Indians have a special connection with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that shares the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore—the chairman is an Indian, R K Pachauri, who is also director-general of the The Energy Research Institute. The panel is cited as the last word on the science of climate change despite the fact that it does no original work. This year, its fourth report had some stark findings that was greeted with less scepticism than previous reports.
IPCC’s credibility also comes from the fact that governments are already a part of it and unanimously endorse all the reports before they are published. The panel is one of the largest scientific bodies, working as it does with 2,500 scientists worldwide. There have been almost a hundred scientists from India who have been associated with the panel in its four assessments.
Set up in 1988 on the demand of G-7 countries, IPCC is as multilateral as the UN: Any country, which is a member of either the UN or the WMO (World Meteorological Organisation) can be a member of the IPCC. The officially stated mandate is to “assess the scientific, technical and socio-economic information that relates to human induced climate change”. It, therefore, does not do its own calculation, models or studies but assesses and summarises research work done throughout the world to come out with a fair estimation of different facets of climate change.
The supreme body of the IPCC is the general assembly, where every member country has one vote. The general assembly sets up the work plan, including chapter headings and contents that IPCC follows to conduct reviews of scientific knowledge. These are, therefore, called Assessment Reports, which are then taken back to the general assembly for approval before publication. The executive body of the IPCC is the board, which is elected by the general assembly. The board is headed by a chairman.
Assessing the change
IPCC is divided in three working groups that have their areas earmarked.The first deals with the science of climate change, both with the variations observed in the past and the expected change in future. The second is the possible impact of a human-induced climate change on the biosphere and our socio-economic systems, and possible ways to adapt. The third concerns the mitigation possibilities of climate change, or how much it would cost governments to cut emissions. At the end of these reports, there is a summary for policymakers.
Each assessment takes five years. After the general assembly decides on its contents, the IPCC board begins soliciting coordinating lead authors who are recognised experts in each of these disciplines. These coordinating lead author then solicits lead authors and contributing authors, who each write part of the chapter of the report after looking at peer-reviewed scientific literature of their area of specialisation.
Each chapter deals with a specific subject, and the authors of the related chapter are in charge of writing a synthesis of the available scientific knowledge on the corresponding topic.
After the first draft is prepared, it is read and criticised by other experts of the disciplines concerned. The draft incorporates their inputs and the second draft is re-sent to the same experts as well as to the representatives of the governments of member countries. After at least two revisions, the document is submitted to the general assembly of the IPCC for line-by-line approval before publication.
Overall, several thousand people are involved in the writing and reviewing of the report before it is published.
The Fourth Assessment Report had a large emphasis on developing countries and South Asia that was missing in the previous reports.
— sonu jain
Professor, School for Environmental Sciences, JNU, Delhi
His work lies in muddy waters. Countries like India has not even begun to study the impact of climate change on ponds, rivers and lakes and Prof Brij Gopal is one of the few scientists who have attempted to get to the bottom of it all. “With the increase in CO2 and rising temperature, the solubility of oxygen decreases in water, leading to a fall in the quality of water,” explains Gopal.His work for the IPCC chapter on ‘Ecosystems, their properties, goods and services’ relied on work done by scientists of developed countries and a few South-East Asian countries. Their studies showed that even a degree rise in temperature could make some species of fish disappear and also cause proliferation of invasive weeds.
Coastal zones and low-lying areas are particularly vulnerable to climate change and with over one billion people relying on fish as their main protein source, especially in developing countries, the consequences could be grave. “It is difficult to distinguish between impacts of human activity like throwing pollutants into a lake and the change as a result of climate change,” said Gopal.
According to him, it requires systematic, long-term study to determine these facts. The developed nations do these experiments in controlled conditions in the lab.Gopal, a professor at the School for Environmental Sciences at Jawaharlal Nehru University, has contributed to several governmental policy papers which he unfortunately admits “mostly lie on paper”.
The last such report done for the government was on the Yamuna, recommending several measures to preserve and restore its floodplains. It is the policy-implications of his science that fascinates him. “What should be the regulatory mechanism to preserve floodplains? These are questions on which a country like India needs clarity,” he says.
Advisor, Reliance Energy, Noida
A climatologist of international repute, Murari Lal has been associated with the IPCC since its inception in 1988. In fact, he is the only Indian to have contributed to all the four Assessment Reports of the IPCC. A former professor at IIT Delhi, where he spent 21 years, Lal is one of the leading authorities on Indian monsoon and a renowned expert on global and regional climate variabilities. The 58-year-old has done extensive work on developing effective climate models and published close to 100 papers in national and international scientific journals. At present, he is working as Advisor (Environment) with Reliance Energy in Noida.
