Green issues – red alert?

Green issues – red alert?

NATO Review Editor, Paul King, interviews the Chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize winning IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)

Picture: Dr R Pachauri: looking for solutions to climate security threats (© AP / Reporters )

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NATO Review: My first question is about the Nobel Peace Prize. First of all, congratulations to the IPCC and to you.

RAJENDRA PACHAURI (Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change): Thank you.

NR: Can you tell me what it means to you personally, and also in terms of the message it sends out?

PACHAURI: Well, to me personally, of course, it's a source of pride. One feels very good, but of course, the award is meant for the entire IPCC community and the governments who take decisions for the IPCC. So it's a unique sense of pleasure that you see such a large-scale effort being recognized.

I think it also sends out a very important message that climate change has very important relationships with various elements of peace, and that we need to start focusing on this issue. I think the nexus between what climate change can do in terms of impacts on peace and stability and security across the globe is something that needs to be highlighted now on the basis of the message that you get from this award.

NR: Do you think that the possible effects of future climate change, such as increased competition for resources, land, water, means that security needs to be redefined?

PACHAURI: I think so, because security is not just sending in troops to some place or the other. I think firstly we have to be intellectually much more rigorous in understanding the drivers of security or the threats to security and that certainly is an ongoing effort that has to be mounted on a large scale.

Secondly, I think we also need to understand that when you're talking about climate change, there's a whole range of development issues that need to be kept in mind. There's the issue of equity. Therefore, there is a certain ethical dimension in this. The whole thing. The whole issue of consumption, of depleting natural resources. We're certainly going to find much more intense competition for remaining resources such as hydrocarbons, for instance.

The fact that Russia planted a flag under the North Pole is only symbolic of this enormous competition to get there first. And that certainly could be a threat to security in some form or the other. And this, in a way, will also distort politics across the globe. You'll find that those agents and organizations that are able to help countries and societies in providing access to resources will be favoured, will be supported-- even if they're repressive regimes, even if they violate the very basic principles on which democracy and all the freedoms that we value are based on.

So, you know, I think there's a new set of issues that need to be carefully highlighted and understood if we are talking about security.

NR: Environmental challenges are obviously global, but that they will affect poorer areas of the world far worse. Do you think that in terms of the division of the world by borders, that these borders will become more or less important with the climate change?

PACHAURI: Well, it's a very complex question. On the one hand they become less important because after all, nature or changes in climate and patterns of wind and weather don't respect territorial boundaries. But on the other hand, given the threats that would arise as a result, perhaps, of displacement of populations or natural calamities, you will find much greater effort being put into protecting borders, simply because most societies would view people across the border as a potential threat. And therefore, you know, it's a very peculiar situation that we're confronting.

On the one hand the factors that are going to lead to a threat to security and stability don't respect borders at all. On the other hand I think the response to this might actually mean defining those borders in a much more rigid sense, and perhaps protecting them with much more, let's say, proactive efforts.

NR: And in terms of defining the borders - you've already mentioned Russia planting a flag on the seabed of the North Pole - do you think that border definition, as well as protection, will become a major issue?

PACHAURI: I think our laws and agreements clearly define borders and there really shouldn't be too much scope for doubt on that. But the interpretation of these agreements will, of course, be subject to a lot of controversy and there would be those who would like to use those definitions in their favour. So I think the fact that threats to security and peace as a result of climate change are going to go beyond borders, would require, or at least impel, several governments and societies to define those borders in a manner that gives them an advantage over others.

So you'll probably see many more disputes coming up and therefore a fair amount of danger, I would say, to security in some of these areas where borders could be somewhat nebulous in people's understanding, even though the agreements are fairly clear.

NR: You mentioned governments there. Can I ask you about governments versus non-state actors. In terms of policy making versus populations, in some developed countries it is actually the population that's more radical in terms of addressing climate change than governments. So how do you see the balance between governments and non-state actors in the future?

PACHAURI: Well, I think by and large in the past, as one would have expected, governments only deal with issues that they think will be of importance in the next election. And therefore their time horizons in defining problems and priorities have been dictated purely by this consideration.

But you find that with greater awareness on what's going to happen in the future populations in various countries and communities and societies at large are getting very concerned about some of these issues.

