Rajendra K. Pachauri, President of the IPCC, member of the Fondation Chirac’s Honor Committee, gives his speech Friday, November 5, 2010, at the Award Ceremony for the Prize for Conflict Prevention at the musée du quai Branly.
President Jacques Chirac,
President Vaira Vike-Freiberga,
Former Prime Minister Raffarin,
Mr. Stephane Martin,
My good friend Dr. Ismail Serageldin,
Imam Muhammad Ashafa,
Pastor James Wuye,
Other distinguished laureates of this award,
Members of the media,
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen.
Let me at the outset thank President Chirac for the privilege of being present in this august gathering and speaking on this extremely important occasion. When I had the honour of receiving the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) I invoked a phrase from Indian tradition and belief which in Sanskrit is Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. This means that the universe is one family. To that extent prevention of conflict is similar of prevention of environmental degradation, because it is better to prevent conflict than to mitigate it once it takes place. And if the universe is one family, then conflict in any part of the globe is like conflict in your own home. In that context I would like to salute President Chirac for having instituted this award and for emphasizing the preventive aspects related to conflict. In his address President Chirac highlighted the importance of development, but we now have to consider development being sustainable and with full understanding of the challenge of climate change. He has highlighted this aspect in his address, and I would merely support it with some findings from the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) of the IPCC.
A major statement that we made was that warming of the climate system is unequivocal as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising global average sea level. We also stated that most of the observed increases in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations. When we use the term very likely we are referring to the probability of 90 percent or above. Despite these extremely important findings, the world has continued to increase its emissions of greenhouse gases with an increase of 70 percent having taken place during the period 1970 to 2004. Atmospheric concentration of CO2 and CH4 that were recorded in 2005 exceeded by far the natural range over the last 650,000 years.
The impacts of climate change are becoming increasingly serious as shown by observations and widespread scientific evidence. Ecosystems are being affected by flooding, droughts, wild fires, increase in insects and ocean acidification. In the AR4 we assessed a number of animal and plant species and found 20-30 percent of the species assessed would face the risk of extinction with temperatures exceeding the range of 1.5-2.5°C.
In the case of food we find that at lower latitudes especially in seasonally dry and tropical regions crop productivity is projected to decrease with even small temperature increases of (1-2°C). This would increase the risk of hunger because these are precisely the regions where tens of millions of people are dependent on rainfed agriculture and are living in a state of poverty.
Coastal areas are projected to be exposed to increasing risk including coastal erosion due to climate change and sea level rise. This effect will be exacerbated by human induced activities in coastal areas. There are also challenges that coastal areas will face on account of flooding and other climate related events. In particular the mega-deltas of Asia and Africa are extremely vulnerable, which include cities like Shanghai, Dhaka and Kolkata. These are locations with a high density of population and substantial infrastructure and property, all of which would be affected adversely by coastal flooding. Small island states across the globe are extremely vulnerable too. I recall that in 1997 the IPCC held its plenary session in the Maldives islands and the then President of that country Mr. Gayoom told us that the place where we are holding our meeting just a few years earlier was under a foot and a half of water due to an extreme weather event. Sea level rise during the 20th century averaged about 17 centimetres, but for a small country like Maldives, which is an archipelago of over a thousand islands even a small increase in sea level represents a large threat. In that country a number of islands have already been abandoned because they have become uninhabitable.
The health impacts of climate change are also serious, and these would be the result of more frequent floods, droughts and heat waves but also due to increase in vector borne diseases.
A large part of the globe is in a state of water stress. Climate change would exacerbate this situation. In the IPCC AR4 we have projected that in Africa as early as 2020 between 75 to 250 million people would be living in a state of increased water stress due to climate change. The Mediterranean region is also particularly vulnerable because of reduced precipitation levels. This region has growing scarcity of water which would be exacerbated on account of the impacts of climate change.
Overall, the impacts of climate change would be largely negative though in some areas there may be some benefits as well. The possibility of extreme events would be much higher as climate change remains unmitigated. It is for this reason that mitigation would be extremely important, and more so because reducing emissions of greenhouse gases would carry substantial co-benefits such as lower levels of air pollution at the local level, great levels of global energy security, higher employment as a result of mitigation measures and higher agricultural productivity which would not be exposed to the negative impacts of climate change. The world, therefore, has a short window of opportunity in which we could take effective mitigation measures while at the same time taking in hand a range of adaptation measures to deal with climate change, which would take place on account of the past increase in the concentration of greenhouse gases. As Mahatma Gandhi said “A technological society has two choices. First it can wait until catastrophic failures expose systemic deficiencies, distortion and self-deceptions…Secondly, a culture can provide social checks and balances to correct for systemic distortion prior to catastrophic failures.”
I, therefore, once again salute the vision of President Chirac for having instituted this award that highlights the importance of the second set of choices whereby a technological society can overcome self-deception and other shortcomings and prevent conflict and catastrophe rather than being overtaken by them.
I thank you for granting me this privilege today.