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The 15th Delhi Sustainable Development Summit (5—7 February), offers stakeholders a unique opportunity to discuss the crucial climate summit in Paris in December, says Rajendra K. Pachauri, director of The Energy Research Institute (TERI), which organises the annual event in the Indian capital.

Pachauri, who is chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change tells SciDev.Net that there will be discussions on the science of climate change that could feed into the official process and add to the sense of urgency to deal with the phenomenon.

The DSDS, coming as it does after the CoP at Lima, Peru offers an opportunity for discussions that could possibly inform the Paris agreement and the 2020 deadline.  What is the likely contribution?

I would say it’s a very useful supplement to the official process. There was a fair amount of momentum in the Lima COP, and I think an event of this nature also helps to further that momentum. There will be a lot of discussion on the science, on the underlined reasons why we have to act very soon to deal with this problem. So all of that hopefully will also feed into the official process and add to the sense of urgency and build up the momentum that is in evidence already.  This is a free and unfettered kind of opportunity where people drawn from different walks of life, who are fully familiar with the issues that are to be discussed, and actually provide their viewpoints, analysis and insights.

What would you like to see happen in the months leading up to a Paris agreement?

We have to do a lot more. If you look at the commitments that were put forward in the Cancun COP, those we have clearly said were not adequate. But at the same time, we have also said that it’s entirely possible to build on those. But the key word is ‘build’. We can’t take things for granted — we really need a much stronger set of commitments. And the sooner, the better, otherwise the costs and feasibility of doing enough to keep the temperature increase below 2 degrees Celsius can go beyond our reach. Therefore, we’ve highlighted the urgency of the problem — if the world wants to keep the temperature increase below 2 degrees Celsius. And that’s what the official process will decide — a possible agreement and a possible protocol. They’ve set this limit of 2 degrees Celsius. So if we have to respect that, then we really need to move very quickly, we don’t have the luxury of time.

If you look at the increase in emissions between the years 2000 and 2010 — in the year 2000 global emissions were about 39 gigatons CO2 equivalent and in the year 2010 there were about 49 gigatons of CO2 equivalent. So that’s a very sharp increase, and essentially it means that we’ve added 1 gigaton of CO2 equivalent emissions each year. So I think, what you’re saying is absolutely right, we’re going counter to the very spirit and intent of UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

And finally, we are also trying to sensitise the Indian public. I think it’s important for India and Indians to be fully cognizant of the kinds of global challenges that are being faced, and that we have to be a part of the solution, not merely a part of the problem. A country of over 1.2 billion people can’t possibly shrug its shoulders and say, it’s for others to take action, we’ll not contribute. I think we have to create awareness, create a sense of commitment on the part of the Indian people and our leadership.

“I am disappointed at the inadequate level of research and development in this country, on subjects like climate change — both on the science of climate change, as well as what needs to be done to tackle the problem”

R K Pachauri, TERI

Are you satisfied with progress on climate change in India?

To be honest, I am disappointed at the inadequate level of research and development in this country, on subjects like climate change — both on the science of climate change, as well as what needs to be done to tackle the problem. So, I think there is a need for the scientific institutions to get a little more active, and there is also a need for our funding organisations to be a little more supportive, because, given the importance of climate change through India and various parts of India, we necessarily have to do a lot more research. A lot more site-specific, country-specific research to the extent possible. Because, the impacts are very local and localised, we have to do a lot of study on what kinds of impacts will be felt in different parts of the world, different parts of the country.
To take action will actually help to revive growth. Because you take something like buildings — those being made more efficient, and those requiring retrofits. You would be generating a lot more jobs, you would be making the use of energy more efficiently. Therefore, there would be a cutting down of wastage, and whatever energy is saved could be utilised for productive purposes. In other sectors of the economy also, like renewable energy — take the case of Germany, a country that has been very aggressive in promoting renewable energy after 2008, particularly photovoltaic and wind. But, their economy has done better than the rest of Europe! And they’ve also generated enough jobs.

