Rajendra Pachauri is chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is charged by the United Nations with assessing the risk of climate change resulting from human activity. The IPCC, which is preparing the fifth assessment report on the subject since its founding in 1988, shared the 2007 Nobel Peace prize with Vice President Al Gore.
Pachauri, 69, has chaired the scientific intergovernmental body since 2002, in addition to leading the newly created Yale Climate and Energy Institute in New Haven, Conn. He talked to ABC News last week about President Barack Obama, climate change negotiations and the upcoming U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December, among other things.
Q: What do you think is the world's perception of the United States in regards to its efforts to combat climate change and switch to renewable sources of energy?
A: You know, everybody is very happy about the new administration because not only have they expressed but they have shown their intention to take action. But there is a great deal of concern about the U.S. Congress.
And there is concern, if I may say so, about the vested interests and the lobbies that work to see that legislation can be stalled in the Congress and this certainly causes concern all around because you almost start questioning whether democracy is really at work and something has to be done to correct the situation.
So, I think the world is certainly supportive of President Obama's position and his attentions. But, at the same time, there is some degree of despair that his efforts are not bearing fruit. And, if they don't bear fruit, then of course, the U.S. will not be a leader as the administration wants it to be. It will be a lagger, it will be way behind Europe and Japan and the other developed countries. And that's not even good for the prestige of the U.S.
Q: What will happen if negotiations fail and the world doesn't get its act together to curb emissions?
A: Well, I think irrespective of whether Copenhagen gets us a good agreement or not, the world has to move on and bring down emissions globally at a very rapid rate, because we've clearly specified and assessed in the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC that if we want to stabilize temperature increase to no more than 2.0-2.4 degrees Celsius, then global emissions will have to peak no later than 2015. And, then, the more rapidly they come down beyond that, the greater the probability of avoiding some of the worst impacts of climate change.
So we really have a very short window of opportunity and we have to bring down emissions as quickly as possible and, as we've indicated to the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, 2015 should be the year of global emissions peak and then start reducing.
Now, why should we do that. Well, if we don't, then the impacts of climate change are going to get progressively worse and they also fall unfairly on some of the least developed regions in the world and the poorest communities are going to be the ones that are the worst sufferers.
Q: There have been reports from a variety of places that negotiations are collapsing and that they might not have an agreement at Copenhagen.