Now if they start bringing the long-term implications of today's policies and actions into the political agenda for debate, discussion and choice of government, then clearly politicians will also be affected. And therefore what you need today is a set of leaders who can read the writing on the wall, who can anticipate this movement and then take a leadership position that’s not purely a matter of political convenience. Also because they are deeply convinced that this is good for humanity and this is good for the societies that they themselves are responsible for.

To be quite honest I don't see too many leaders on the horizon at this point of time who have that kind of vision and that kind of concern and care for the future.

NR: The challenges will require an increasing degree of either trust or cooperation. Where do you see the role of major international organizations, such as the United Nations, such as NATO, in building this trust and cooperation?

PACHAURI: I really think they'll become increasingly important, simply because these are issues that a country or a group of countries are not going to be able to solve. You really need a totally different global compact. You need global initiatives that are able to define these problems and are able to find multilateral solutions for them.

So I would say an organization like the UN probably needs to redefine its role and perhaps even restructure its organization. The new UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon has picked up climate change as perhaps the most important part of his agenda. He was with us in Valencia, Spain, where we released the Fourth Assessment Report, Synthesis Report, of the IPCC.

And I'm very, very grateful that he has taken up this position and I admire the man for having the perception and the sense of understanding that this really could be the defining problem of the 21st century.

NR: How do you balance the developing world's drive for development and the increasing stability development can bring to societies, against the effects on the climate of this development and obviously the instability that climate change can bring? other deployed forces?

PACHAURI: You know, I really think we need to redefine the word development. Unfortunately, ever since the Industrial Revolution began we are in some sense driven and inspired by the success of technology, modern methods of manufacture which allowed you to produce more and more, and consume more and more at lower prices. We've just got drunk with this feeling that development consists of consuming more and more, increasing our GDP despite the flaws in that measure. I think that needs to be redefined.

The fact is that in pursuing so-called development, we've imposed such a huge cost of a social nature, of damage and depletion of our natural resources, and several other ills that have never been taken into account explicitly.

It's only now, I must say, that people are getting convinced about the reality of climate change, about the damage to our natural resources and the finiteness of several resources on this earth, that perhaps we need to look at the very basics of development.

I think the developing countries need to do a lot of intellectual work rather than blindly follow what the developed world has done. And that, of course, will not work by itself. The developed world also needs to think about how to reduce the excessive consumption of natural resources, of the footprint on the ecosystems of this earth.

So what you really need is a totally new understanding of what should define human welfare and the benefit of the human race, and this would require a substantial shift. I'm not saying that we have to go back to living in caves, but I think we have the technological and the economic muscle to be able to bring about a shift without any major discontinuities in progress, or what we define as progress.

NR: So do you think that security in the latter part of the 21st century will be less about personal wealth and more about a sustainable quality of life?

PACHAURI: Absolutely, and this also means that some of the huge disparities that we have currently, both across societies and within societies, will need to lessen, and I think we'll have to understand that that's an extremely important objective of development. Development that only allows a very small section of society to prosper and a large number of people to be left out of that whole system is clearly not development.

It was Kenneth Boulding, an economist who I greatly admire, who saidmore than a quarter century agothat it's unlikely that 200 years ago the difference between the richest societies and the poorest was more than one is to five, and he says today it's more than one is to 50.

So, you know, the trend that this world has been going on blindly, without paying any attention to these issues, in my view, is suicidal. We have to stop this.

NR: How high would you say that the possibility of climate change leading to a major armed conflict is? And what do you think would lead to that conflict? For example, water, oil, etcetera?

PACHAURI: Yes, I think one reason for such conflict would be competition for scarce resources. Water is certainly one of them. It could be hydrocarbon resources. There could be problems of let's say a decline in agricultural yields which leads to deprivation in terms of nutrition and food. And a whole range of catastrophes and natural disasters, which would get exacerbated with the impacts of climate change.

Now, essentially all of this means that there is the danger of larger and larger numbers of people moving from wherever they're settled to other areas. And when you start seeing this kind of a trend then clearly you have the inbuilt element of conflict. And I would imagine this is likely to grow to a large extent.

