Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Please click on image to ENLARGE photo of IPCC President and Nobel Laureate Rajendra Pachauri, who shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore, says humanity has only seven years to reverse the greenhouse emissions trend before we cross a threshold of "serious danger."
(Photo: Bjorn Sigurdson / Scanpix Norway / AFP)


OPINION

"We Have Seven Years Left to Reverse the CO2 Emissions Curve"
Monday 07 July 2008
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by: Laurence Caramel and St├Ęphane Foucart Interview Rajendra Pachauri, Le Monde


IPCC President and Nobel Laureate Rajendra Pachauri, who shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore, says humanity has only seven years to reverse the greenhouse emissions trend before we cross a threshold of "serious danger."
(Photo: Bjorn Sigurdson / Scanpix Norway / AFP)
Since 2002, Rajendra Pachauri has presided over the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the reports of which have scientifically asserted the reality of climate change. For that work, this 67-year-old Indian engineer and economist received the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize jointly with former American Vice President Al Gore. A guest in Saint-Cloud (Hauts-de-Seine) at the Informal Council of European Environment and Energy Ministers on Friday, July 4, he called on the Twenty-Seven to maintain their commitment to reduce their greenhouse gases by at least 20 percent between now and 2020. Quoting Gandhi, he exhorted the Europeans to be at the forefront of the struggle against global warming: "If you want the world to change," he declared to the ministers, "you have to embody the change you want."
Le Monde: Six months have gone by since the Bali Conference. Are the negotiations to achieve a post-Kyoto international agreement advancing?

Rajendra Pachauri: Not much has happened and that's worrying. There isn't much time left before the Copenhagen Summit in December 2009, even though, with these kinds of negotiations, it's always a bit the same: everyone watches everyone else and waits until the last minute. In the best case, that leads to agreement on a compromise, while this time, we need a solid and ambitious accord. To contain the rise in temperatures below 2-2.4 degrees C, which, according to our studies, is the threshold not to be crossed without putting us in serious danger, we have only seven years left in which to reverse the global curve of greenhouse gas emissions. That's very little time.

What role may Europe play?

Europe has an essential role to play; it must continue to show the way as it had begun to do. If Europe does not decide to be the first great region to voluntarily reduce its carbon dioxide discharges, it is futile to hope for an international agreement. Neither the United States nor China will ever come on board.

Should we see the food crises that are hitting poor countries as a manifestation of climate disturbance?

The present crisis has multiple causes, specifically population increases, changes in certain countries' eating patterns - like the increase in meat consumption - or even the fact that stocks of certain foodstuffs have not been maintained. But it is certain that if temperatures continue to increase, food shortages will get worse. We've calculated that agricultural yields could drop by half in certain African countries between now and 2020.

What do you think about the doubts some people have expressed about the reality of climate change?

They are marginal and most often reflect special interests that fear being penalized by a transition to a "de-carbonized" economy. But objectively, there is no room for doubt. Science has brought so many proofs, we no longer need any demonstration to know on a scientific basis that global warming is underway and that this warming is essentially due to human activities. But there will always be people who will argue about it. There's still a Flat Earth Society whose members continue and will continue for centuries to deny the rotundity of the Earth....

The generally publicized objective is to maintain the level of carbon dioxide (CO2) below 450 to 550 parts per million (ppm). But recent studies show that we'd need to stay below 350 ppm, a level that has already been exceeded ...

The IPCC does not give advice; it settles for providing an evaluation of different scenarios. Then it's up to the international community to decide. The main consideration is that we have to stabilize the level of greenhouse gas to a level below that of dangerous human interference with the climate. How should we define what is dangerous? And more importantly, dangerous for whom? For some little island states, the present level is unquestionably dangerous. I was recently in New Zealand, where I met the president of the Kiribati Islands (Anote Tong), whose country will be submerged before the end of the century. He is very aware of the fact that for the inhabitants of his country - who will have to leave - the danger level has already been outstripped. The international community cannot decide what is dangerous based on an average: there is no average in the danger climate change represents.

With a report every four to five years, the IPCC is sometimes criticized for being slow. Why doesn't it issue studies every year or every two years so as to be as up-to-date as possible?

Producing a report every year or every other year would be impossible. The IPCC does not employ any researchers: the authors of the report devote only 20-25 percent of their work time to it. But that is the only way to assure the collaboration of the best scientists. Data from the last year suggest that perhaps the Arctic is melting faster than the IPCC said in its last report. But it's possible that next year's measure will tell us something else.... We must take the time necessary to take into account sufficient data: that's also what creates our scientific credibility.

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Translation: Truthout French language editor Leslie Thatcher.

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