OSLO (Reuters) - “Pass me the microphone when he’s finished, please,” Rajendra Pachauri leant over and asked me after a U.S. sceptic accused his U.N. climate panel of exaggerating the threat of global warming.
Pachauri, an Indian scientist who heads the panel awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday with ex-U.S. Vice President Al Gore, had just been accused at U.N. talks in Nairobi of failing to reply to a letter from U.S. Republican Sen. James Inhofe.
Pachauri often runs into sharp questioning and gives patient, meticulous replies that may have helped widen acceptance for IPCC conclusions that humanity is “very likely” to blame for climate change and urgent action is needed.
I passed Pachauri the microphone — I was sitting beside him as mediator at a debate among scientists and other experts — and thought he seemed remarkably unflustered by the allegation from Inhofe’s spokesman Marc Morano.
Even Pachauri, who lists two doctorates on his business card and was busy preparing mammoth scientific reports based on the work of 2,500 people published this year, might have problems talking his way out of this one, I thought.
“But I did reply,” Pachauri said to Morano. “If you give me your e-mail I will send you it again.”
Inhofe, who once famously said the threat of catastrophic climate change was “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people”, has been sharply critical of the IPCC. At the time, November 2006, he was the outgoing chairman of the Committee on Environment and Public Works.
A few days later Pachauri sent an e-mail to Morano, which he also copied to me and to Paal Prestrud, a Norwegian climate scientist who arranged the debate, and attached a letter replying to Inhofe dated Dec. 24, 2005.
In the one-page letter, he denies the IPCC has an alarmist bias and says “I have a deep commitment to the integrity and objectivity of the IPCC process.”
Pachauri’s main argument is that the IPCC comprises both scientists and more than 130 governments who approve IPCC reports line by line. That helps ensure fairness, he says.
At a Reuters Environment Summit in London last week Pachauri said he was considering contacting Inhofe’s Democratic successor Barbara Boxer to get his letter registered by the Senate.
He also said the world may have to consider even stronger measures to combat climate change than the stiffest now contemplated.
People living in parts of Africa where rainfall was becoming less predictable, for instance, or on Pacific islands threatened by rising seas, could suffer even with small temperature rises.
Asked how ordinary people could best combat climate change, his recommended everyone take personal responsibility.
“That would involve things like minimising the amount of water you use for taking a shower, switching off a light every time you leave a room, to the extent possible walking when you don’t need to take motorised transport, cycling where you feel that a bicycle would be better.”
“I think this can make an enormous difference. But so far we don’t do that.”