Dr Pachauri speaking at the World Economic Forum last year, photo: World Economic Forum/Remy Steinegger via flickr.
OK, OK, it was TreeHugger, plus a bunch of the other bloggers participating in the Climate Voice project, representatives from Bahá'í International (where we all chowed down), and a slew of people wearing blue UN credentials. But nonetheless it seemed like an intimate gathering, where IPCC chairman Dr Rajendra Pachauri was quite forthcoming in answering questions on where the climate negotiations now stand, what comes after Copenhagen, the ethical issues of climate change, and more. Here's a taste of the discussion: Inaction is Going to Make it Much Worse for Future Generations
Saying that we really need to develop an "evangelic fervor about doing the right thing" in regards to climate change, Dr Pachauri expounded,
And why? Because you're dealing with issues of intra-generational and inter-generational equity.
The intra-generational part is something, I'm sorry, a lot people in North America just don't know anything about. You have to go to a place like the Maldive islands; you have go to a place like Bangladesh; you have to go and see the glaciers in the third pole of the world, and that's the Himalayan range ... then you realize what you're doing through inaction to this generation, and how much worse it's going to be for future generations.
You Cannot Rely on Leaders or Nations to Bring About Action
When asked about what is required to really 'cut through the nonsense' and really bring about real action on climate change, the emphasis was on grassroots action,
Leadership demands that people with vision, people with a large sense of responsibility start informing the public on what needs to be done. But, I'm reaching the stage where you really cannot rely on leaders. You really cannot rely on the nation-state. You really need a groundswell of grassroots action and grassroots consciousness on what needs to be done.
If that starts happening, then leaders will follow. Let's face it, whether it's a democracy or even a totalitarian system, action at the grassroots level is something that cannot be ignored.
That highlights the role of civil society. Leadership has an extremely important role. Fortunately in the past we've had people who looked far beyond the immediate, far beyond instant gains and have taken positions that have moved humanity in the right direction. You really need a great deal of effort at the grassroots level to bring that about.
Copenhagen is Just the Beginning...
Looking beyond the COP15 talks in Copenhagen in December, Dr Pachauri responded to the question of what happens next with,
I hope it will be conclusive in the sense that it leads to action, even if all the action is not spelled out in the agreement itself. It should be an enabling framework, where the world moves in the right direction, in the right period of time.
I don't think Copenhagen will be the end of the world. I can tell you when the fifth assessment report of the IPCC comes out in 2013, 2014, there's going to be a major revival in interest on the type of action that has to be taken. The scenario I would look at, is people would say -- Yesterday there were people talking about 1.5 degrees being the limit. Who could have thought that five years ago? Nobody wanted to talk about even 2 degrees. I think this will become a serious part of the debate.
My anticipation will be that people will say 'my god, we have to take action much faster' than we've anticipated or planned.
Nations Are Holding Emission Reduction Cards Close
Considering that Dr Pachauri seemed less than encouraged after the recent G8 meetings about the commitment of nations to adequate short- and mid-term emission reductions targets, what I really wanted to know is whether he had seen any movement in this area. He responded,
People will reveal their positions at the time of Copenhagen. Maybe that's the reason the G8 didn't come up with anything right now, because nobody wants to reveal their national card, so to speak. I expect Copenhagen will focus on short and medium term targets, that's what it's all about. You'll probably get some fairly encouraging actions.
I'm very impressed with Japan. I've talked to business groups in Japan...they had been putting pressure on the previous government to not accept any emission cuts, but look at the new prime minister -- 25% by 2020 using 1990 as the baseline, given that Japan is already in an extremely energy efficient economy.
I think some of this will hopefully snowball, and you'll get action from several parts of the world.
Is Cap-and-Trade or a Carbon Tax the Best Approach?
In answering the final question of the day, Pachauri the man, and not the head of the IPCC, seemed to come forth. When asked about whether cap-and-trade or a carbon tax was the best approach, he said that nations should implement whatever is appropriate in their society, as long as the ultimate goal is setting a price on carbon. However he interjected,
In some countries, taxation is acceptable ... in the North America, politicians get elected by saying 'read my lips, no new taxes' as though taxes are some form of an evil. After all you need taxation for maintaining an army; you need taxation for invading Iraq. Why not taxation for ensuring energy security? Why not taxation for creating better railroad systems? There has to be a change in philosophy in some of these areas.
More on Dr Rajendra Pachauri
IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri Discusses How Climate Change Could Affect 21st Century Society
Focus on Green Economic Development in Developing Countries, Not Just Emission Reductions: Chair of IPCC Fighting Climate Change Will Be More Profitable Than Costly, IPCC Chairman Says