For the Fourth Assessment Report, Lal, along with three others in Working Group II, wrote the chapter on Asia. The chapter cites new findings to conclude that crop yield in many Asian countries were already showing declining trends, partly due to rising temperatures and extreme weather events. It projects 2.5 to 10 per cent decrease in crop yield in some parts of Asia in the 2020s and 5 to 30 per cent decline in 2050s compared with 1990 levels without CO2 effects.
‘‘From India’s perspective, however, the most significant finding is the likely drying up of rivers because of receding of glaciers. That would put tremendous stress on our agriculture,’’ says Lal.
The most challenging part of the entire exercise, says Lal, was to ensure that every relevant material was taken note of and every relevant voice heard. Therefore scientists working in the remote corners of the world, even when not part of IPCC family, were contacted for first-hand inputs. Then there was the difficulty of convincing the governments of findings. ‘‘The government representatives would examine each and every word and often want the language changed. We had to do a lot of convincing,’’ he says.
‘‘But the good thing that IPCC has done is to make the people aware of climate change. Governments alone cannot do much. People have to realise that natural resources are not infinite and they must make a judicious and careful use of these resources,’’ he says.
Executive director, Technology Information
Forecasting and Assessment Council, Delhi
Anand Patwardhan’s work takes off from where a climate scientist’s usually finishes. He assesses the vulnerability of people and systems to temperature and extreme weather. He then goes a step further and suggests the best ways to adapt to this change.
Patwardhan, an electrical engineer from IIT Bombay, got his PhD in engineering and public policy from Carnegie Mellon University, US. His specialisation is the modelling of risk and uncertainty and appropriate solutions for them. He was coordinating lead author to the IPCC as member of Working Group II which looked at Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability.
‘‘The studies on climate change indicate that these changes normally progress in a linear fashion. This means that strategies to adapt against these changes are designed on this basis only. But, at times or places, these climate changes may not necessarily follow those observed trends. And these are going to be key vulnerabilities,’’ he says.
Currently, the executive director of the Technology Information Forecasting and Assessment Council (TIFAC), his main work falls in the area of low carbon technology.
Head of the Department of Economics, Jadavpur University
In 1988 when Joyashree Roy, now head of the department of economics at Jadavpur University, submitted her thesis ‘Energy Demand in India for the Manufacturing Sector’ for her PhD, little did she know that it would one day make her join the worldwide crusade against global warming.
Her contribution is shedding new light on the fact that the energy intensity of some sectors of Indian industry is actually coming down. In other words, they use less energy for every per capita unit of growth. She studied six energy-intensive sectors and concluded that deployment of low-cost technology actually goes a long way. ‘‘There is a need to mainstream climate concerns into our policies,’’ she says. One of the two co-ordinating lead authors on the chapter on industry in the IPCC, Roy started her teaching career in 1982 and later joined Jadavpur University in 1991. ‘‘I went to Berkeley, California, in 1997 for my post-doctoral research and it was there that I carried forward the work done in the context of Indian industries,’’ she says.
At Berkeley, Roy who created a mathematical model to study the energy demand of industry and its connection with climate change, extended it to four other countries — Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico and South Korea. ‘‘I go to Berkeley every summer to work there because of the excellent facilities they provide,’’ says Roy, who has three books to her credit. Roy also set up the Global Change Programme in her department at Jadavpur, which works with several Central Government ministries on various projects like green accounting.
So, what got her interested in climate change? ‘‘I was born and brought up in Shillong, a hill town so I grew up with nature. Maybe that worked in my mind. However I can say it was the choice of my thesis that brought me into this field, which is now actually a minefield,’’ says Roy.
National Fellow, ICSSR, Centre for the Study of Regional Development, JNU
Rais Akhtar holds up two maps drawn on transparent plastic sheets. He looks at the regions that reported the highest number of malaria cases in 1994. One of the areas with the highest mortality was unusual — western Rajasthan. He turns to the rainfall map and finds that same area shows excess amount of rain that same year.
