Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Lunch with the Chair of the IPCC, Dr. Pachauri

This past week I had the honor of attending a private lunch with Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, the current Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The IPCC is the largest international organization dedicated to gathering the scientific evidence on climate change from scientists around the world. It shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore in 2007.

Dr. Pachauri spoke to a group of about 12 students, so the talk was intimate enough that we were able to ask questions. One student asked him his opinion of the role of the developing world, especially China and India, in the climate change issue. Many developing countries think it is unfair for them to have to curb carbon emissions just as their economic growth begins and so many of their citizens still live in poverty. For example, though China's economy is growing at unbelievable rates, many Chinese still experience a very low standard of living. Is there a way to curb greenhouse gas emissions without hurting the economy as well?

Dr. Pachauri believes that developing countries would be making a mistake if they chose to go through the same trajectory as the developed countries did. They need to find their own way to develop in a sustainable and environmentally-friendly way, without compromising their economy or the well-being of the impoverished. They could possibly try to do this by utilizing new technology. He emphasizes that this is an opportunity for developing countries to divert from the "business as usual" approach and really be innovative.

One step would be to price goods in a fair, transparent manner, without providing subsidies to goods such as oil. For example, the price of our oil does not actually reflect all the expenditures that are spent on our oil supply. Moving in a "green" direction does not necessarily lead to economic loss. The prices of renewables will only decrease, whereas oil prices can only rise in the future. Dr. Pachauri points to Germany and South Korea as examples in which sustainable changes led to economic gain.

I think that Dr. Pachauri makes valid points, but it still will be very difficult for China and India to drastically decrease carbon emissions without compromising their growth, especially if the leaders focus more on short term growth. The environment is a global public good; China will directly gain more by using cheaper and dirtier fuels than it will lose. All countries will share the burden of climate change.

China has begun large-scale initiatives that move it towards sustainable growth, but there will probably have to be some economic incentives in order for it to lower emissions to a level that will acceptable to everyone in the international community.

Do you think developed countries owe the developing countries anything in exchange for lowering emissions?

The image above is from Undergrowth.

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