“Is the climate change situation as dire as you make it sound?” Is invariably the first question that any interviewer puts to Dr. Rajendra Kumar Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the director general of The Energy and Resources Institute. Ever since 2007, when Pachauri came out with earth shattering commentary that our planet was moving rapidly towards an ecological disaster of gargantuan proportion, somewhat of an Eco-Armageddon and it was human activity that is responsible for the same; he has been hailed as a hero and reviled as a villain across the globe. Since, then Pachauri has been asked above question over and over again, and yet the environmental Nostradamus always answers the question calmly and lists down all the dangers that confront us in a solemn demeanor.
For western nations like the US that after years of releasing obnoxious pollutants in the atmosphere and wanting other nations like India and China to take a commitment first, Pachauri is a somewhat of a bogeyman. Nonetheless, he has taken a strong stance on what the world needs to do forestall the doom and how the developed countries should not merely shift the onus and blame to developing countries. In recognition of his efforts and those of IPCC, the Nobel Committee conferred on IPCC and Al Gore, the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. In his acceptance speech on behalf of IPCC, Pachauri had invoked the Sanskrit adage, vasudev kutumbakam (the whole universe is one big family) and asked everyone to contribute to the fight against climate change.
Post Nobel, Pachauri turned into the most recognized face of climate change and he continues to invoke the same vasudev kutumbakam principle to ask all to join in the challenge. In a special discussion, he talks about the ways in which Indian corporate sector can play a significant role in battle, on CSS, nuclear energy and so many other things.
Whenever, we talk about climate change it is often from a macro perspective, namely what the governments can do on it. Do you think that at a micro level, say enterprises too have a certain amount of responsibility and can work towards a better world?
Indeed it is so. There is a whole range of things that companies and enterprises can do. The impacts of climate change are going to be very diverse, they are going to range from an increase in extreme climate events, to heat waves, drought, and also changes in precipitation pattern so the availability of natural resources like water is going to be definitely affected and it is going to impact on the working of the corporate sector. So companies need to start looking at how they need to adapt to these extreme events, for instance if there is an company that uses a large amount of water like a semiconductor fab; the water is not going to be available in the manner and to the magnitude they need in the future. So probably they need to think in terms of recycling of water, using processes that are less water intensive, etc. So these are adaptations measures that they can. And this will not only benefit the company but also go a long way in the fight against climate change.
What do you think about the eco-consciousness of the Indian corporate sector?
Well, it is growing, it is still not where it should be but I think the consciousness is growing. What is important is that there is desire to understand and to find out what they can do. But not all of them are not well informed on what the impact of climate changes are and how they should respond to it. I want to highlight the fact that the need to reduce the emission of green house gases (GHG) is also linked to energy supply because energy is going to be an issue that will affect countries, corporate entities, and even individual. The security of energy supply is certainly in question as far as the future is concerned. So to the extent that corporate sector can use energy more efficiently, perhaps to shift as much as possible to the use of renewable energy. There own security about the supply of energy will enhance. And while doing all that they will also be able to cut down on costs. They will have to carry out some due diligence, exactly define what they can do. The corporate sector in India needs to wake up to the challenge of climate change.
Right now, most of the green initiatives carried out by the corporate sector are clubbed under the CSR tag, what do you make of it?
You know, I think by and large a lot of corporate organizations treat CSR as a kind of a cosmetic effort. I don’t think that is the right spirit. CSR should be mainstream, after all if a company has to succeed it also has to ensure that the society succeeds as well. And hence, for that to happen companies need to start looking at some of these initiatives as part of their overall operating strategy, not something that you do external to the enterprise. Hence, it is essential to integrate the two.
Due to your association with TERI, you have been privy to a lot of information about the various sectors of Indian industry; what do you think about the eco-consciousness of the IT industry vis-à-vis the rest of the sectors?
