Change in the Weather

ISE alumnus and Nobel Prize winner, Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, returns to campus to discuss climate change

Change in the weather, change in the weather, Somethin’s happenin’ here,” sang rock and roll legend John Fogerty almost 30 years ago. Dr. Rajendra Pachauri brought these words to light again when he visited NC State this fall. He came back to campus to share the latest findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and visit with ISE faculty, staff and students. “It gets better every time I come here,” Pachauri said.

The IPCC, an organization that Pachauri has chaired since 2002, is the leading international body for the assessment of climate change. The United Nations (UN) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) created it in 1988. The IPCC provides the world with a clear scientific view on the current state of climate change. It consists of thousands of volunteer scientists from all over the world to ensure a complete assessment of current information. In 2007, Pachauri and the IPCC received the Nobel Peace Prize along with former Vice President Al Gore.

ISE professor emeritus Richard Bernhard who was on Pachauri’s doctorial committee back in the 70’s said, “Patchy was always a good student. But the thing I always found amazing was his ability to get a group of people to work together.” Bernhard relayed a story about how Pachauri worked with the IPCC report committee. “Dr. Pachauri, the other UN committee members and their translators were working to finish the latest IPCC Assessment report which was due the next morning. At 2 a.m., all the translators went home and left the committee to themselves. It was at this point that Pachauri turned to them and said, ‘Beginning now we will all start speaking English.’ And he pulled it off. Oh, and the report they submitted the next morning was the one that earned them the Nobel Prize.” chuckled Bernhard. “Dr. Pachauri is fully committed to bringing people together to solve the climate change problem.”

Pachauri’s talk, “An Assessment of Global Climate Change: Mitigation, Adaptation and Sustainable Development,” addressed the latest findings from the IPCC’s fifth Assessment Report. This was the same report that he presented to 125 world leaders, including President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron, at the UN early in the fall. Following Pachauri’s talk, 50 governments, including the U.S., signed the “New York Declaration.” This document promises to cut the rate of deforestation in half by 2010 and halt it altogether by 2030.

He began by defining the term sustainable development. “It is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,” he said. Pachauri explained how the IPCC uses climate models to measure both atmospheric and oceanic conditions. These models also use sea ice and land-surface components, like volcanic eruptions, to project climate change. Researchers then compared the models with historical weather data. This allowed them to determine how much of today’s climate change is human influenced: 95 percent.

But Pachauri didn’t focus only on the environmental impact of climate change. He discussed the burdens climate change has and will continue to put on the global economy. Droughts, raising sea levels and increasing temperatures influence food security, human health and poverty. “We cannot have sustainable development with climate change,” Pachauri said.

The IPCC believes that global regulation of climate change must start now rather than later. “Adaptation will not work after a certain stage,” Pachauri said. “We have to reduce greenhouse gases.” The IPCC’s goal is to have no emission or even negative emission of greenhouse gases by 2100. This is quite a goal considering the fact that both China and India, two of the largest producers of greenhouse gases, didn’t attend the IPCC presentation to the UN.

But Pachauri was optimistic that the world’s heightened awareness about climate change will lead to action. He was hopeful for the future and listed strategies to reach that goal including renewable energies, more forests and carbon capture storage. Pachauri noted that countries who are reducing their carbon footprint, like Germany, have already seen economic benefits. The German economy is one of the strongest and most stable in Europe. Pachauri finished with the quote from Mahatma Gandhi, “Speed is irrelevant if you are going in the wrong direction.”

After his presentation to the university, Pachauri joined ISE faculty, staff and students for a reception in his honor. This was his opportunity to reconnect with faculty and meet some of the department’s current students. “I thought it was amazing to see where Dr. Pachauri has gone with his IE degrees,” said ISE senior Jenna Pennock. “It speaks volumes to the fact that with an IE degree you can do anything with your career.” ISE junior Hannah Wetmore added, “I was grateful for the opportunity to meet Dr. Pachauri. It is always exciting to see a former NCSU ISE alumnus using his or her ISE skills to make a positive impact on society, especially through humanitarian efforts like those of Dr. Pachauri.”