Speaking at the Cancun climate summit, Rajendra Kumar Pachauri, the president of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), talks to chinadialogue‘s Meng Si about climate "sceptics" within the IPCC, the recent decision to close a congressional global-warming committee in the United States and Chen Faqing, the Chinese farmer who has donated his hard-earned money to the cause.
Meng Si: Climate "sceptics" have been asking some formal IPCC scientists to speak for them against the conclusions of the IPCC so as to undermine the body’s credibility. What would you say about that?
Rajendra Kumar Pachauri: It is a free world. if you have 4,000 scientists saying one thing, there could be five of them saying another thing. One good example was given to me by a minister from Iceland: let’s say that you are going to cross a bridge. 1,000 people tell you that you cannot cross the bridge because it’s going to collapse, five people who are paid by those who constructed that bridge tell you, "No, no, the bridge is safe." Who would you listen to? You will listen to the 1,000 people who are telling you not to cross that bridge.
So I think, when the scientific community is telling you that climate change is going to cause very serious effects and we have to do something to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, then you must listen to the large part of the scientists rather that five or six sceptics who are telling you the reverse.
MS: But is the fact that they have experience working within the IPCC making it more controversial?
RKP: Sure. But what is the percentage? Five out of 4,000. This is a free world. People have different opinions. If you look at the history of new knowledge, there are also some people who dispute new knowledge – whether there is law of gravity, whether the Earth goes around the sun or whether the moon goes around the Earth. There are findings that people have always been disputing.
You cannot eliminate different points of view. But look at the balance of evidence. As I said, you have five sceptics out of 4,000. Who will you listen to? There are always some people who are questioning. Do you know that even today there is a "Flat Earth Society" which I think has its headquarters in London. They believe that the Earth is flat and they want to reverse the believe that the Earth is not flat. I think you have to use you judgement.
MS: Recent reports say that the newly Republican House of Representatives in the United States is scrapping the Select Committee on Global Warming, which was a forum to debate the latest developments on climate change issues and research. What would you say to this?
RKP: That’s the decision of that country and the decision of the representatives of their people and I really have nothing to say on that. Whether they have one committee or another or desolve some committee. It’s their decision. One has to respect the sovereignty of a country. But the fact is that we are all living on the same planet and we have to be concerned for the climate of the planet and the future of those who are going to suffer from the impact of changing climate.
MS: Do you think this could be some kind of signal of growing scepticism?
RKP: In everything, there are ups and downs.There are periods when things look dark.There are periods when things look bright. What we have to be concerned about is that we need to act fast. You don’t need to wait for laws to take action yourself. If laws help you to take action, so much the better, but otherwise, as individual human beings, we should start doing things that we believe.
MS: You invited Mr Chen Faqing, the Chinese farmer who donated his hard-earned money to the IPCC and the Mexican organiser of the Cancun summit, to go to India. What would you like to talk about with him?
RKP: I would like to let him meet with NGOs and people who share his concerns and who prepare to work with him. I think there is always benifit in the exchange of ideas. That why I invited him. Because I admire him.
MS: There are some people who say that a Chinese farmer donating his hard-earned money to an international convention and climate-change research may not be so "cost-effective". What’s you opinion?
RKP: It is a personal choice. He can do what he wants with his money. I mean you can go ahead and drink a bottle of Maotai. That’s your money. Or if you want to give it for some purpose, it may not be cost-effective but if you feel good about it, why not? I think it is personal decision which I think we must respect.