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'They can bend me, but can't break me'

Chairman of the Intergovenmental Panel for Climate Change, Rajendra Pachauri in a wide-ranging interview with Samar Halarnkar and Chetan Chauhan, says he will continue battling global lobbies that refuse to accept planetary warming.

india Updated: Feb 02, 2010 10:14 IST

Except for using intemperate language, the world's climate-change pointsman says he isn't guilty of anything: conflicts of interest or wearing Armani suits. Chairman of the Intergovenmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC), Rajendra Pachauri in a wide-ranging interview with Samar Halarnkar and Chetan Chauhan, says he will continue battling global lobbies that refuse to accept planetary warming.

He's a part-time poet and full-time climate-change spokesman who sometimes travels 20 days a month and on some nights sleeps as little as two hours (his average is six). But the tireless Rajendra Pachauri (69) - he even wrote a novel Return to Almora, with lots of racy passages while flying around the world - is now showing some strain from a barrage of allegations. These range from the IPCC's scientific slips to conflicts of interest with his other persona, as chief of the NGO The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), to personal allegations made against his suits and residential address. In less than two months after the Copenhagen summit, Pachauri has lost some of his halo as an Indian hero but none of his feistiness, as he vows to stay the course and prepare the ground for the world's next crucial climate summit in Mexico later this year.

Dr Pachauri, could the IPCC not have done better in admitting to its mistakes and correcting them quickly?

There is only one error (Himalayan glaciers melting by 2035), to which we have admitted. After that the errors reported are spurious. They (some western media) said the IPCC claim on the losses from disasters was not from an authentic source. We checked the source; it was authentic. The IPCC was also correct on its claim on Amazon forests…the IPCC isn't here to answer deniers of climate change. Their sole objective is to damage the credibility of IPCC, not answering people whose only motive is to deny the science of climate change. We will put up a statement on IPCC website (clarifying errors), this is it. We are not going to answer these spurious individual complaints coming in only two sources, The Times (London), and, more importantly, The Telegraph.

Will the IPCC review its entire report?

We cannot do that. It (the fourth assessment report) is a 3,000-page report and there are more than 5,000 references. We really have to put in the same effort (to review the report) as we did to produce the report between 2002 and 2006. I do not see a sense in doing that. Our job now is to bring out the fifth assessment report.

If your climate science is strong, and there are no ambiguities in the report, why are we seeing this growing skepticism? Why now?

Unfortunately, as you know, there has been a change in the United States. President (Barack) Obama right from the beginning has been committed on taking action on climate change. A legislation has been introduced in the Congress. To counter it, there are 2,300 lobbyists in Washngton DC, whose only job is to see no policy, no legislation comes into existence that will tackle the problem of climate change. The Center For Public Integrity (A Washington D.C.-based think tank) has brought out a report saying there are 770 companies that are funding this effort. All of this is clearly part of the strategy to demolish the science of climate change and thereby continue to earn their huge profits. You might remember that in Copenhagen one country [Saudi Arabia] issued a statement that oil-exporting countries should be compensated for any loss of revenue because we would be moving to renewable sources of energy. So, there is no mention of the cost that this trend has been imposing on rest of the world. The growing consumption of fossil fuels is imposing impacts on some of the poorest countries of the world. Don't they deserve compensation? This is all part of a concerted effort, and I don't want to extend it (the debate) any further. I am convinced that the truth will prevail, and some of us will stick with the truth.

Why do you think you are personally under attack?

Well, because I have been very vocal. And, maybe, I was my fault. Right from the beginning, when I was vice-chair of IPCC in 1997, I was telling my colleagues that we really have to have go out and spread the message, if the IPCC has to be policy relevant. I have been very active, saying that the developed world has to support those who are impacted by climate change. I have gone to the point of saying that people should eat less meat. That bothers them because they feel I am questioning their lifestyles, of course, (and) they feel it is bringing huge cost to them. They feel this guy from India - whom they referred to as a Hindu vegetarian, a term I think is slanderours - is telling us how to live. They feel threatened by the scientific assessments of the IPCC and hold me responsible for what I am been saying on the basis of the science that has emerged.

Do you believe you are under attack because you are from the third world?

I don't know, but you can draw your own conclusions. But, I must say that throughout the period I have functioned as chairman of the IPCC I have had the support of every country. If that wasn't the case, I would not have been re-elected unanimously. The outsiders who really don't want any action on climate change may find me inconvenient. They probably think that I am an inconvenient truth, like the Al-Gore movie.

