Doctor Rajendra Kumar Pachauri is not your everyday Nobel Peace Prize winner. Before his award, threats to peace were generally associated with armed conflict, Pachauri’s accomplishments however, have broadened the international community’s understanding of what constitutes a threat to peace.
Pachauri was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 on behalf of the Intergovernmental Panel of scientists on Climate Change (IPCC), an award he shared with Vice President Al Gore. Dr. Pachauri won the prize for giving scientific evidence that climate change – both natural and anthropogenic – would be a major and incommensurable threat to peace in the course of this century. As a result, Rajendra Kumar Pachauri did not just win a world-renown prize. He won a front line political battle against deep-rooted paradigms.
The IPCC’s last and globally-acknowledged report (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007) highlights that based on the current temperature increase, 75 to 250 million people in Africa will be suffering from water stress in 2020 and that agricultural yields could decline by 50% in some countries. Small island states, mega deltas and low-lying coastal areas are threatened by the rising sea level and by the increasingly frequent and destructive climatic events. In the face of these ascertained impacts, even those who doubt the human impact on climate change cannot keep denying the reality of the impacts suffered by the most vulnerable regions in the world— a victory for the IPCC, Dr Pachauri and vulnerable countries.
Dr RK Pachauri is one of the few heroes on the climate change scene. He is a messenger sent from his native Nainital, India, to warn us that climate change is a threat to our civilization and to world peace, and not just another issue for the developing world to deal with. This bearer of bad news, however, is also remarkable for his belief in change: in a welfare-compatible capitalist model, in a poverty-alleviating combat against climate change, in carbon-constrained sustainable development, and in the empowerment of civil society.
In an article reflecting on the current globalized economic crisis, Pachauri, who himself received a doctorate in Economics, questions the effectiveness of the capitalist system in promoting individual and collective welfare. He sees a climax of the market’s failure to internalize environmental degradation in the human-induced climate changes we are experiencing today. These changes are not only environmental but also dangerously social: exacerbated poverty, forced migrations and identity changes, and new forms of social tensions just to name a few.
Climate change, according to Pachauri’s life work, is increasing disparities in wealth and welfare across the world. Indeed, its current impacts are mostly taking place in the poorest regions of the world and in turn, affecting the poorest social strata within these regions. Poverty must not be yet another consequence of climate change. Instead, for RK Pachauri, poverty alleviation must become a rationale and a lever to mitigate climate change: particularly by helping developing countries find a path to development that is socially, economically and environmentally climate-proof.
The debate on the environmental and social impacts of the globalized capitalistic model is long overdue. Thanks to Dr. Pachauri’s research, and his ability to spread his message to the international community, the debate is finally taking place on a global level. The world must endorse a new economic paradigm in which policies contribute to bridge – rather than widen - the gap between private and social benefits. Indeed, today’s economic system, although globalized, is essentially private and lacks the unity and solidarity to effectively tackle climate change. Capitalism need not be destroyed but reformed, in Dr. Pachauri’s own words “it would not help to throw the baby out with the bath water but certainly to clean the bath water completely”.
As an engineer and economist, RK Pachauri spent most of his career working on the state and prospects of energy resources, from different angles. In fact, he worked in the private sector (India’s Diesel Locomotive Works, Indian Oil Corporation Limited), in the public sector (Indian Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas), for the UN (UNDP adviser, IPCC), and as an academic (TERI-Tata Energy Research Institute, World Energy Council and World Resource Institute Council).
“We need a mix of policies that promote the movement to a low carbon future with active engagement on the part of business organizations in developing technical solutions”. And his career is a reflection of the mixed policies he calls for.
According to him, we have the technology to adapt: low-carbon rapid transport systems, energy efficiency in our households and industrial plants, renewable energy resources. All we need is a paradigm shift and a forward-looking investment policy. His insider’s words are golden and if Dr. Pachauri says we must and can adapt to a carbon-constrained world, adapt we shall.
RK Pachauri has a vision in which civil society is empowered to decide about its own future and to demand the necessary reforms to guarantee welfare that is collective, environmentally-sound and socially at rest for the generations to come. NGOs and economic stakeholders play a major role in Pachauri’s vision in leading communities and groups to make the necessary changes to mitigate and adapt to climate change as well as alleviate poverty. He believes in the power of the youth to make these changes and win the long-standing fight for equity. Dr. Pachauri’s institute (TERI) funds an education programme for children and university students.
Pachauri also advocates the need for local businesses and communities to learn about the economics and politics of climate change. Indeed, only local-driven demands can sustain the international and national political momentum to effectively combat climate change. Only grass-root action can endorse the significant changes in lifestyles and consumption needed to curb green house gases emission trends and limit temperature increases caused by human behaviour.
It is true that tackling climate change will require significant paradigm shifts as well as massive technological and industrial overturns that may seem unfeasible as yet. However, the co-benefits of these global changes will by far exceed the costs (both symbolical and economical) entailed. Learning to live in a carbon-constrained world seems like a small price to pay for higher energy security, access to sustainable development in poorer countries, a fairer distribution of common resources and…world peace. Leaving us to ponder, as Pachauri has, “why we are dragging our feet in the face of such overwhelming logic”.
Alix Mazounie - Sustainable development expert and an analyst for French-speaking African countries in the UN negotiations on climate change. Her research has contributed to reports by the International Organization of French-speaking countries and the United Nations.