Some of the IT companies are indeed getting conscious of the fact, but I am not sure whether they are doing too much about it. Even if you look at some of the buildings that they construct, they have not really paid any attention by and large to energy efficient design, reducing energy in a way to make it sustainable in terms of supply opportunity in the future. And I am not too sure whether most of them are looking at even at the hardware and the software that they use being focused on energy efficiency. So I still think that there is a long way to go and I am not singling out the IT industry, every industry and enterprise needs to gear up for the challenge.
You have in the past termed the glass buildings, as ‘glass dabbas’.
Of late there has been lot of hype and excitement around the green building space, especially with the popular LEED ratings and TERI’s GRIHA ratings, what do you think about the hype and the essential difference between LEED and GRIHA?
I am happy about the increasing consciousness about the role played by buildings in terms of the energy they consume and the pollution they cause. But we need to understand, that LEED was developed in the US and is more suited to the conditions there. The climatic conditions of India and US are completely different, for instance usually we did not require much air-conditioning. That is the reason, why we at TERI spent so much time and effort coming up with the GRIHA rating. I think what we really need to do is to ensure that the rating system is used effectively, that will only happen provided if people find some benefit in undergoing the process of these ratings. Those benefits would essentially be in the nature of saving expenses themselves, so they need to understand that if they have an energy efficient building, there might be a slight increase in the up-front cost, but over a period of time you actually save money. I think that consciousness and understanding needs to be created, the second thing is that the government could provide some incentives and those could be in the nature of larger FSI, tax breaks, etc. Because, I think it is absolutely essential to bring about a major up gradation of building technology to take into account the energy implication and other natural resources like water as well.
Why hasn’t TERI’s GRIHA, in spite of being a homegrown rating system, not really caught on the way for instance LEED has?
I think it is largely because LEED is a foreign thing, and we still have a very colonial attitude and it is much sexier to think in terms of LEED rating. All out corporate sector people go to these big international conferences like Davos, etc. and they can boast about the fact that they have LEED-rated buildings in front of international colleagues and audiences. It is basically the fact that we still believe that anything that comes from overseas is far more attractive than what something that is homegrown. Also, it is a case of ignorance as well, a lot of organizations might not be aware of the refinements or the various aspects of LEED rating, it just sounds sexy, and so you go for it. I sincerely think that these attitudes need to change.
There also has been a lot of issues in term of technological transfer of clean technology by advanced countries, which was originally one of the mechanisms that had evolved through the consensus during the Kyoto conference, and later. What is your view on it?
I think we have equal opportunities to develop some of those technologies, of course there are technologies that are available in Japan and other parts of Europe and even in the US which would ensure more efficient use of energy, if we were to apply them here. But so far, there has been no regime under which these kinds of technology transfers are facilitated. I personally think that what we should negotiate for is some kind of low interest loans for specific technologies that would ensure the initial investment, so it doesn’t become a barrier. I think on the international arena we have to lobby and fight hard for some such system, if that happens then the technology transfer will take place in a much easier manner and there would be a demand for them also on a larger scale.
What according to you are the reasons for low R&D in India on these technologies?
First there are two basic reasons, number one R&D is usually in the hands of the government, and our government if I may say has not been very effective in goal-oriented or result-oriented R&D efforts. Most of our lab system is under the government are not focused on creating market relevant solutions. So I think there is a structural or an institutional problem. And the second reason is that the government does not necessarily provide the right fiscal signals or the right market signals for these technologies to be developed. As long as you have electricity being sold in rural areas at zero or no cost, or if you have kerosene being subsidized, then you are really not providing incentives for people to develop alternatives on a decentralized basis. So I really think that pricing of energy needs to be corrected, has to be rationalized to provide the right market signals.
Renewable energy is such a big thing abroad, yet it hasn’t taken off in a major way in India, especially on the solar front in spite of being a warm tropical country. In fact you had launched a rural program, ‘Lighting a Billion Lives’ with solar lamps developed by Teri. Yet the successes are few and far between.
