The Heat Is Online

Pachauri Sets Tone With Strong Warning About Climate Impacts

Small islands could drown, warns climate body chief, April 24, 2002

NEW DELHI - Imagine a world without the Maldives, or the Caribbean islands.

According to the new chief of the U.N.'s climate advisory body small islands are in severe danger of drowning as climate change is expected to raise sea levels.

"Small island states will be really badly affected. A lot of them will be submerged - the Maldive islands, all those in the South Pacific and the Caribbean islands," Rajendra Pachauri, who was elected chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) last week, told Reuters in an interview yesterday.

"Japan could suffer difficulty although Japan is not quite as vulnerable as some of the small islands."

For years, the bearded 62-year-old Indian environmentalist has been helping India clean up its act - pushing renewable sources of fuel in the energy-deficient country.

Today, Pachauri - the head of the Tata Energy Research Institute of India - has a more formidable job ahead of him.

"In the next three, four, maybe five decades we will see the impact of climate change such as sea level rise, impact on agriculture, impact on water, impact on health because there are certain diseases and viruses which could increase," Pachauri said.

A study this month by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) predicted global warming could cause more than 40 Himalayan glacial lakes to burst their banks in five years' time, causing floods and killing thousands of people.

Pachauri, a former railway engineer, warned that climate change could have a particularly deep impact on agriculture, a major source of livelihood in many parts of the developing world.

He said wheat, which is highly sensitive to temperature, is in danger as coming climate changes could force temperatures as high as 50 degrees Celsius in some parts of the world.


Pachauri was also concerned about the long-term socio-economc impact on the developing world, as changes in cultivation patterns affects farm incomes.

"If people earning a living by growing wheat move to coarse grains would they get the same level of earnings? If they don't, would they move to towns and cities," he said sitting behind his paper-strewn desk in the heart of the Indian capital.

Environmentalists say Pachauri, known for his successes brokering environmental arrangements between government and industry, will be under pressure from the United States which they say engineered his election to the post.

Pachauri - who has doctorates in industrial engineering and economics - beat incumbent U.S. scientist Robert Watson last week in a secret ballot to become chairman of the IPCC, the body that advises governments on long-term climatic variations.

Environmentalists said Watson was removed because of a campaign by the United States, which has refused to join the Kyoto Protocol, an agreement to reduce most industrial nations' net emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide.

The environmentalist's allegations stem from a leaked White House memo from a major U.S. oil company urging Watson's re-election be opposed.

Watson is a strong supporter of the Kyoto pact, which is opposed by major oil companies. The United States says the pact is flawed and expensive, and has proposed an alternative strategy that would slow the increase of emissions but not decrease them.

Pachauri denies the United States lobbied for his election and says Washington will not affect the working of the panel.

"The IPCC is only a scientific body. It doesn't get into the question of commitments by different countries... It doesn't concern itself with what country A or country B would do."

Pachauri also dismissed the possibility of pressure from oil companies, saying they did not have a direct role in the IPCC.

"All they can do is maybe pressure a few governments here and there."