For instance, in the IPCC Synthesis Report we estimated that by 2020, in Africa alone, there would be something like 75 to 250 million people who would be suffering from growing water scarcity. And therefore, what are they going to do? They're going to move around. There will be conflict. Even among communities for limited water resources. And this can multiply on a large scale in several parts of the world.

NR: Some research carried out by Oregon University indicated that no states have specifically gone to war over just water since 2500 B.C. and that cooperation agreements are usually the most common way of solving water disputes, and also they point to Israel, Palestine and Jordan where water shortages and compromise is already required. Do you still have faith that humanity can find cooperation over conflict in these kind of areas?

PACHAURI: Undoubtedly, because I think all of these problems, if they are anticipated and clearly charted out, and then we put in place solutions, would provide hope for the future. None of these is intractable. These problems can easily be solved by human efforts.

But may I say that agreements and understanding in the past have worked because we probably haven't reached a tipping point. I mean, we've been able to manage even limited and depleting resources in a manner that generally gives enough to everybody. But I'm not too sure whether we can rely on that situation continuing in the future.

NR: With major environmental disasters and events that have already happened, NATO has already played a role, notably in Hurricane Katrina and the earthquake in Pakistan. Do you think that this role will be increasingly demanded as this kind of event increases in number?

PACHAURI: Well, I think the possibility is certainly there that something like this might happen, but I'd like to believe that given the information age that we're in today people would be able to see symptoms and signs of this well before it actually occurs, and therefore we would be able to put in place response strategies that will help avert crisis of this nature.

But this is exactly where I believe leadership is going to be critical. You need a few giant and tall leaders, who can see the future, who are prepared to show their conviction in the form of actions and deed, and unless we have that, and if people are just going to be opportunistic in leadership positions, then I'm afraid they'll ignore the reality of, and the very basics of some of these threats that we're likely to face.

We've had people like that in the past. Abraham Lincoln was one, and there are so many others. I just don't see too many of those on the horizon today. And I hope awareness on these issues will throw up the right kind of leadership because that's going to be absolutely critical.

PACHAURI: Yes, I should think so, and I imagine NATO in its own interests and in keeping with its overall objectives, should start anticipating some of these events, and some of these possibilities. Which means that it would have to carry out much deeper research, much greater intellectual introspection of how things are shaping up in different parts of the world.

NATO, after all, came into existence when the Cold War was on, and that rationale is gone now, and I think, given the fact that it is an organization which has enormous strengths, with the inputs of a large number of extremely important countries, I think it has to redefine its role. And I would imagine that it should be driven by a much greater study of what is likely to happen in the future, than to be caught unawares.

And if that's the case NATO certainly can play an extremely important role in preventing or managing some of these threats and problems.

NR: And in terms of prevention what would you recommend?

PACHAURI: Well, it seems to me, and I've been feeling this for a while, that an organization like NATO needs to work much more closely with civil society, with organizations that have their ear on the ground, that have some support at the grassroots level. And this would not only help NATO to get feedback on what's happening over there, but also in the event of possible crisis or conflict, mobilize some of these organizations as allies.

So I think it has to reach out. It has to get out of the military operation type of mode. I think there is much more to prevention of these conflicts than just moving in there when the conflict has actually occurred.

NR: How important do you see research and development as helping to develop solutions for the challenges facing us?

PACHAURI: I think it's absolutely critical. And I would classify research and development in two particular categories. One is in terms of a social sciences type of research, where you see how society is going to respond to specific changes that are going to take place in the future, and you're able to anticipate what kinds of actions might prevent problems and conflict.

And the other is, essentially, I would say research and development applied strictly to technology and the development of technology. Now in those cases I think what you need is government policy to drive research and development.

One of the things that we brought out in the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report is the importance of a price on carbon.

You can develop technologies galore in labs, but unless there is a price and a market force that allows and promotes dissemination of these technologies on a large scale it's not going to work.

And therefore, you know, we've been taking the soft path to these issues. We spent money on research and development. What we really need is companies. You really need the consumer to support some of these technological innovations, and that requires a few hard decisions on the parts of governments.

NR: In terms of the threats to security, how do you think the terrorist threat will adapt to a more environmentally challenged planet? For example, do you think that attacking energy supplies, attacking desalination plants, will become more of a tactic of terrorists?

