Talking with IPCC Chairman Pachauri about U.S. Climate Action

I had the honor Friday morning of conducting a press call with Dr. R.K. Pachauri, the Nobel Prize winner and chairman of the International Panel on Climate Change. Dr. Pachauri is a visionary leader who relies on the scientific evidence to remind the nations of the world of our obligation to confront the climate crisis.

In our call, he talked about the upcoming meetings between President Obama and Prime Minister Singh--which I will blog about shortly--but what really struck me was Dr. Pachauri's take on U.S. climate legislation.

He underscored yet again the urgent need for Congress to take action, not just because the rest of the world is waiting for our leadership, but because it will save lives on the frontlines of climate disruption.

Naturally, Dr. Pachauri began by giving his scientific assessment of the U.S. position. According to the data, he said "whatever is on the table right now is not enough to see that some of the worst impacts of climate change can be avoided."

The window for turning this around is very limited. "On every scientific count, we really need to start moving quickly." We must begin the process of reducing emission right now, but also adapting to climate impacts. "That need is especially dire," he said, "in other parts of the world that don't have the means and don't have the capacity to take those actions."

He believes that the United States should be doing much more to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, particularly in light of Japan's pledge to reduce emissions by 25 percent and the European Union's offer to go to 30 percent if other developed nations join in.

But Dr. Pachauri's also offered an astute appraisal of the politics.

"In very pragmatic terms, I would settle even for the legislation in the Senate right now, because that is clearly a major step forward. One hopes that as the science becomes more evident and more widely known, governments will say, 'Look, we need to do more.'"

I agree wholeheartedly. We must get moving on climate solutions, we need the Congress to act quickly on this legislation which will get the U.S. on a path to reducing its carbon emissions and unlocking its clean energy potential. We need the Senate to pass legislation early in 2010. The Earth simply doesn't have the luxury to wait.

On the international stage, the U.S. must come to Copenhagen prepared to act and to establish a framework for a global agreement. We can then fortify our commitments going forward. I remember that soon after the Montreal Protocol was ratified, scientists concluded that the treaty wasn't strict enough, and the international community rapidly agreed to take bolder steps.

But this approach only works when there is a framework already in place.

After eight years of stalling under the previous administration, it's time for the U.S. to show leadership on this issue. One of the journalists on our call asked Dr. Pachauri if the United States would be to blame if negotiators failed to reach a political deal in Copenhagen.

Dr. Pachauri answered, "I wouldn't say I place blame, but certainly I feel disappointed as so many others do that things haven't moved rapidly enough."

Now is the time for U.S., India and other key nations to take bold action to curb carbon emissions and unleash our clean energy future.

 You can listen to an audio recording of the call by clicking here.