Akhtar’s specialisation is unusual too — medical geography — he studies why a disease strikes at a particular place and why it doesn’t strike at another. His work has shown that temperature and rainfall patterns are the two biggest factors determining the spread of disease. He was first nominated as Lead Author for the Third Assessment Report in 1999. Following this, a lot of countries did health impact studies. The result is that science is a lot clearer in the Fourth Assessment. For example, empirical research has further quantified the health effects of heat waves. There has been research on a wider range of health issues. Studies show some diseases like plague, that had been eradicated, are re-emerging. Diseases like malaria are climbing up—places with higher altitudes and latitudes are now vulnerable to these because of warming. This time, the vulnerability of low-income countries to the ill effects can be seen more clearly. ‘‘All this has tremendous implication for policy-makers,’’ he says. ‘‘This haphazard development leads to new disease ecology,’’ he adds.
A National Fellow of the Indian Council for Social Science Research, he works at the Centre for the Study of Regional Development at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University. A former dean of the faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Kashmir, Akhtar got his PhD from the Aligarh Muslim University. ‘‘Even before the Nobel, the developed nations had begun to take note of climate change. It was the heat waves of 2003 and Hurricane Katrina in the US in 2005 that changed public perception,’’ he says.
Now Akhtar has turned his attention to heat wave mortality in India. “It is still not very well understood why heat kills people more in a particular region in the country,” he says. ‘‘Only when environmental conditions of health problems are understood, can there be proper distribution of health care facility,’’ he says.
Chairman, Mechanical Science Division, IISc, Bangalore
When he was passing out of college, man had just landed on the moon. He began his career by studying the cooling of the lunar surface. Srinivasan went ahead to research the effect of radiation on Acoustic Gravity Wave propagation in the atmosphere for his PhD degree from Stanford University. Now, chairman of the mechanical science division at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, Srinivasan’s research interests now lies mainly in the fields of climate modelling and satellite meteorology.
Principal investigator of the Indo-French project Megha-Tropiques for the study of clouds, Srinivasan contributed as a lead author to the chapter on climate models, which has concluded that despite the enhancement of confidence in climate forecast models in last few years, the ‘‘confidence in these estimates is higher for some climate variables (for example temperature) than for others (precipitation).’’ He explains: ‘‘Complex global climate models can predict the global mean temperature accurately but cannot predict the monsoon rainfall accurately. This is because these models do not resolve all the clouds.’’
At the moment, he is awaiting the launch of an Indo-French satellite by ISRO in 2009 that will provide new and valuable information about clouds in the tropics. ‘‘This will be vital in understanding changing rainfall patterns more clearly,’’ he says.
Pramod Kumar Aggarwal
Agro-meteorologist,Indian Agriculture Research Institute, Delhi
Pramod Kumar Aggarwal is an agro-meteorologist, a scientist investigating how climate affects agriculture. A professor in the Division of Environmental Sciences at the Indian Agriculture Research Institute (IARI) in Delhi, Aggarwal has been working on the impact of climate change on Indian crops for nearly two decades now. With average global temperatures rising slowly but steadily, countries such as India, which already have a warm climate, are faced with the prospect of crops being unable to withstand the excessive heat. Trying to develop crop varieties with greater heat resistance is one of the aims of the research being carried out by Aggarwal and his team at IARI.
‘‘One of the most significant implications of the slow increase in average global temperatures is that over a period of time farming will become more and more difficult in countries like India. On the other hand, cooler countries are likely to benefit. Therefore, while the global production of food grains might not be affected, there would be heavy regional imbalances,” says Aggarwal, who, along with William Easterling of the United States, wrote the chapter on ‘‘Food, Fibre and Forest Products’’ of IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report.
One of the key findings of this chapter was that even a three-degree Celsius rise in average local temperature—along with the associated carbon dioxide increase and rainfall changes—might prove to be beneficial for crops in mid- and high-latitude regions. But in countries nearer to the equator, even a one-degree rise can be disastrous for a crop like wheat, which is almost on the threshold of its resistance.
This would lead to increased dependency on food imports for the developing countries, most of which are situated along the lower latitudes. The chapter climate change would also increase the number of people at risk of hunger, and further shift the focus of food insecurity to sub-Saharan Africa. Aggarwal’s research is not just aimed at finding possible adaptation strategies to deal with climate change but also to study what agriculture can do mitigate the impact of global warming. “Agriculture also contributes to green house emissions. Right now, agriculture’s share of total emissions would be around 15 per cent. Some of that is inevitable but we are looking at ways of reducing that,” says Aggarwal.