I think it is a question of mindset, everybody believes in getting electricity through the wire is the best way to modern living. But the fact is, electricity in the homes of rural people would essentially be used for lighting and agricultural purposes, like pumping and so on. But even if you were to provide electricity to the rural areas, a lot of people may not have sufficient money to invest in wiring and other initial costs. Secondly the quality of energy supplied in rural areas is so poor that it is not going to be a solution for lighting purposes for a long time to come. So therefore given the fact that photo voltaic technology is a fairly mature technology and the product that we have are reliable, there is no reason why we should not use it to provide lighting, that makes such a difference to people’s lives. So we don’t have to wait till every village is connected by electric wires and distribution system. We can immediately go for these solar lanterns that will provide all the benefits of lighting that the people want.
But a lot many in the corporate sector lay the blame on the government for not having incentivized investment in renewable energy. As the argument goes that a mass use of such solutions would automatically then bring down the price. Your views.
Economies of scale would be there no doubt, but it is a chicken and egg situation, and I don’t always blame the government after all the corporate sector is also a part of the society. Instead of going and lobbying with the government for concessions that would help them, why don’t they go and lobby on something like this that would help the society. You never hear of such efforts. So I think you really need to make sure that the government and industry start working together and it shouldn’t be them against us, kind of a thing.
You have been quite vocal on the transport front, especially the need for better public transport.
I think corporate India should get more active interacting with the government on policy issues, because their own success is going to depend on government taking the right decisions. The infrastructure is certainly not up to the mark and it affects everybody, every citizen of this country. We need to make sure that we sensitize the government on the impact that this has on the economic activity in general. Use of public transport is one of the ways in which we can mitigate the impact to a certain level.
Your views on e-waste, lot of hue and cry on the issues like dumping, we too thanks to the rapid urbanization are now creating a lot of this electronic waste. How big do you think is the issue and are we up to it?
It is a serious issue and we seem to be completely ignoring it. I am not too sure whether we even have a proper inventory on the amount of e-waste being produced in the country today. But this is again and area where, business and government have to work together and I think there has to be a systemic approach to things where people who are the users of all these equipment and electronic items, are involved in the process of collection, and handling of all the refuse that is generated. Otherwise, we are going to have some serious difficulties as the quantity keeps increasing, before it turns into something much bigger. The time to act on it is now, and we haven’t done anything yet.
Europe has been very active on tackling climate change thanks to the numerous legislations, like RoHS and WEEE. Do you think we need that kind of legislations in India to boost the battle on that front?
I think the first step, and perhaps the most important step is to see that the public is educated about climate change, they must understand the reality of the problem and must realize what the role of the society is in meeting this challenge. Awareness is spreading no doubt, but it is still a long way to go. This is something that everyone from corporate leaders to national leaders should look into seriously. Once the political and corporate leaders understand the issue and start voicing their opinion, than the people at large will understand it as well and come round to it.
Do we require stricter laws in place?
In some cases yes, for instance if you look at building activity, I think every building should have a very strict code and a very strict regulation. But I feel that regulation and enforcement is best done at a local level in towns and cities, and that can make a big difference. I don’t think all of it or even a large part of it should come from New Delhi. We are a large and complex country, state governments should play a larger role and take a lead.
Price of carbon, is it what we refer to as carbon tax?
It could be either be by tax or in the country that you are living, it could be cap and trade system and the price may evolve by itself when you have an effective cap and trade system. But in case where we don’t have that, we need to enforce the tax because unless you have a price on carbon, you won’t have market-based solutions that will lead us to a low carbon economy.
Your views on the economic angle, CDM, CCS, etc., it is argued that much of the change has merely been cosmetic in nature?
