Alongside Al Gore, an Indian 'climate control' engineer
Rajendra Pachauri heads the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Control, which was the co-winner of this year's Nobel Peace Prize.
NEW DELHI — Alongside the Hollywood chic of Al Gore , Rajendra Pachauri's day planner can seem a bit pedestrian: Work every day, sometimes until 3 a.m., and – if at all possible – shoehorn in a cricket match with co-workers.
But his work ethic, along with the ability to build and inspire a team, helped win Dr. Pachauri his share of the Nobel Peace Prize with Mr. Gore on Friday, colleagues say. If Gore is the frontman of the crusade against global warming, then Pachauri runs the engine room as chairman of the UN Intergovern-mental Panel on Climate Control (IPCC), which was named co-winner of the prize with Gore.
This year, the IPCC will churn out four reports on climate change, producing the scientific gravitas for Gore's glitz. Gore calls the IPCC "the world's preeminent scientific body devoted to improving our understanding of the climate crisis."
Like Gore, Pachauri is a global-warming pioneer. Since the late 1980s, the former industrial engineer has sought to use science to convince skeptics and CEOs of the need of reducing mankind's atmospheric imprint. Now, he warns that if the problem is not addressed, developing nations will bear the brunt of the crisis, suffering for a situation they did not create because they have not the resources to mitigate it.
The Nobel committee acknowledged this in its announcement, saying: "[Climate] changes will place particularly heavy burdens on the world's most vulnerable countries. There may be increased danger of violent conflicts and wars...."
Coordinating 600 scientists
It is from here, in a cluttered New Delhi office filled with teetering columns of paper and dozens of cricket trophies, that Pachauri has led his charge. Though he jokes that he has spent half of his five-year tenure as IPCC chairman in airplanes, Pachauri also spends long hours at his computer here, often arriving at 5 a.m. and sometimes staying past midnight, coordinating the work of some 600 scientists from more than 100 countries.
His greatest wish for this prize is that it might underscore the urgency of the situation. Based on his team's research, he estimates that the global community has eight years to reverse the trend of increasing greenhouse-gas emissions. After that, the effects will mount and become irreversible, he adds.
Beneath a mane of untidy black hair streaked with white, Pachauri says he first began studying the impact of carbon emissions on the atmosphere, "when I was working on energy issues after graduate school in the 1980s."
As early as 1988, he delivered an address to the International Association of Energy Economics on the threat that such emissions presented. Back then, he says, "that was seen as heresy by many members."
Today, he is grateful for progress. "Now there is enough knowledge available to know what actions should be taken and how they should be put into place," he says. "The technologies you need [to reverse carbon emissions] are all available, we just need the policies."
Though Pachauri has advocated a "carbon tax" in the past, penalizing those who use the most fossil fuels, he says the IPCC is not an advisory body. It exists only for the science. And this is where Gore comes in. Though there was a notable rough patch between them, when Gore characterized Pachauri as the "let's drag our feet" candidate for IPCC chairman in 2002, Pachauri says that was a blip in a long and productive friendship.
Indeed, after hearing that his group had won a share of the Nobel Prize, Pachauri told Gore in a brief phone conversation: "I am certainly looking forward to working with you. I'll be your follower and you'll be my leader."
Yet Pachauri's characteristics as a leader are what distinguish him, say colleagues.
A founder of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), now one of India's top laboratories, Pachauri sought to bring the best young minds into a new biotechnology department in 1989. One of his early recruits, Bhawan Lal, was not initially convinced that the venture would succeed. He kept his old job as a professor at an Indian university as a backup.
Within months, however, Dr. Lal had abandoned his back up plan. When he joined, Pachauri said, " No one will ever tell you to do the work." Instead, Lal says, Pachauri led by example: "He is so hardworking."
Whenever Lal needed something for his research, for instance, Pachauri had it for him the next day; at his university, a similar request could take weeks to fulfill.
It was Pachauri who also pushed Lal to seek practical uses for his research. This lead to Oilzapper, a product he invented that cleans oil spills through the use of oil-munching microbes. "[Pachauri] said, 'You have to go out and do something so society would benefit,' " says Lal. "Otherwise we would have just sat in our air-conditioned laboratories."
Advocate of real-world solutions
This emphasis on the practical is one of Pachauri's hallmarks. "He has been one of the pioneers and voices of reason in the field, not just calling attention to an environment in peril but creating solutions by bridging the gap between academia, business, policymakers, and the public," says Tulsi Tanti, a friend and founder of Suzlon, Asia's largest manufacturer of wind turbines, in an e-mail.
Though he has a long way to go to bring Gore-like publicity to the Indian subcontinent, Friday's award was a start. In the space of one hour, his cellphone registered 90 missed calls. The next morning, the corporate cricket team from Indian airline SpiceJet was kind enough to wait for him to arrive, presenting him with a bouquet and a row of handshakes before uncharitably beating his TERI team.
But even this tiny gesture shows a shift now taking hold. "There is reason for optimism," says Pachauri. "Even businesses are beginning to realize the importance of the [climate change] issue."