PACHAURI: Undoubtedly. Let's accept the fact that these terrorists are getting a large amount of money from various sources. They get a lot of support. And therefore their methods are also getting technologically more sophisticated. And they will look for some of these measures by which they can create incidents and reactions that would give them headlines, that would give them some power over the course of events.

So they would certainly start moving in areas like say poisoning the water supply, blowing up pipelines, acting as pirates in several parts of the world, and disrupting the supply of oil and other resources.

So I think these are issues that we need to anticipate. Which raises another important fact that, I think, organizations like NATO need much greater coordination with the intelligence agencies and perhaps not only relying on the conventional intelligence agencies, but maybe developing some new linkages in areas that they expect are going to become hotspots. That's going to help enormously.

NR: In 2000 Robert Kaplan wrote a book called "Becoming Anarchy." And certainly reading through the challenges facing the earth, some of the statistics, some of the trends, it's clear that there is a huge possibility for social breakdown or an atmosphere of despair to arise, perhaps as bad as happened in Europe between the wars. Do you think this will happen, and what could be done to avoid it, and if it does happen, can you indicate what possible consequences it could have?

PACHAURI: Well, I think the possibility is certainly there that something like this might happen, but I'd like to believe that given the information age that we're in today people would be able to see symptoms and signs of this well before it actually occurs, and therefore we would be able to put in place response strategies that will help avert crisis of this nature.

But this is exactly where I believe leadership is going to be critical. You need a few giant and tall leaders, who can see the future, who are prepared to show their conviction in the form of actions and deed, and unless we have that, and if people are just going to be opportunistic in leadership positions, then I'm afraid they'll ignore the reality of, and the very basics of some of these threats that we're likely to face.

We've had people like that in the past. Abraham Lincoln was one, and there are so many others. I just don't see too many of those on the horizon today. And I hope awareness on these issues will throw up the right kind of leadership because that's going to be absolutely critical.

NR: You mentioned there that a change is needed at the top, but also at the bottom as well. A change of culture. How would you see that being brought about? What is needed for that?

PACHAURI: I think it has to start with changes in consumer behaviour. I think the consumer has to start providing a signal that he or she is not going to buy goods and services which have any link with the underlying reasons that could result in the conflicts of the type that we're discussing. And I think if that happens, then the market will become a great force in bringing about change. Now this is where I think leadership can make a difference. Where if say a leader is to advise people to move in a particular direction in terms of their consumption habits and so on, there will be resistance, there will be criticism, but if he or she is able to convince their communities or countries that they are responsible for, then I think you'll see a shift in consumer behaviour.

I remember in Bangkok when we released our Working Group 3 Report, a reporter at the press conference asked me,‘Can you recommend any lifestyle changes?’ I said the IPCC doesn't recommend anything, but if you ask my personal opinion let's start eating less meat. I said you'll be much healthier and so would the planet.

So I think you need shifts of this nature, and people have to catch these issues by the horns, and move in that direction. I think there's nothing more important and powerful as a signal going through the market. And I think consumers need to be educated about it. It's like buying an efficient refrigerator, even if it costs a little more, or getting an efficient light bulb, even if it costs a little more, because overall not only does the consumer benefit, but society as a whole. And I think we need to do that.

NR: Faced with all of these challenges, Mike Childs of the Friends of the Earth said we need to depend on humankind's ingenuity. Do you have faith that the ingenuity of humankind is enough?

PACHAURI: Well, that ingenuity is there as a capacity. It has a potential, but are we going to harness that potential? That's the question. And I think if we have to do that the first thing we need to do is start looking at the truth. Lester Brown, who I have a great deal of respect for, has put it succinctly. He says, communism collapsed because it told lies about the economy. And capitalism could collapse because we're telling lies about the ecology. And I think we have to first understand the reality of the problem. You see a lot of leaders in a state of denial. And if they continue to proceed with that mindset, then I think they would be doing enormous harm not only to the world as a whole, but their own societies.

So I think we need to start looking at the reality. And uncovering the truth where it really lies. And once we're able to do that, yes, human ingenuity can take over.

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