus?

I am there to see that the process moves along established lines and if we run into any problems I'd like to see that we sort out those problems.

Photograph: Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images

Part 2 of the Interview: 'The science is absolutely first rate'

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