If you look at the Kyoto Protocol that by itself is not going to make a big difference, CDM is only a part of it, a very small part of it. So one did not expect any major contribution from this mechanism anyways, but I think that for whatever it is worth, CDM has certainly created a carbon market even in a country like India, where people haven’t known about this issue at all. Nowadays you come across scores of Indian companies that are wanting to earn CERs, and looking at CDM projects, so I think at least spread awareness and it has created an institutional mechanism and an experience base, which would help us improve on our current practice much further.
Of late you have also spoken about Carbon Capture and Storage, it would add a big cost and the technology is not yet mature either?
I don’t imagine CCS as a major solution in the near future, because as you said that technology is just not right and it is not economically viable and therefore it cannot be applied on a significant scale at all. But there is a need for much more research and development on this technology and if that indeed takes place, then I have no doubt that in the coming years there would be solutions developed that are essentially viable in commercial terms and will be effective in reducing emissions. But it is not quite there yet.
From Kyoto to Bali to Poznan and now moving to Copenhagen, at these conferences there are much debates and finger pointing between the developed and developing world on who should take the blame and the responsibility. In all these deliberations, how forward do you think have we moved on the action front especially considering the dire scenario that confronts us. Have we really moved forward or are just accusing and belittling each other.
To be honest, progress has been very slow. We have not really achieved a fraction of what we intended and required to do. And part of the problem is that if you go back in time the Kyoto Protocol was ratified in 2005, even though it had been agreed on in 1997, it took eight years for ratification, unfortunately the US pulled out of it, Australia pulled out of it, Australia is back now but it is a little too late. So I think the overall environment for strong and coherent agreement had been vitiated and weakened by the fact that the US had decided not to be a party to the Kyoto protocol because had they been, then they would have been a very large part of the overall global effort to bring about reduction in emissions. So what I would say is that now that the US is going to bring in a new president in the White House, who’s been very vocal on environmental issues. I see no reason why some fresh blood is not injected into these negotiations and hopefully in Copenhagen we would get an agreement. But undoubtedly so far, things have moved very slowly.
Your views on Obama, he has been very vocal on climate change and environment, based on what you have read or heard, what you feel about his commitment to climate change issues.
I am very encouraged because the man has been making statements that are very positive, he is also talking about using this as an opportunity to solve the economic problem that the US is suffering from. And that I think is the right approach, because nobody should see survival of the economy as being counter to meeting the threat of climate change, both should really go hand in hand. So I am actually very optimistic, I happen to know some of his advisors who are in touch with him on a regular basis and they all tell me that he is quite serious and will carry through his promises. So that I think is a good spot on the horizon.
I recall reading somewhere that you could only manage to have was a 5 minute with President George Bush, hopefully President Barrack Obama will lend you more..
I hope so too. I haven’t met him yet, I was to meet him some months ago in Chicago but couldn’t due to some reasons. But I do certainly hope to meet him in future and sit down and discuss these issues with him.
Also, since you have been in the US for a long time, I wanted your comment on specifically the state of California that was a big guzzler of fuel with a huge carbon footprint but over the past few years it has changed and become a sort of model for a low carbon economy.
California is certainly ahead of the pack, not question about it. And what is heartening about the US is that the level of several states and several cities, there is a strong movement to cut down the emissions of green house gases. That certainly is the way to go after all US is a federal structure, if more states are doing such things they will add pressure on the federal government to come up with an umbrella agreement that gives them a level of financial and other comforts.
Also off late there has been much talk about the issue of carbon footprint, abroad a lot of companies keep talking about it but there hasn’t been much talk on Indian shores. How necessary is that awareness according to you?
I think it is very important because if you really want to achieve results then the corporate sector has to play a vital part in it. And each company should now get conscious about their carbon footprint. I am not saying that they should spend a lot of money doing it and reduce their profits. On the contrary through lot of these actions, many companies would be able to increase their profits. There are lots of these so called no regrets measures which can yield very high result. So I do think that the corporate sector needs to get involved in this area to its own advantage. What we need to realize is that we are living in a globalised world and if Indian industries have to compete with others than they have to come up with low carbon technology otherwise they won’t be able to sell some of their technology to other countries.
