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IPCC chairman urges nations to look beyond politics to fight climate change

As a UN body - Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - in its latest report has set an alarm bell ringing for the world to the looming threats of global warming, its chairman R K Pachauri wants the countries across the globe to look beyond "politics" while arriving at a universal climate deal.

In an interview to Vishwa Mohan, he appeals to the world community to replace the north-south distinction by concern for "humanity at large". He also says nobody is going to be immune to the impacts of climate change and enlists important takeaways from the report which was released in Yokohama, Japan on Monday. 

Excerpts: 

Q. Do you think the politics and so-called north-south divide over taking desired actions come in the way of fighting the common threats of climate change? 

A. We have, in this particular report, looked at equity and ethical dimension of the problem. But, we are a scientific body and we can only carry out assessment of climate change. The politics part of it has to be dealt with under the negotiation process within the UN framework convention on climate change. Politics is certainly there. But, the time has come when we also have to worry about remote parts of this globe. Nobody is going to be immune to the impacts of the climate change. You have seen how some of the recent extreme weather events have affected some developed countries. I think this distinction between north and south has to be replaced by a concern for the humanity at large. We have also said very clearly in this report that the pockets of poverty will also expand in some of the developed countries. If you are going to get an extreme event and get reduction in level of water availability, it is going to affect everybody. 

Q. What are the most important takeaways for entire South Asian region in the latest IPCC report? 

A. The first takeaway is if we don't limit the emission of greenhouse gases globally, then clearly the climate change will reach a point where we might cross a certain threshold where adaptation is going to be really very difficult to carry out. Second, we in South Asia are very vulnerable because it would have impact on agriculture, human health, water resources and sea level rise plus extreme weather events. So, this is going to affect livelihood. The third one is particularly in respect of water resources. We really need to start using water far more efficiently in agriculture and urban areas. Substantial reduction in availability of water in some areas will only lead to possible human conflicts. Fourth, we need adaptation measures like early warning system and creating local institutions. Lastly, we should use renewable energy because it carries a lot of co-benefits. India has substantial amount of sources of renewable energy. We (India) can really become a leader in the use of renewable energy source like solar, wind and bio-mass. 

Q. What would you like to tell the section among Indian policymakers who think the country's economic growth is far more important and they can't take risk of blocking everything at this stage of development in the name of environmental protection? This section also talks about competing with China. What's your take on this? 

A. We need to redefine development. Even in developed countries, there is a world of difference between North America and Japan. Japan uses energy far more efficiently. They have much better public transport. Why should we not do something that gives us economic muscle and gives us economic growth that is sustainable? Why should we pursue unsustainable pattern of growth? After all, purely GDP growth by itself is not the end. We talk about inclusive growth but where is the inclusive growth. The rich are getting richer and poor remain exactly where they are. So when we talk about competing with other nations, let's do it an intelligent way. 

You can get growth to match that of any other country in the world but you should not pollute all your rivers, soil and air. Because, all of that has huge cost which may not be reflected in the GDP of this country, but it is there. It is a reality. It is affecting all human beings. Why should we have a development the way it is defined by North America or any other developed country? We have to think of our own situation and come up with the pattern of development which is totally suitable to us. And, this is where we need some original thinking. 

Q. The IPCC report also talks about impact of climate change on food-grain production. It may negatively affect yields of wheat, rice and maize in India and other parts of the world. Do you think India should adopt genetically modified (GM) food crops and bio-technological route to increase food-grain production to meet its future demand? 

A. I think GM food crops and bio-technology certainly have lot of potential, but we have to observe all the safeguards that are required. I mean it shouldn't be like you introduce genetically modified plants which can lead to all kinds of other ecological and environmental impacts which are undesirable. So, you have to carry out trials. You have to introduce proper safeguards and when all of that been done, then you can think about GM in this country. But, my concern is that we in this country or, in fact, in most part of the world have not done any research and development by which a poor small farmer - who is producing food-grain under drought condition or who is entirely dependent on rain-fed agriculture - can be benefitted. We have really not met his needs. And, I think that is a real challenge. A large number of farmers in this country are in that category. They are not large farmers who are using fertilizers, pesticides and large quantity of water. They are small-time farmers for whom we have done very little R&D. 

We have to come up with solution for such farmers. We have to think what such farmer is going to do if rain fails for two years in a row. We may also have to create some infrastructure to see that at least the minimal amount of water is available to such people who are spread across the country. So, that's the kind of work we should be targeting. Why should we be emulating what the others countries in the world have done? 

Q. What is the problem behind poor implementation of the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) in India? 

A. I think firstly, there has to be some coordination for the plan and its implementation. We have eight missions under the NAPCC. Each ministry has been made responsible for the specific mission. But, you also need to coordinate all these actions and I am not too sure whether there is any group or body or institution that is monitoring and evaluating the actions which are taking place. I am not too sure whether we really are clear about some of the instrument by which those missions need to be implemented. 

Q. What would you suggest to the new government (post-forthcoming Parliamentary elections) for proper implementation of the action plan to deal with climate change? 

A. Whosoever will come to the power (new government), my key suggestion would be to use the knowledge which is available and develop a plan of action which would protect life and property. We have new knowledge about impacts of climate change. We need to modify or refine this plan in the light of the new knowledge. We will have in another two weeks time a new knowledge about the mitigation of the emissions of greenhouse gases (through the upcoming Working Group-III report of the IPCC). In that sense, whether the government should revise that plan. We have Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission which laid down a target of 20,000 MW. But in view of the reduction in prices of renewable energy, is there a case for us to revise the target upwards? I think that has to be done. This is where the state governments have also to get involved. On the basis of what we know will be the impact of climate change in future, we should be putting in place a set of adaptation measures and some institutional mechanism by which we can take care of and reduce the risks to life and property.

The Times of India (03-04-2014)