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Pachauri: IAC Got It Wrong – Next IPCC Report Will Be Even More Political

Excerpts from the Times of India Interview with IPCC Head Rajendra Pachauri

TOI: Anything in the UN probe report you completely or partly disagree with?

RP: They have talked about quantifying uncertainties. To some extent, we are doing that, though not perfectly. But the issue is that in some cases, you really don’t have a quantitative base by which you can attach a probability or a level of uncertainty that defines things in quantitative terms. And there, let’s not take away the importance of expert judgment. And that is something the report has missed or at least not pointed out.

TOI: Does this raise a larger issue of how science is used by society? And is there a political guidance to it?

RP: Sure…

TOI: Stifling politics out of science, does that make it devoid of its real social purpose?

RP: Let’s face it, we are an intergovernmental body and our strength and acceptability of what we produce is largely because we are owned by governments. If that was not the case, then we would be like any other scientific body that maybe producing first-rate reports but don’t see the light of the day because they don’t matter in policy-making. Now clearly, if it’s an inter-governmental body and we want governments’ ownership of what we produce, obviously they will give us guidance of what direction to follow, what are the questions they want answered.

Unfortunately, people have completely missed the original resolution by which IPCC was set up. It clearly says that our assessment should include realistic response strategies. If that is not an assessment of policies, then what does it represent?

And I am afraid, we have been, in my view, defensive in coming out with a whole range of policies and I am not saying we prescribe policy A or B or C but on the basis of science, we are looking at realistic response strategies. But that is exactly what this committee has recommended that we get out of — policy prescriptions. It is for this reason that I brought out that this what is written in the IPCC mandate. This is a misperception on the part of some people in the scientific community. And I hope I can correct it.

TOI: What are the new elements in the next climate assessment report (due in 2014)?

RP: Some of things that are certainly going to be included this time are issues of equity. It’s yet to be accepted by the panel, so I can’t really say definitely. At the meeting, we dwelt at length on Article 2 of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which says the central objective of the convention is to prevent the anthropogenic interference with the climate system which is in terms of ecosystem, ensuring food security and ensuring that development can take place. These are three central pillars. This is something that science can’t answer. Because what is perceived as dangerous, depends on value judgements. But science can provide as much information as possible by which the negotiators and decision-makers can decide what is dangerous and we are trying very hard to get this together.

TOI: Aren’t you treading on more dangerous territory with this, because this is the most contentious bit of the negotiations — the North South divide?

RP: It is but I also believe this is something the IPCC must do. And I must say I owe it to what has happened over the past few months that I have certainly shed any inhibitions or feelings of cowardice. I believe this is now my opportunity to go out and do what I think is right. In the second term I may be little more uncomfortable for the people than I was in the first. Maybe they realize it.

TOI: So the issue of equity is central to the next report?

RP: Certainly, but not only equity, we have also used the word ‘ethics’. There are certain ethical dimensions, even of the scientific assessment of climate change which we are going to try and assess.

Full interview