Nobel laureate to lead climate institute

This article has been corrected. You may view this article’s correction here.

Rajendra Pachauri, the current chair of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, will lead the newly formed Yale Climate and Energy Institute, University President Richard Levin announced March 10.

Pachauri, who accepted the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the IPCC, is a world-renowned economist and leader in the international policy debate on climate change. He will work half-time at the institute — a collaborative initiative by 100 Yale scientists and social scientists that will fund and support research on climate-related topics — while continuing to serve as chair of the IPCC and director general of the Delhi-based Energy and Resources Institute.

IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pauchari, a winner of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, receives an honorary degree at Commencement on May 26, 2008.
Ryan Galisewski
IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pauchari, a winner of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, receives an honorary degree at Commencement on May 26, 2008.

“No one has a more comprehensive grasp of the science and policy of climate change or has done more to bring attention to this urgent issue,” Levin said in a statement prior to the announcement.

Three members of the institute’s executive committee said Pachauri’s appointment as director displays Yale’s commitment to climate issues. Besides having held numerous positions at academic and research institutes, Pauchari also played an instrumental role in the process leading up to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

“Pachauri gives us instant credibility and a very high profile,” said Dan Esty LAW ’86, the Hillhouse professor of environmental law and policy. “He’ll do a great deal to see that Yale is seen as a leading center of thinking on energy and climate change issues.”

The institute will promote interdisciplinary research and advance knowledge about climate change by providing seed grants, supporting postgraduate study and sponsoring an annual international symposium, in addition to smaller conferences and workshops throughout the year, Department of Geology and Geophysics Chair David Bercovici said.

It will operate on a budget of $1 million per year for the next three years using a $3 million grant provided by an anonymous donor. Esty said YCEI will aim to build on that base via private donor contributions.

Initial brainstorming for the institute began in 2007 amongst faculty in the Department of Geology and Geophysics when Bercovici, decided that climate change deserved more interdisciplinary attention on campus.

“It’s such a big topic,” Bercovici said. “I felt it needed a major presence on campus. We needed something that would transcend all the disciplines and be an umbrella under which all the departments could collaborate.”

To facilitate such collaboration, the committee from the geology department organized a one-day University-wide conference in March 2008 to discuss the possibility of an institute for climate change. In June 2008, a committee comprised of conference participants submitted an 80-page proposal for a climate and energy institute to President Levin.

The institute’s initial projects will include searching for alternative fuels, forecasting climate variability and studying the spread of infectious diseases. Bercovici, the current chairman of the institute’s executive committee, said the institute will emphasize implementing the research it conducts, particularly in developing countries.

At the International Scientific Congress on Climate Change in Denmark, where Levin announced Pauchauri’s appointment, Pachauri affirmed this view, adding that it was up to politicians to act on the research that scientists around the world are conducting.

“I am afraid that it is something that involves value judgment on the part of policymakers, and I am afraid that they shied away from it,” he told the conference. “It is time to take action.”

Pauchauri told The Guardian on the same day that he was skeptical of the United States’ ability to enact any sweeping change, though he also said any global climate pact would be ineffective without America’s participation.

“[Barack Obama] is not going to say by 2020 I’m going to reduce emissions by 30 percent — he’ll have a revolution on his hands,” Pachauri said, according to The Guardian. “He has to do it step by step.”

Pachauri, who is currently on campus, will meet with Bercovici and other involved faculty Monday and Tuesday to discuss the details of the new institute. The institute’s executive committee will also meet this week to discuss potential candidates for a deputy director.

The Associated Press contributed reporting.


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