On Tuesday evening, Andrew Revkin of the New York Times moderated a talk with Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, current chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and co-winner of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. (Al Gore shared the prize with Pachauri, who won on behalf of the IPCC.) The conversation took place in a small meeting room at Columbia University's School of Journalism, before a small but rapt audience of journalists, scientists and students.
Before Dr. Pachauri's arrival, Revkin navigated his Dot Earth blog for the audience, likening a journalist's environment beat to "drinking from a fire hose that's always gushing." Revkin's analogy aptly conjures images of runaway resource use and the problem of global climate change, which at times can seem insurmountable. But Dr. Pachauri's arrival put Tuesday's audience at ease. Although he acknowledged vast political hurdles ahead, Pachauri seemed optimistic overall in the future of climate change policy.
Pachauri explained a little about the IPCC contributors, who are carefully selected from a group of about 2,000 scientists recommended by their respective governments. Each step along the way to writing an assessment report is reviewed by the entire group, and the abridged summary for policymakers must be approved word for word by an even larger group, ensuring about 400 pairs of eyes review and give comments before its release.
The IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) in 2007 was the first to label climate change "unequivocal" , most likely caused by human action, and no longer up for debate. Exact causes and predictive climate models remain uncertain -- the nature of science yet unfortunate fodder for naysayers' arguments. Pachauri said as a scientist and chair of the IPCC, it is his job to listen to all opinions and make sure the Panel produces as incisive a report as possible. Maintaining the IPCC's role as a scientific rather than political body is of utmost importance.
The next step in Pachauri's mind, as the IPCC prepares for its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) in 2014, is to examine the ethics of helping developing countries move forward on a path of sustainable development. After rejecting the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, the United States is being watched by the international community as it sets new environmental policies. A prevailing message from Pachauri and Revkin's conversation was the importance of leading by example in the developed world.