You cannot compete in a globalized economy unless you are scientifically ahead

Dr R K Pachauri's name is synonymous with maxims like 'The Sustainability Envoy', 'The Green Ambassador et al. He is one of the world's most influential climate scientists & thought leader who heads the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and has bagged the 'Nobel Peace Prize' for IPCC in 2007. Padma Vibhushan Dr Pachauri is also the Director General for The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), India. Here, the never-tiring, outspoken but extremely down-to-earth leader, who has made India proud on numerous occasions in the world forum, speaks to Devyani P Korgoankar about climate change & its implications, his tryst with the environment, the sustainability culture across the world, future prospects of India as a green country while providing invaluable opinions to make the Earth a greener haven. Excerpts...

Where do you see india positioned as an eco-friendly country?Well, it is a mixed picture. We have some examples that would make us proud; but, there are several shameful instances as well. Rapid urbanisation and increasingly becoming oblivious of our actions reflect as a bad impact on the environment, ecosystems and natural resources. However, the fact which is most disappointing is that our rural areas have also deviated from sustainable practices. For instance, areas around rail tracks are such an ugly sight to look at; piles & piles of muck, nobody seems to bother and no one cares. People clean their homes and dump the garbage anywhere. Now, this is only a symptom. Another example that could be cited is the pathetic state of the Yamuna; the river is so polluted that no form life can exist in it.

What remedy would you suggest?The remedies are not simple. There is a need for massive awareness on the pattern of development taking place around us and the direction we are heading in. It is important for us to understand how a polluted environment can cause enormous harm. If you take air pollution, for instance, it has serious health implications on both children and adults; some of them could be afflicted for life.

Another concern is the sum total of land use . For instance, landfill is a prevalent method of disposing of solid waste. However, both the land and the waste could be used for productive purposes; but then, there is a cost associated with environmental degradation-in a major project, in 1997, on the eve of India celebrating 50 years of Independence, we found that India is losing 11% of its GDP on account of environmental degradation. We have done a large number of projects on landfills. Recently, TERI, in association with Jamia Millia Islamia University, has demonstrated clean technology for 'landfill gas recovery' at Delhi's Okhla Waste Disposal site. The project was also supported by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India. The captured landfill gas can be used as a source of energy, thereby reducing the risk of uncontrolled methane emissions from landfills-a potential greenhouse gas. This would work if we are able to segregate waste at the source into recyclable materials (like plastic) and non-recyclable waste. This is how other developed countries resolved the waste issue.

Are you satisfied with the government's measures taken in this regard?You see, the government cannot do much; it is the people who have to take some initiative. Yes, I agree, there is legislation in place; but the government machinery present for the enforcement of that legislation is largely inadequate and ineffective. The government can enter into partnerships with other stakeholders because it cannot do everything alone. How much policing can you do? How many penalties can you impose? Contrarily, this leads to other irregularities. I believe what you really need is the involvement of all stakeholders; we have to take responsibility as citizens of this country.

How do reckon the growing waste management sector in India?See, with rise in consumption, there is a rise in the level of garbage creation and dumping-a trend which will continue with the growth in population. Additionally, our incomes as well as consumption levels are also going higher. Today, no one is foreseeing how this trend will compound into a staggering problem in future. We have to start solving the problems at the source, right now. If we do not begin today, the problem will go completely out of hand. And, as a result, the cost associated with the solution will be much higher.

Can different kinds of waste management, which are incessantly on the rise, create and render several employment opportunities in India?Yes, of course. If all these are managed properly, then clearly there would be jobs. But you should also see the other side of the picture. If you do not do anything to tackle the problem, then there would be greater harm. As I said, if you take large areas of landfill, those can also be a source of disease. And what is even worse is the fact that we are, for instance, wasting the opportunities of generating energy from a large amount of organic waste.

How can the adverse effect of hazardous waste be averted? Don't you think stricter rules should be imposed? How can we spread the awareness?Firstly, you need a system by which e-waste or other hazardous waste can be collected. You have to come up with solutions on how to dispose of toxic and nontoxic waste. At the moment, we do not have'such systems in place. Yes, stricter rules should be implemented. As the informal sector does not follow such rules, you again need the involvement of the public. Besides, you can spread awareness through campaigns and spread knowledge by writing articles on these subjects. People must know the implications of continuing such practices. Adopting eco-friendly practices is easy; it is only a question of getting organised, which will happen when we are aware of and sensitised to the opportunities available for us and to the harm that would take place if we do not take immediate action.