Major countries like China and India as well as the US and EU have expressed satisfaction with the Lima outcome.  Does this indicate a new alignment shaping up before Paris? Has the common but differentiated responsibility principle been abandoned?

I think that principle will have to be reinforced continuously. And I don’t think it’s been abandoned. From what I saw in Lima, there was clearly a lot of attention being given to common, but differentiated responsibility. But how soon we might get a fair and equitable agreement, I really don’t know. I mean, this is a complex area of negotiations, and it’s anybody’s guess how it’s going to come out in the end.

The Lima call says that the UNFCCC would “prepare by 1 November 2015 a synthesis report on the aggregate effect of the intended nationally determined contributions communicated by Parties by 1 October 2015.”  Do you see any hope in this aggregate — especially when nothing is binding?

I think Paris will get us an agreement. It’s important that the agreement allow for ex-party review of the commitments. Because, my belief is that unless you carry out a review of how much is being committed, to keep to the 2 degrees Celsius temperature increase, we’ll never be able to find out how we are doing. So I think the ex-party review is absolutely crucial. In the absence of that, how are we going to see whether the world is doing enough, even if every country makes the commitment? But you know, all of that may not add up. If you look at the EU that’s already made a major commitment — 40 per cent reduction by 2030 over the 1990 levels, that’s certainly ahead of the pack. So I think there is a sense of seriousness. I get the sense that things are a little different now than they were, maybe even two or three years ago.

“I think Paris will get us an agreement”

R K Pachauri, TERI

What kind of role do you see for India on climate change?

To my mind, India should really take the lead— India should be in a leadership position. And this will also open up huge opportunities for us. Let’s say we go in for solar in a big way, we would acquire expertise, we would certainly, hopefully, be able to develop some technologies and at least improve technologies over what we have available. And all of that would not only give us a leadership position, it would also give us businesses opportunities elsewhere. Because whatever products we make, let’s say in the renewable energy field, will have a demand beyond our shores, and we should really create market conditions — today it may be just one large manufacturer, tomorrow there could be half a dozen.

At Lima, India’s environment minister made a statement that our solar energy mission is going to be raised from 20,000 megawatts to a 100,000 megawatts. I think there is seriousness in the government, to take the necessary steps and enhance the supply of renewable energy. In most parts of this country, you have extensive sunshine and very good levels of radiation — and our scientific and technical manpower is much lower priced than that of the developed countries. So we’ve got all that it takes, for us to be really successful in this field. And we could become a leader- if we make an early start, and get an adequate commitment from the government, business and industry, there’s no reason why we can’t be leaders in this field.

US President Barack Obama’s visit in January produced a joint-statement on climate change cooperation, though India indicated it would not be pushed into a commitment on reducing emissions

My advice is that we launch a major partnership programme for clean and renewable technologies. The US has some outstanding capabilities, and there are venture capitalists that are financing technology development in a whole range of fields. I really think we should come up with a very clearly defined programme involving the two countries, for development of clean and renewable technologies. And that would have benefits for not only the US and India, but also for the rest of the world. The fact is that in the US you can get support for something, which is purely a pie in the sky. You can’t do that over here. So I think some of those institutional structures will have to be created here also. And we can learn from the US on how to do it — we might even be able to get a few of their people to come here and work with us for a while.

Lima COP has done little to get help for developing countries reduce poverty, which in turn will affect poverty reduction and sustainable development.  There were also no firm assurances from developing countries on providing technology and finance.  

There is the green climate fund — at least there is a commitment of US$10 billion now. So that’s a start. However, I think, when it comes to helping the poor and ridding the world of poverty, I think the problem is a universal problem. I don’t think that we in our country are all that effective in this regard. There are two dimensions on the problem — one is, poverty across countries and the other is, poverty within a country and disparities across countries, and disparities within a country. In our country, what is horrifying is the rate at which the gap between rich and poor is growing. We really need to move in the right direction ourselves. And I would like to see a little more attention paid to this problem.

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's South Asia desk.