Rajendra Pachauri chairs the Nobel-winning group that has one foundational work on global warming. For its research confirming that human-induced greenhouse gases are causing the planet to heat up, the Pachauri-headed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore.
The 2,500-strong scientists' organization was set up in 1988 under the aegis of the United Nations. It has produced four reports since 1990, each subsequent one more definitive on the causes and impact of climate change. The most recent report, issued in November 2007, warned that unless countermeasures were taken, global warming would in the not-too-distant future melt massive ice sheets, drown island nations, make extinct a full quarter of the world's species, decrease African crop production by half, and reduce global GDP by 5 percent.
Pachauri has led the organization since 2002, being re-elected to the post in September 2008. He holds a double Ph.D., in industrial engineering and economics, from North Carolina State University. He started his career as a mechanical engineer designing railway engines, before devoting his career to energy and economics. Pachauri has also headed for more than two decades The Energy and Resources Institute, an Indian sustainable development outfit.
Initially, Pachauri's candidacy was treated with some skepticism, since the Bush Administration wasn't opposed to it. In a New York Times op-ed, Al Gore called Pachauri the "'let's drag our feet' candidate ... who is known for his virulent anti-American statements," with Pachauri firing back in a letter accusing Gore of making "derogatory comments." But since his appointment, Pachauri has pleasantly surprised some and discomfited others with his outspokenness on the dangers of global warming, its disproportionate impact on the world's poor, and the developed world's responsibility to mitigate it.
In his Nobel lecture, Pachauri outlined the myriad negative effects that global warming will have on future generations. "Coming as I do from India, a land which gave birth to civilization in ancient times and where much of the earlier tradition and wisdom guides actions even in modern times, the philosophy of 'Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam,' which means 'the whole universe is one family,' must dominate global efforts to protect the global commons," Pachauri said.
I met Pachauri the day after Christmas in a beautiful office complex in New Delhi, where he reportedly often works from early morning till past midnight. (Adding to his workload, he has accepted a half-time position in the fall as the chief of the newly created Yale Climate and Energy Institute.) His office is filled with cricket trophies, a sport that is a passion of Pachauri's. On the walls hang photographs (including one with Bill Clinton) and the Nobel certificate. With his long beard and hair, both streaked with white, Pachauri looks the part of the seer-scientist.
Q: How long have you been working on the issue of climate change?
Rajendra Pachauri: It goes back well over twenty years now. In fact, in 1988, I was president of the International Association for Energy Economics, which is a professional body of 3,000 energy industry types, energy academics, and researchers. In my annual address, I spoke about climate change, and said that energy professionals will have to take this into account. Otherwise, we would obviously be causing enormous problems for the globe. Everybody thought I was talking nonsense. Oil prices were very low, and everybody thought that the world was on a roll as far as energy supply and availability was concerned.
Q: can you summarize the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change?
Pachauri: The IPCC was set up in 1988, coincidentally, because there was growing concern about the human influence on climate change. The U.N. passed a resolution in the General Assembly asking that the …