Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

What Pachauri Means by ‘Sustainable’

Yesterday I wrote about the 3-day sustainability summit being held at an opulent 5-star hotel, over which Rajendra Pachauri will preside later this week. Since then Hilary Ostrov has dug a bit deeper into the program for that event. You can read about her findings here.

The website for this annual summit tells us a great deal about Pachauri – making it clear once again that when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) elected him chairman in April 2002 they chose a political activist to lead what is supposed to be an impartial scientific body.

It’s useful to trace events back to their roots. The first sustainability conference organized by the Pachauri-led TERI institute took place in 2001. Four documents produced by the organizers summarize what when on. The first begins with a message from Pachauri (backup link) which says, in part:

The world cannot have a sustainable future if we have large numbers of poor people in various parts of the globe. The removal of poverty is, therefore, the responsibility not only of poor societies and their governments alone but on every country on earth as well.

In other words, for Pachauri the word sustainable is shorthand. What he’s really talking about is a campaign to eliminate world poverty. That’s an ambitious goal. Why would he not set his sights a little lower and attempt to eliminate poverty in his home country of India first? It could be a pilot project. If his efforts were successful, the program could be adopted elsewhere. Why is it so important to him that every country on earth join in his crusade? Moreover why would he imagine that it’s his business to define the responsibilities of sovereign nations? Surely the citizens of each nation have the right to identify their responsibilities themselves.

Glancing over the program for that first day of that first sustainability summit it becomes clear that Pachauri was already enormously well-connected (see page 2 here). Among the speakers were:

  • the Prime Minister of India
  • a former Foreign Secretary of India’s Ministry for External Affairs
  • a member of India’s Planning Commission
  • a former head of India’s Electricity Regulatory Commission
  • an adviser to the President of France
  • a Swiss ambassador
  • an individual connected to the United Nations Development Programme
  • the former head of the United Nations Environment Programme
  • a United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) official
  • a former head of the World Conservation Union

In the official summary dated a few days later Pachauri discusses ethics (backup link). Economic and social forces are paramount, he says, but before world poverty can be eliminated:

rediscovering certain ethical principles and values that society seems to have abandoned would be a critical prerequisite. [bold added]

In his view we need “a new ethical era” and “a new ethic to govern human behaviour.” Although Pachauri can’t seem to decide whether he’s talking about old values that have fallen by the wayside or entirely new ones, what’s clear is that his mission has expanded.

He not only thinks he knows how to eliminate global poverty, he imagines it’s possible to establish a new ethical era. In other words, under the guise of fighting poverty (which is itself obscured behind the ‘sustainable’ label), he’s actually suggesting a second agenda – one concerned with governing human behaviour.

By the final day of the conference Pachauri had articulated a couple of other themes, as well (backup link). In his own words:

I ended the Summit by emphasizing the need for a new ethic that should drive much higher financial flows from the developed countries to the developing countries. [bold added]

And then there’s this official summary of his valedictory final address:

Dr R K Pachauri…maintained that removal of poverty is central to sustainable development and warned that failure to ratify the Kyoto Protocol will make it hard to achieve international understanding. He also announced the imminent launch of a major initiative…that seeks to raise 10 million dollars to harness technology to alleviate poverty… [bold added]

So in addition to Pachauri’s desire to govern human behaviour in the name of eradicating poverty, we find a belief that people in rich countries should be transferring more cash to people in poor countries. This amounts to a rather naked argument that organizations such as his own, operating in countries such as his, deserve funding.

And then there’s that telling mention of the Kyoto Protocol. Before he ever became head of the IPCC – a body that is supposed to keep an open mind, that is supposed to objectively examine what climate research says or doesn’t say – Pachauri had already taken a public position.

He already believed a global emissions treaty was necessary. Not, apparently, because it would save us from disaster. Instead, he had a more bureaucratic reason. In his view, without the Kyoto Protocol it would be difficult to achieve international understanding.

This is important. It suggests strongly that, prior to becoming head of the IPCC, Pachauri’s support for climate action didn’t rest on objective evidence. Rather, he regarded a global emissions treaty as a useful mechanism – as one more way in which his fantasy of introducing a new ethic to govern human behaviour might be realized.



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