"We can’t deprive future generations of what we take for granted"

Rajendra K Pachauri, chairman of IPCC


Neha Sethi | June 3, 2011

Rajendra K Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and chief executive of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), is among the leading environmentalists in the country. Ahead of the upcoming World Environment Day, he spoke to Neha Sethi about the biggest environmental challenges for India, policy interventions required for sustainable agriculture and more.

What are the biggest environmental challenges that India faces?

India faces huge challenges. Our water quality is extremely poor, our soil is getting eroded in several parts of the country, air quality is a serious problem. Deforestation, while it may have been halted, still leaves us with a challenge in terms of increasing forest cover and forest density. Our wildlife is threatened so you know there’s a whole range of challenges and India has to tackle them urgently. We can’t have future generations deprived of what we have taken for granted.

What are the immediate steps that India needs to take?

There are no simple solutions. We really need the involvement of every stakeholder to come up with a whole range of steps. We probably need 500 steps and we need to start with the first step today.

What do you have to say on this year's theme: 'Forests: Nature at your service'?

The fifth report by the IPCC, to be out in 2014, will look at forests from the climate change angle. Forests are a source of carbon sequestration. Deforestation is happening at a rapid rate round the world. Look at forests in the Amazon, in Southeast Asia. Our country needs to increase its forest cover. We still have a long way to go as far as the density of forests is concerned. If we have set a 33 percent target either we should make sure we achieve it or we should dilute the target if we can’t do it. We also need to find a balance between activities of economic value and protecting environment. We need economic growth but it should be sustainable. Projects need to be assessed on environmental impact. We generally take an extreme situation instead of a balanced view. Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) doesn’t make sense after a project has been prepared. EIA needs to be redesigned as we don’t see real environmental impact.

What do you have to say about the melting of the Himalayan glaciers?

I am afraid enough is not being done to save the Himalayan glaciers. There is also not enough published material to do something. There is no mechanism in place to measure the melting of glaciers.

What should be the national policy on sustainable agriculture?

Farmers are facing a crisis due to changes in precipitation. We have to innovate, we have to come up with changes in agriculture. If we need to have sustainable agriculture then the pollution levels need to reduce. Sustainable agriculture also means that it benefits not only the rich farmers but also the poor ones. A lot of farmers in India depend on rain-fed agriculture and if there are changes in the rain pattern then it will become difficult for the farmers.

This is also part of the national action plan on climate change. It’s one of the missions and we have to see how it gets implemented. I think the objectives and the directions for the mission on sustainable agriculture are very clear. Now we have to see how it gets implemented and that would involve a whole range of stakeholders. It would involve state governments, it would require certainly much better management of water resources, a policy on fertilizer, pesticide use and research and development by which we can move to non-chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

What is your take on genetically modified crops?

You need to make sure all the trials, all the safeguards are carried out before you introduce GM crops but I think we need research and development, we need to build in safeguards and then if those safeguards are met and the public wants GM crops, then you know it is a decision which the public and the government will take.



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