Nobel Peace Prize winner and environmentalist Rajendra K Pachauri was recently in Dubai for the launch of ETA Star's Verde project – an environmentally friendly two-tower development in Dubai Maritime City. He speaks to Emirates Business about what he thinks of carbon offsetting, the future of the global carbon market and the UAE's green initiatives.
How did it feel to win the Nobel Peace Prize? Do you think it proved that globally people are finally sitting up and taking notice of the issue of climate change?
I had two immediate emotions; one was the fact that the work of so many scientists working in the IPCC had been recognised and acknowledged and the second was about the importance of the cause, which had been highlighted by the award. The award probably came about because we had been very successful in creating public awareness all over the world.
How pivotal do you think Al Gore has been in making the world aware of climate change?
Al Gore has had a major impact in the United States, which is where he has been confining most of his activities. But his movie has been a hit everywhere and I think he did a superb job of producing it. There are people who felt he had projected himself excessively but I think being involved and doing the commentary himself gave it a personal touch, which in my view provided a greater appeal. If it had been a third-person documentary, then it wouldn't have had the same impact.
What impact do you think the UAE has had on the environment with the current construction boom?
In terms of size, the UAE is not very large but is clearly an area that is using energy very intensively and on a per capita basis is creating emissions of a fairly large magnitude. It is certainly a place that gets attention. The Verde initiative and others like it are very good news for the country and the world as a whole. I believe the UAE and Dubai should move in a direction distinctly different from what has been seen as conventional development.
Is the public being misled about biofuels?
No, but in some parts of the world they have made terrible mistakes in pursuing options that are not very wise and the public is, therefore, questioning some of these. I don't think the public is likely to be misled but there will be changes in the next few years in the whole area of biofuels and food production.
Is it right that banks are making money from carbon offsetting?
I don't see any harm in people making money if it is for the right reason and if it will lead to a lower carbon society. Let people make money – it's a free market. And if you have buyers and sellers doing things willingly, that is perfectly all right.
Is carbon offsetting cheating? Should countries be forced to reduce their carbon emissions instead?
The scope for these so-called flexibility mechanisms has been defined and doesn't in any way replace the commitment of countries to reduce their own emissions. It only gives them a small way out and I think that is perfectly all right. It has led to the development of a carbon market, which in the future is bound to expand, so it is something I have no objection to.
Listed companies in the United Kingdom are being forced to reveal their carbon emissions. Will this help and would you like to see it happen elsewhere?
It should happen around the world, at least for certain sized establishments. You wouldn't want a shopkeeper with a small business to calculate his carbon footprint, but large companies should definitely be asked to reveal theirs. They say what gets measured gets managed, so if people begin to measure their carbon footprint, they will start to manage it – and the public will demand them to do so.
The UAE is a tax-free state, but do you think 4x4s and other gas-guzzling vehicles should be taxed?
I won't pass any judgement on what should be done here. But, in general, if you want to move to a low-carbon future then we certainly need a price on carbon. We have said that very clearly in our latest IPCC report and if a state like this is prepared to take such a measure then it will certainly move society to adopt low carbon initiatives.
RK Pachauri, Chairman IPCC
Dr Rajendra K Pachauri, 67, is the chairman of the UN-supported Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which focuses on sustainable development, and the Chief Executive Officer of The Energy and Resources Institute (Teri), based in India. Last year the IPCC was named the joint winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, alongside environmental activist Al Gore, for its work on combatting climate change. Prior to joining the IPCC, Dr Pachauri was on the board of the Indian Oil Corporation and National Thermal Power Corporation. He was also awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2001 – one of India's highest civilian awards. Dr Pachauri lives in New Delhi and is an avid cricket fan.