Climate Change

India has to increase emissions, RK Pachauri told me

The former head of IPCC died at 79 leaving behind a trail of headlines on climate change

By Richard Mahapatra
Published: Friday 14 February 2020
RK Pachauri. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

I met RK Pachauri, the former head of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in June 2006 for an interview. Though he asked for “talking points” in advance, I informed him about my only question: “Why India has the right to emit more carbons?” The agreement was to have him talking around this question only, with the regular probing interruptions.

As I entered his office (that later became the centre of many sexual harassment allegations, ultimately leading to his fall from grace), he said in his grave voice even before the customary greetings: “India has no choice but to increase emissions. So, you got the answer to your only question! Should we end the interview?”

For the next 40 minutes, we had a conversation exploring his grand statement.

Pachauri was not the usual climate scientist. He was clear in his messaging and simple in words, uncharacteristic of a scientist.

“Emission is a compulsion for India and we need to emit to grow,” he told me. With emphasis on his voice, he added, “Nobody can deprive India of its freedom to grow.” The he took the conversation to the next level: “At the same time we should be conscious of global warming as it affects us all.”

In the next 20 minutes so, he dropped that much sought after headline customised for an environment journalist. “I believe that nuclear power is clean as far as GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions are concerned. Nuclear power has literally no emissions. Given the constraints of limited options and the wider threat of global warming, nuclear is a serious option for India in future.”

The conversation stopped there as a fire broke out at an eatery next-door. We were asked to evacuate India Habitat Centre. I had the headline; he regretted much later, saying he couldn’t finish his argument.

Pachauri died on February 13, 2020. In recent years he was mostly in news for sexual harassment cases, which resulted in him being dropped off all official positions including as the head of TERI. But his death has evoked his long stint as an environmentalist, an institution-maker and his role in mainstreaming climate change.

“His courageous leadership allowed climate change to be recognised world over as the most pressing issue confronting the world and launched a new era of international deliberations and actions,” his family said in a public statement informing his demise.

“TERI is what it is because of Dr Pachauri’s untiring perseverance. He played a pivotal role in growing this institution, and making it a premier global organisation in the sustainability space,” Ajay Mathur, director-general of TERI said.

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