Dr Pachauri, you head an international climate organisation that warns us of climate change. You also head an NGO that advises everyone from fossil fuel companies to governments on climate effects and gets paid for it. Even if you go by the dictionary meaning, isn't there a conflict of interest here?

The point is that I have had a relationship with all these organisations for decades now. When I became chairperson of the IPC,C I was on the board of Indian Oil. The Europeans, in particular, had asked, 'how do you explain the fact that you on are on the board of the Indian Oil Corporation?' I said, 'how do you travel to work, do you use fossil fuel at all?' They said, 'yes, of course.' If I can use a fossil fuel company to move in the right direction, why shouldn't I use that as an opportunity? I will tell you that at the very first (Indian Oil) board meeting with me as a member, I said, 'you need to transform from an oil company to an energy company. Get into renewable in a big way.'

We decided to work on several areas. It is another matter that, unfortunately, it was not carried forward. ONGC had set up a trust to which I take a little bit of credit. You know I had relationships with these organisations all my life. Firstly, whatever we have said in the IPCC reports is in the public domain, I am not using any secrets or any intellectual property that somebody else wants. It is the public's intellectual property. If, on the basis of that I am able to advise companies, banks, individuals, when I tell them to eat less meat, where is the conflict of interest? I don't see that. I am not taking any money for that service. I am a full-time paid employee of TERI and therefore, my time belongs to my institute, as is the case with all the employees of TERI. If I give advice to Deutsche Bank, for instance - they are coming up with a major portfolio in renewable energy - isn't that for the benefit of humanity? Am I not helping the world to move to a future that is inevitable and urgent? I feel proud of the fact. If that is conflict of interest, I will say I will have much more conflict of interest. Seriously, that is the way I feel.

Will this criticism not be negated if you give up being the head of TERI and continue as IPCC chairman?

Why should I do that? I need a salary. The IPCC does not pay me a single penny.

The IPCC does not pay you?

Of course not. There is no member who is paid by the IPCC. The only thing I get reimbursed for is travel to IPCC meetings. This again is a myth, which the Sunday Telegraph has been spreading. No chairperson of IPCC has been paid. I haven't been paid. They decided to provide 100,000 Swiss francs when I became chairperson to support me, and I refused to take it, because I don't want to chair a body that is supporting me through a budgetary decision. I said would go to my own government because they nominated me, they are the ones who wanted me as chairperson of IPCC. Let my government support me. I am grateful that my government has provided support to my institute to give me infrastructure, to give me staff, so that I can function as the chair of the IPCC. But I get no payment from any source, certainly not the IPCC for anything I do.

Well, do you feel been let down by your own government? The minister [Union Minister of State for Environment Jairam Ramesh] himself has been questioning IPCC data, especially on Himalayan glaciers.

I don't feel let down. I think this is a free country, people can express themselves as they want. The minister is very good friend of mine, I will stand up for him any time, and I would expect that where he feels I am right, he would stand up for me. I don't hold anything against anyone. In any case, I am the kind of person who does not have any place for bitterness. I have too much to do, if I carry the baggage of bitterness or regrets, I am sorry, I will never be able to achieve anything. I am running three jobs. One of them is full time job. You said I should resign from TERI…

No, I never said you should resign…

Okay, fine. I work around the clock. I have some kind of genes for which I thank my parents, which I seldom feel tired. I get surprised, I have youngsters, you know, who through the day work and say they are tired.

How old are you?

I am 69.

How long do you sleep?

Normally, I get 2 hours of sleep, sometimes. Not every night. I am very comfortable if I get six hours of sleep. The rest of that is working time. I work Saturday, Sundays, Holidays. I never had a holiday. I mean, I don't feel any need for it. My adrenaline is running all the time.

You termed the (Indian) government's report on Himalayan glaciers as voodoo science. Do you believe that?

You know, the fact is I used intemperate language. But, I said it only because the report had not been peer reviewed. It clearly came to the conclusion that glaciers in the Himalayas are not melting and the ones that were, were not melting because of climate change. I found that totally unacceptable. On the other hand, all data produced by the Chinese, on their side of Himalayas, each one of their studies clearly tells you that the glaciers are melting at a rapid rate. How can we release a report, which almost seems to have official sanction, which questions the very basic reality that these are melting? So, I am sorry that I got carried away. I used the term that I normally would not use. But, I can't agree with them

You think research on the Indian side on glaciers has been extremely poor?