What do you say about carbon capping, fingers pointed at India and China for being one of the largest emitters of GHG?
Yes, but I also find it ridiculous because on one hand the same countries that are talking about China and India being large emitters are very conscious of human rights, now per capita emissions have a lot to do with human and economic rights. I mean you can’t say that just because India is a large country they should be penalized for the fact that they are the largest emitters even though every human being that lives in India is a very small emitter. So I think the argument has no logic whatsoever. If you are worried about every human being on earth in terms of human rights and basic freedom than why restrict the opportunity to wipe out poverty in countries where there is large scale poverty and I am by no means saying that we as a nation need to ape the west in its errors, that would again be a mistake. But we certainly need some elbow room to be able to go and develop.
At time, the right to carbon emissions is touted as something of a merited right, like the policy of reservations in India.
I don’t think that’s a good argument at all, because you cut your nose to spite your face, if somebody else has done something wrong, we don’t necessarily have the right to do the same wrong but what we should look are means by which we can fight poverty and those necessarily are not the same what the developed world has done. We should find our own way by which, we can grow and develop and do it at a much lower trajectory of energy consumption.
But considering that more than 50% of our population is still below poverty line that seems quite a tough task?
I don’t agree to that because I gave you the example of lighting a billion lives, is far cheaper for the individual, far cheaper for the government to pursue that approach than to subsidize kerosene. I think we may be a poor country but we don’t have to do exactly what the developed world has done to get out of poverty. Today we have totally different set of technologies that are available to us, which we can use to our advantage. A good example of that is the cellular phones, we didn’t not reach the hundreds and thousands of villages and towns across India by stretching wires over the country, we would never have been able to cover the whole country as rapidly as we have done with cellular phones so there are technological opportunities that we need to jump on and get on to that band wagon as quickly as possible. So I don’t think that the removal of poverty implies that we have a right to pollute, we can do it with much lower levels of pollution than the developed world..
You are bogey man for the developed countries, but really is there a tradeoff between battling climate change and economic growth?
There is no tradeoff at all, even in the developed countries there are huge differences in the energy consumption levels on a per capita basis, and there is huge difference in the technologies they employ. You can take the example of Japan, which is one of the most energy efficient country among the developed nations, if they can grow so rapidly with much lower levels of energy consumption per capita, it carries a very important lesson that you don’t have to achieve growth through energy intensive methods there are many means wherein you can do the same with much lower inputs..
What do you think about Nuclear energy, is it a good solution?
We need to use every possible source of energy that we can find, but we have been very slow towards moving in for greater use of renewable energy and I think that’s an area where we need to think about very rapid development because we have an abundance of renewable energy and we have the capacity to take a leadership position in that area. As far as nuclear is concerned, now that we have the deal with the US and the waiver from the NSG, clearly there are opportunities for getting the best technology for our nuclear capacity as well.
But Dr. Pachauri, not many countries have employed nuclear on a huge scale, so do you think it can be a solution that it is being touted as green kind especially considering the big nuclear waste problem that it poses?
I can only talk about it from our point of view, every country has its own situation, but for us coal is not going to be easy either, we are already running into severe constraints in supply of coal and there are of course the environmental implications of coal usage. So I am not saying that nuclear is going to give us a huge and unlimited opportunity to grow in low emissions manner but it is one of the solutions and am not saying it is not the only solution. You really need a mix of technology …
What will be your message to the IT Industry?
My message to the industry is straight, I like many else have a lot of expectations from the sector. IT industry is a sector that is focused on the future and is knowledge centric. I would like to exhort the players to look at the different aspects of energy and eco efficiency within their own operations and work and engineer towards a low carbon economy. The Indian IT industry has shown to the world and us, how knowledge can be used to create an equitable world. I would now ask the very same industry to help in creating a hospitable world. I have great hopes and aspirations from the industry.