Science not politics must drive Durban climate talks

NEW DELHI Wed Nov 23, 2011 8:27am EST

Rajendra Kumar Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, speaks during the opening of the Green Solutions @ COP16 in Cancun December 5, 2010. REUTERS/Henry Romero

Rajendra Kumar Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, speaks during the opening of the Green Solutions @ COP16 in Cancun December 5, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Henry Romero

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Global climate talks need to focus on the growing threat from extreme weather and shift away from political squabbles that hobble progress toward a tougher pact to rein in greenhouse gas emissions, the head of the U.N. climate panel said.

Negotiators from nearly 200 countries meet in Durban, South Africa, on Monday for two-week talks, with minimal expectations of major progress toward an agreement that will eventually bind all major economies to emissions caps.

Rajendra Pachauri warned the latest round of talks risked being bogged down by "short-term and narrow political considerations."

"It is absolutely essential that the negotiators get a continuous and repeated exposure to the science of climate change," Pachauri told Reuters in an interview late on Tuesday.

"If we were to do that it will definitely have an impact on the quality and outcome of the negotiations, after all these are human beings, they have families, they are people also worried about what is going to happen to the next generations."

Pachauri heads the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which issued a report for policymakers on Friday saying an increase in heat waves is almost certain, while heavier rain, more floods, stronger cyclones, landslides and more intense droughts are likely across the globe this century.

"I am afraid the way the whole thing is structured loses sight of these realities," Pachauri said of the talks.

The report comes after a year of costly weather disasters, from floods in Thailand to a string of multi-billion dollar disasters in the United States that have killed hundreds.

At best Durban is expected to result in modest steps toward a deal to lower emissions from factories, power stations and transport that scientists say are heating up the planet.

The negotiations have become a battleground between rich and poor nations on the question of how much cuts in greenhouse gases each should take, with developing countries insisting they should be allowed to emit more to grow out of poverty.

"When you have 400 million people who have no access to electricity, can you in the 21st century deny them the very basis of what the rest of the world has been living on for the last 150 years?," Pachauri said of India.

Pachauri is an Indian scientist who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 with former U.S. Vice President Al Gore. He has since become a target for climate change skeptics who question the panel's data.

The IPCC issues major reports every 5 to 6 years for policymakers that involves the work of thousands of scientists. The next major report will be released in 2013-14.


Talking in his cluttered Delhi office, Pachauri said climate change was already triggering more extreme weather and the world needed to prepare for more to come.

The IPCC report gave differing probabilities for weather events based on greenhouse gas emissions scenarios. He said the conclusions were clear.

"Two things come out very clearly from this, the link between climate change and heatwaves and the link between climate change and extreme precipitation and sea level rises, Pachauri said.

"Given the fact that you are not going to bring about a turn-around immediately, then you really have to adapt to them in the short run."

Limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius -- a threshold scientists say risks dangerous climate change -- will be difficult but not impossible, Pachauri, 71, said.

Global carbon emissions rose by a record amount last year, rebounding on the heels of recession.

The United Nations, the International Energy Agency and others say global pledges to curb emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases are not enough to prevent the planet heating up beyond 2 degrees.

"If we want to do that on a low-cost trajectory, then we will have to ensure that CO2 emissions peak no later than 2015, and that's just 4 years away. In other words, beyond 2015 they will have to start declining."

However, he was hopeful action at a national and grassroots level would kick in as people came face to face with the consequences of climate change.

"Irrespective of any treaty, if human society understands that something will have to be done, action will take place anyway."

He praised South Korea and some European nations for green economy plans and said he believed China's leadership was changing its thinking about its growth model.

(Editing by David Fogarty and Robert Birsel)

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see
Comments (3)
Eideard wrote:
Nations governed by politicians who fear and hate science are next to useless when it comes to questions of policy that should be driven by facts. They much prefer superstition and 19th Century ideology.

Nov 23, 2011 10:32am EST  --  Report as abuse
Spacefunk wrote:
Which Science? The selective science presented by IPCC activists intent on ignoring non-activist scientists in order support a predetermined cause and POV? The science that is self-critical and uncertain behind the public curtain but presented as robust and certain to the public? By what measure can we determine if “extreme weather” is any more extreme than past “extreme weather”. The more documentation of past extreme weather I read about such as 100 year droughts in Texas 800 years ago, I can’t help but wonder why anyone considers the Texas weather in 2011 extreme. When I read about past floods that killed millions of people I can’r comprehend why anyone would consider Irene extreme. The more I see that predictions of more hurricanes have not materialized (was Irene even a hurricane?) the more difficult it is to believe that these models of future weather are accurate. What indepent standards agency is testing these models for accuracy. Having the same people who “tune” these models also be in charge of “adjusting” temperature data seems like a horrible case for an independent scientific testing process. We have separation of power in our government to prevent collusion. Maybe it is time to apply seperation of power in climate science as well, especially given the new batch of climategate emails that have just exposed more climate science chicanery.

Nov 23, 2011 11:16am EST  --  Report as abuse
MikeBee wrote:
We consider the recent Texas weather extreme because it was extreme. We consider GH gases as a problem because that is high school science. We consider a warmer planet a problem because for every 1 C degree of temp increase we get about a 10% decrease in crop yield. We consider melting glaciers and ice cover at the North Pole to be an indicator on global climate change. We consider “science” funded by fossil fuel producers bogus just like the “science” funded by tobacco companies was bogus.

Ignoring the above, we also face a huge demand increase by China, India and other developing nations for the world’s oil and key industrial minerals. Our school age children will see the end of cheap oil, coal, copper, silver and zinc. We also have to shift to renewable energy because of the pollution (coal acidifies the oceans and causes breathing difficulties) caused by fossil fuel use.

From the sole viewpoint of national defense, the US should shift to renewable energy. From the viewpoint of future jobs, the US should embrace renewable energy technology. Fossil fuels are the buggy whip industries of 100 years ago.

Nov 23, 2011 6:16pm EST  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.