Yes, it is.

What should the government do?

The government should promote research on glaciers. We don't even don't have proper measurements. And, I can tell you, TERI over a year ago mounted a major programme. There are two glaciers, where we have provided a lot of instrumentation and equipment through our own resources. We have not got a single penny by way of funding, and I think, we have spend something like Rs 80 lakh already on buying the equipment that is installed over there. It is of crucial importance to the future of this country. If we don't know what is happening to our glaciers what will future generations say about us? So, we have mounted work in this area for this reason. There is very little work being done, and I hope the government steps in this in a big way.

Do you wear 1,000-dollar Armani suits?

I am not a monk I don't live in a monastery. I don't think I will ever do that. I have an inherited house, it is an ancestral property in Golf Links. If you think I should not be living in Golf Links, please get me a nice house and maybe I would consider moving from there. I find it very convenient [the house is half km from TERI]. It is not something I have invested in. As far as my suits are concerned, I get them stitched by Chadda and Company in Khanna Market [A middle-class market behind the TERI building]. He charges me the princely sum of Rs 2,200, and this is after I have bargained with him. Normally, he would have charged Rs 2,500. I am a regular customer. I will recommend you very strongly to him, I will take you along if you want. If my suits look like a thousand dollars, then he is doing a pretty good job, I would say. He is a good tailor.

I don't eat meat, I stopped eating meat years ago, I never go to a shopping mall, I don't think I have ever been to a shopping mall in this country because I am ethically against these energy guzzling establishments. When I step out of my office, I always switch off my lights. At home I never use a heater during the worst period in the winter, I just don't like it. I try to do my best in my own lifestyle, I know it is not good enough, but this is something that is a part of my daily existence. For anyone to say I have a luxurious lifestyle, I think it is a lie of the worst kind.

TERI has grown since you became IPCC chairman. Critics imply this is, in some way, related.

I can tell you that the IPCC chair has no power. Why would anyone oblige the IPCC chair? We are only a scientific body. It cannot give a single rupee or a dollar to anybody. The fact is - look at the history of TERI, how it has grown. When I first joined in 1982, do you know what we had? I had a secretary half time and administrative person half time. And, today we are now 900 strong. This has not happened during the period I have been chair of IPCC chair. We are proud of having got support from everywhere. We don't have grants from anywhere. We have to generated resources from our work.

Can you provide us revenue for 10 years to prove there is no link between IPCC and TERI?

I don't see a link. As, I said if I would had been administrator of UNDP or in World Bank or in corporate sector, where I could dole out favours to people, then you can say that people are favouring TERI. I am proud of the credibility I have. If people feel I can run the organization, and this organisation does deliver, not through my efforts but everybody's efforts, we are proud about it. I have proved myself in several aspects in the world. Not in eyes of Sunday Telegraph. Fortunately, there are a few people, thank God, like the Sunday Telegraph. But yes, if you want, we can provide the accounts, the payments made over these 10 years.

If we can come to the negotiations over climate change: Copenhagen seemed very democratic and open. But it seemed like there were just too many people under one roof to come to a conclusion in 10 days.

There's no doubt about that. Some are saying, maybe this should be discussed in the G-20 first, come up with an agreement over there. But, you know, I would say there is a huge benefit in a UN- supported agreement because after all you also have to look at the interest of some of the smaller states in the world. How can you ignore them? If we have to give governance of such an important issue to only 20 countries, that may not be proper. They can be spearheads, that is fine. In the end, it needs to have a stamp of approval of all the countries. I think it can be done. What is required is leadership of outstanding calibre by a number of countries. I think they have to realise the urgency of it. One key country over here would be the United States. Lets see what they are able to do. If you read President Obama's union address (last week), I am pretty encouraged he is focusing on this issue. It can be done, it will not be easy. In several respects, Copenhagen should have done very much more. But I would not give up on it.

Did failure at Copenhagen help climate skeptics?

No agreement at Copenhagen in fact encouraged some of the deniers, and those who are financing them with, maybe millions, who knows, billions of dollars. I except young people all over the world who are concerned about their future and what climate change will do to their lives in their future that they will be at the vanguard of action. This (India) is a country where we have a majority of young people. They have to take the lead.