Rajendra Pachauri, Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Podcast)
TreeHugger: Explain for people what the IPCC is, what it does, how far it reaches.
Rajendra Pachauri: The IPCC was established in 1988 to carry out a scientific assessment of all aspects of climate change. It’s a body that’s truly intergovernmental in character, and all the decisions that are taken are essentially through consensus. That means every country that's represented in the IPCC has to agree to decisions that are taken on behalf of the panel.
We mobilize the best scientists from all over the world to carry out our assessments. Just to give you an indication, in the fifth assessment report, which is currently in hand and we are working on it right now, we invited nominations from all the governments and several other organizations across the globe. We received about 3,000 nominations with the CVs of outstanding scientists from which we selected 831 who would be the lead authors as well as what we call review editors for the assessment.
And these teams of researchers and scientists work together. We carry out our assessment on the basis of published literature. So in other words, the IPCC is not doing any research of its own; it looks at the best published literature that's available and then carries out an assessment and puts reports together. In the business of writing up these reports, each single draft which is written has to be peer reviewed. It's sent out to expert reviewers and they provide a whole set of comments. To give you an indication from the fourth assessment report, it was completed in 2007 and had something like 90,000 different comments, and each one of these has to be taken on board by the authors.
If they accept or don’t accept the comment, they have to give reasons why it's not accepted and that has to be put on the website. Now, I'm explaining all this because this is a totally transparent and completely objective exercise, and the scientists who are working on IPCC assessments don't get paid by the IPCC for anything. Developing-country authors, however, get reimbursed their air tickets or whatever means of transportation they have for attending meetings. So that's the way we function and we are now, as I mentioned, on the fifth assessment report. We've also done several special reports on specific aspects of climate change.
TH: Are you able to speak about any of the findings from the fifth assessment?
Pachauri: Well, the outline of the report which has to be approved by all the governments as well, and it's put together with a great deal of care and thoughtfulness. In fact, we have typically what we call scoping meetings where about 200 scientists, government officials, and others who have some knowledge of the subject get together and draw up the outline of the report, which is approved by the entire panel, all the governments of the world.
What we have in the fifth assessment report are some interesting features. We hope we'll have much more regional detail. We'll be assessing the effect of clouds and aerosols to a much greater extent. We'll also be looking at geo-engineering possibilities. We look at some of the equity dimensions of mitigation measures in particular; in other words: who's going to bear the burden and to what extent.
So we are certainly going to try and fill up some of the gaps in knowledge that existed earlier. But let me also mention that we recently brought out two special reports, one dealing with the renewable energy sources and climate change mitigation, and the other one dealing with the extreme events and disasters and how we might be able to adapt to them.
TH: This has been a very action packed month for climate debating. First the “No Need to Panic about Global Warming” letter ran in The Wall Street Journal follow by the rebutting letter. Then we had this whole scandal with the Heartland Institute: Peter Gleick, the president of the Pacific Institute, used a fake name to get documents from the Heartland Institute about its programs to discredit manmade climate change. Do you have any thoughts on this sort of warfare?
Pachauri: Well, I really don't know enough to be able to comment on this. But since you mentioned these happenings, let me say there's also been an assessment which clearly shows that 97 percent of the scientists who have worked on any aspect of the climate change are fully convinced that the changing climate we see, particularly since the last century, is largely the result of human action. So on the other issue, to be quite honest, I don't know enough about it. When I do, I'd be happy to write my comments.
TH: In a more general sense, how do you suggest we get a more productive conversation going about these massive global phenomena? Something that the public can really use to make these important decisions?
Pachauri: I would say that the IPCC, which functions in a totally transparent manner and uses the best scientists in the world, does its work in a totally objective manner, we carry out our assessments based on peer-reviewed literature, by and large, or other literature, which is highly credible. We are not doing any research on our own and therefore, what we have is the best available knowledge. And may I also emphasize that I'm afraid a very small minority of scientists, who disagree with the very comprehensive consensus of the scientific community as represented in the work of the IPCC, are often given as much space and as much attention as the major body of scientific opinion.
I mentioned the fact that 97 percent of the scientists, as the survey indicated, are those who believe that climate change is taking place as the result of the concentration of greenhouse gasses, which are attributed to human actions. So all I can say is that perhaps news that is brought out on the basis of the IPCC's assessment doesn't make very interesting news, but the contrarian view, which may be represented by a very small percentage of qualified scientists, undoubtedly does. So I think this is where we need to inform the public and let the public make up its mind on whether this is happening or not.
Now, I want to mention a couple of things. In the recent special report that we brought out on extreme events and disasters, we brought up very clearly two important findings. Firstly, that heat waves are on the increase. And we have gone to the extent of saying categorically, by the end of this century, if current trends continue and we don't mitigate the emissions of greenhouse gasses, then those heat waves which currently take place once in 20 years will, by the end of the century, take place once in two years.
We also come up with the finding that extreme precipitation events are on the increase, both in frequency and intensity, and I think that's something to be concerned about. And what that means is that we will get rainfall and we will get snow in large quantities over shorter periods of time. That means heavy snowfall, heavy rainfall, and this is something that's going to get progressively more negative over a period of time. So these are things that are there in the future. They're being assessed very carefully and have been subjected to scrutiny and expert review and have been accepted by all the governments of the world. So, you know, where is the room for questioning some of these major findings?