As chairman of IPCC, Dr Rajendra Pachauri (right) received a Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 alongside former US vice president Al Gore. Image Credit: Supplied picture

In a huddle with other experts at the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi last month, the gaunt and bearded Dr Rajendra Pachauri looks every inch the climate change visionary. As chairman of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), he accepted a Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of IPCC - awarded jointly to former US vice president Al Gore - in 2007, and has become an international figurehead in the battle against global warming.

Juggling his UN role with his position as chief executive of New Delhi-based The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), Dr Pachauri, 71, also holds high-profile positions at universities and think tanks around the world.

For someone who began his career as a railway engineer in Varanasi, India, he's come a long way to become the doctor of industrial engineering and economics and climatologist he is today. In the process, he's emerged as one of India's most highly respected public figures, never shy of voicing his opinion on the importance of tackling global warming.

"What is happening, and what is likely to happen, convinces me that the world must be really ambitious and very determined in moving towards a 350 target," he has said. The figure 350 refers to the level in parts-per-million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that top climate scientists agree is a safe upper limit in order to avoid a climate ‘tipping point'.

His outspoken stance on the issue has earned him critics as well as admirers. Al Gore was originally one of the former, but has slowly been converted. "Yes, he had earlier criticised me personally, but later admitted he'd made a mistake," says Dr Pachauri. "We are good friends now."

One reason for Dr Pachauri's popularity is his ability to simplify complex issues in the notoriously jargon-filled world of climate change and present them to the lay person in an easy-to-understand manner. He's also surprisingly approachable and friendly for such a distinguished personality. Dr Pachauri credits this to his love of humanity. "I enjoy interacting with my fellow beings," he says. Seeing him chatting as easily with teenagers as he does with heads of state, it's not hard to believe him.

The number of eminent bodies Dr Pachauri has chaired are too many to list, as are the numerous awards he has received, including India's Padma Vibhushan (the country's second highest civilian award), France's Officer of the Legion of Honour and Japan's Order of the Rising Sun Gold and Silver Star.

Dr Pachauri's mission now is to encourage a reverence for nature in people across the globe. "I don't know how I'll do it, but I am going to try!" he declares.


I am responsible for a large research institute, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), which I set up. Around 1,000 people are working on a range of subjects not only of relevance to India but also to the rest of the world.

For almost ten years I've been chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a United Nations panel to assess information relevant for understanding climate change. The beauty of the organisation is that we have thousands of scientists devoting their time to it without any compensation - they just do it for the satisfaction and the prestige of working at the IPCC.

When I was young, I wanted to be a poet and then a cricketer. I was also involved in amateur dramatics, so for a short while I considered becoming an actor. But the truth is, during my younger years, we had very few options - you had to either become an engineer or a doctor, or enter the Indian Civil Service. I ended up becoming an engineer and worked for the Indian Railways.

It taught me a lot of things, the biggest lesson being how to handle people. I was barely 27 and there were around 700 people reporting to me. It was a wonderful learning experience. I was also interested in computers and developed a computerised management information system for production control. I also learnt how to multi-task. It's a capacity that is still very helpful for me today.

However, I was keen to do something more academically. So I took time off to do my Masters degree in industrial engineering from North Carolina State University in 1972. I also took economics as a minor - I enjoyed the first class I took in economics so much that I felt I had been wasting my time all along and that I should have studied that instead of engineering. So I went on to acquire a double PhD - in industrial engineering and economics.

During this period I was learning a lot about power utility systems. It was also a time when oil prices had started to shoot up and that got me interested in the oil markets and later the various forms of energy. The more I learnt, the more I realised the horrendous implications of energy production and consumption for the environment, and that led me to researching the science of climate change. I discovered that it is one area that is going to pose an enormous danger to all species unless we come to grips with it. That's why I am still at it.

The Nobel Peace Prize that was awarded to IPCC in 2007 was a pleasant surprise. It was a recognition of the collective efforts of the scientific community.

One thing that's quite close to my heart is the Lighting a Billion Lives initiative I launched in 2005 to bring electricity to rural areas of India through solar energy. The initiative has seen people in remote areas with no access to electricity able to get lighting through solar energy, even in remote places like the Sundarbans, West Bengal and the Thar Desert, Rajasthan. It's unbelievable how it transforms their lives and how much joy it brings to little children when they can do homework or even play at night.

If I had my way I would devote all my time to this project. It's something I'd like to leave behind; I want people to benefit from it.

I would also like to write much more - I've written 23 books, and many papers.


I think relaxation is a state of mind. If you basically enjoy what you're doing and enjoy taking on challenges, everything becomes a relaxation. I sleep for just three or four hours and I don't feel any the worse for it. I don't do yoga, but I do meditate. But I don't sit cross-legged or anything like that. I do it my own way! I never carry work home, by and large. When I leave the office, I switch off.

I enjoy people's company. I try to look for merit in everyone. I was always very fond of sport and have played cricket very actively since the age of eight. I started playing tennis when I was 13 and I also used to play hockey. There were times when I used to spend five or six hours playing active sports. Thank goodness I did, because today I rarely feel tired or run out of energy. I feel you can't achieve anything without being physically fit.

My parents have influenced me deeply. My father was a psychologist who had a PhD from the University of London. He had job offers in the US, but decided to work in his own country. We had a very simple, middle class existence.

My mother was very fond of literature. She was a very motivated person, and the one thing she taught me was to ‘never say die'. My older brother, who has now passed away, was also a huge influence on me. He loved people and taught me to love them too. Another of the people I've been influenced by is Mahatma Gandhi. What a remarkable individual, a soul far above us all. All the classical literature I've read has shaped me too.

I have always had very close family relationships, first with my parents and siblings, and then as a father and husband in my own family. I cannot claim to be an exceptionally good father because I have not given enough time to domestic responsibilities, but I presume some of my values have been accepted by my children, since all three of them - Rashmi, Shonali and Ash - are PhD degree holders. Also they are all working solely in research and are involved in charity initiatives as well. My wife, Saroj, is a doctor.

My one big regret is the fact that I did not spend enough time with my parents. I left home at the age of 18 and after that I was away from them when they needed me most.

A person's parents and family early in life are an enormous source of support and strength, which we must value. Similarly, when we have families of our own, we must provide enough time to fulfil the role that others in the family expect of a person.


My biggest dream is that somehow society will realise the need to revere nature. There is a totally blind pursuit of consumerism, which is alright at the moment as the world has progressed by making consumption possible for people completely outside the system. But we need to take into account the externalities of what we're consuming. I wish there was some way we could recreate in human society the deep respect for nature that has always been there traditionally, that is also a part of every religion in the world, but which unfortunately we've forgotten. And we're forgetting in those parts of the world that have always been deeply rooted in these beliefs and convictions.

I don't know how to bring it about, but in the small way I can I am certainly going to do it.