Tell us about 'SAHYOG', TERI's new project with the EUIt is a knowledge-based programme and it is in a nascent stage. Basically, this is a programme, where we are jointly generating knowledge. I think what we have to do is to learn from other countries in terms of technological solutions. Let's see how it develops.

And what about TERI's 'renewable energy based cooling technology'?In rural areas, our farmers have no choice for storing their perishable produce; they have to sell it the moment it is ready or it just rots away. I have been very concerned about our farmers. So, I thought if we could provide them Renewable Energy Based Cooling Technolog}', it will open up opportunities for farmers to enhance their incomes; they can store some of their produce and sell the rest when they get the right price. All over the world, these cold chains are an essential part of agricultural and horticultural production. While this particular demonstration project of TERI that we have commissioned in UP's Sitapur district is functioning very well, bringing down the cost remains a challenge.

What are the other R&Ds going on in TERI?There is a whole range of projects going on at the moment. We have 1,200 people in TERI working on them. To mention a few, in biotechnolog), we have developed a microbial culture for cleaning up oil spills; this is used extensively. We have also developed Mycorrhiza, which are microbes attached to the roots of a plant to help it absorb otherwise inaccessible nutrients.Basically, plants can grow faster under adverse conditions; so, in a sense, it is like a bio-fertiliser. In addition, we have a number of renewable energy technologies. We have also developed efficient and innovative solar lamps through our 'Lighting a Billion Lives' campaign.

Give us a future prospective of several other soiar projects going on in IndiaWell, the country has a solar energy mission that has to be implemented faithfully. There are lots of opportunities by which solar energy can be used on a large scale. Even in our cities, we could have solar roof top programmes.

Kindly share with us your enriching experience in IPCCThis is a major responsibility that I thoroughly enjoy and I am proud of the fact that I have been associated with it for several years now. IPCC is the global apex body for generating knowledge on all aspects pertaining to climate change. The assessments that have been undertaken involve thousands of scientists who faithfully provide time and effort without seeking any compensation. The whole thing is based on enthusiasm, professional pride and desire to create knowledge. So, in that sense, it is a unique human undertaking, which has not been seen in any other area of human endeavour in the past.

Mention a few challenges you went through in IPCCChallenges exist; there are a few people who will not like what you say because some of them believe that the knowledge provided would harm them. Frankly, this is not new; it has been witnessed throughout the history of mankind. For instance, when it was first revealed that the Earth is round, there was a religious order to punish those people who came up with such scientific facts. So, I think, whenever you have new knowledge, some will question it for genuine reasons, some will resist it because their own interests are involved; they feel that their easy profits will be jeopardised. This is part of the process and has to be expected . One cannot expect that knowledge in a field like climate change will be easily and immediately accepted by all. But what gives me a great deal of encouragement is that the awareness on climate change is growing rapidly worldwide reflecting the knowledge and the insights IPCC has provided. Apart from accepting the Nobel Prize on behalf of IPCC, I think my biggest pride has been that we have always arrived at a consensus among all the governments, among all the scientists all over the world-this is something to feel very satisfied about.

Coming back to India, do you think the Kyoto protocol is followed here?Well, India has signed the protocol. We have been following this and I do not think it has been violated here anyway.

What would be the probable highlights 'fifth assessment report' of IPCC?See, the work is in progress. I would not be able to reveal the contents before completion. But there are some aspects we are covering for the first time. We will have much better information on ice sheets and sea level rise. We have more regional information this time. We are also going to look at aerosols and cloud cover in depth. There are a few other new facts we would highlight this time.

What do you have to say about the 'new science policy' recently announced by the Hon'ble Prime Minister?I think, in this country, we have to bring about some major transformation in the science and technology sector because you cannot compete in a globalised economy unless you are scientifically and technologically ahead of the others. I am afraid that our science and technology is falling behind. The countries, which were way behind us, have gone ahead. It is a good thing that the Hon'ble Prime Minister has announced a new science and technology policy. We really need to transform some of our institutions; else we are not going to go anywhere.