A Climate Pioneer: Dr. R.K. "Patchy" Pachauri
This week, as the world gathers -- some in-person, others virtually by necessity -- for the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and Climate Week, and as even the Secretary General questions whether the world is hurtling towards COP26 in Glasgow unprepared to meet the test of global collaboration -- I can't help but think of someone whose example and whose life's work gives me great hope that we can overcome the naysayers and the skeptics and do what the science tells us we must do in order to save our planet.
That someone was my father.
A loving, caring, nurturing father and mentor, Dr. Rajendra K. Pachauri, affectionately called Patchy, also happened to be one of the most notable and influential voices in climate advocacy.
Patchy began his career with the Indian Railways after graduating as a Mechanical Engineer from the Indian Railways Institute of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering at Jamalpur. He was the first student from his class to secure a position. In his second posting with the railway, he worked at the Diesel Locomotive Works (DLW) in Varanasi. Only the crème de la crème of Jamalpur had been selected for the project and Patchy was among them. These brilliant, young engineering officers were appointed to develop the new diesel locomotive -- a pioneering initiative -- for the Indian Railways.
"...Patchy realized climate change as the key threat to the world's future, and believed it was critical for all countries to work on the issue together..."
Though Patchy enjoyed the challenge and honor of being appointed to the DLW immensely, he still had other ambitions. He wanted to pursue a career in academia, so he applied and was selected as a doctoral candidate at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. On leave without pay from the Indian Railways, Patchy and his wife proceeded to the United States, where he completed both a master's degree and a PhD in Industrial Engineering. He didn't stop there. Fueled by a deep interest, Patchy earned yet another PhD in Economics, writing his dissertation about energy and economics. After teaching for a year at NC State, Patchy returned to India where he was offered a position from the Administrative Staff College of India (ASCI) in Hyderabad. He worked there for six years and established his credentials in India.
In 1981, Patchy caught the attention of Darbari Seth, the Chairman of Tata Chemicals. Greatly impressed by Patchy, Seth offered him the position of founder-director of Tata Energy Research Institute (TERI), wherein he would be responsible for setting up the entire institution. Patchy, however, had just been appointed to a teaching role at the University of West Virginia, so he accepted Seth’s offer under the condition he could start once he’d fulfilled that obligation. In 1983, he returned to New Delhi to build and launch TERI. He plunged in with fervor.
"As chairman of the Intergovernmental IPCC for thirteen years (2002-2015), he used the IPCC's research for global advocacy, and in 2007, he received the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the IPCC..."
The new institution was initially engaged in research on energy and renewables, but its agenda was soon expanded to include environmental issues, using research as evidence for advocacy. National and international policy advocacy then became the hallmark of TERI. Patchy realized climate change as the key threat to the world's future, and believed it was critical for all countries to work on the issue together if the planet had any chance of being saved from destruction.
WW0: All Roads Lead to Glasgow, April 28, 2021.
These were still the early days of climate change, when few people thought of it as a real or lasting problem. But Patchy had that foresight and wanted climate to be addressed in all earnestness. He worked to convince world leaders about the importance of climate change and the threat it posed. It was an uphill battle and took tremendous work, over a long period of time, to raise the consciousness of nations to the problem -- and it took even longer for them to address it. It would be fair to say that Patchy was the whistleblower who drew the world's attention to climate change and its threat to the very existence of humanity.
"For almost all his years, until the end of his life, Patchy worked on sustainable development and became an ardent advocate and crusader for the cause of climate action."
Throughout his career, Patchy worked in countless ways to make a difference, from research and teaching to board roles and grassroots organization. As chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for thirteen years (2002-2015), he used the IPCC's research for global advocacy, and in 2007, he received the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the IPCC, along with former US Vice President Al Gore. He was also a board member for the International Solar Energy Society (1991-1997) and World Resources Institute Council (1992); Chairman of the World Energy Council (1993-1995); first President, then Chairman of the International Association for Energy Economics (1988-1990); and President of the Asian Energy Institute in 1992, among others. He led research and was appointed director of Yale's Climate and Energy Institute from 2009 through 2012). He was a prolific writer, authoring over 20 books and contributing to 10 others. He published 150 papers and more than 150 articles. As an academic, he received 26 honorary doctorates from universities around the world. For his exemplary contribution to the field of climate change and for raising the attention of global leaders on the issue, he received distinguished awards from the governments of India, Belgium, Finland, Japan, Mexico, Italy, Somaliland, and France, among several others.
For almost all his years, until the end of his life, Patchy worked on sustainable development and became an ardent advocate and crusader for the cause of climate action. He was convinced that intergenerational change would be necessary, and that young people should be vested in making a difference since the impact of climate change would be felt most by the coming generations. To address climate change and involve youth efforts, Patchy conceptualized the POP (Protect Our Planet) Movement. In his own words, he strongly believed in, "the power of the youth of the world, to unite and face this challenge together." Through the POP Movement, he advocated for youth-led action founded on science, stating: "We believe the time to act is now, and we believe that knowledge is the true currency of changing the future." To represent this vision, he coined the tagline "Youth Inspired by Knowledge."
"...like a mirror, the current COVID-19 crisis reflects the great value, foresight, and clear warnings of the IPCC's 4th and 5th Assessment Reports, which were released during Patchy's Chairmanship."
A people's movement is essential for such a reversal in a very short period of time. It is for the youth of the world to take the lead and ensure that the economic, technological, and managerial strength of modern society is harnessed effectively to move quickly in the right direction. We need to keep in mind Gandhi's advice that "speed is irrelevant if you are going in the wrong direction" -- Dr. R.K. Pachauri
Patchy also felt strongly that a grassroots movement was essential to reduce the burden of "growing costs and complexities inherent in delayed mitigation actions." Alongside the POP movement, Patchy founded the World Sustainable Development Forum (WSDF), made up of high-level politicians, scientists, businessmen, artists, and others. The forum provides stakeholders a platform for discussing important issues of sustainable development, and more importantly, a platform for initiating actions that address the growing challenge of climate change. Recognizing how well WSDF complemented the POP Movement, it became clear that the two organizations should work together to maximize their impact.
60 Minutes: Juliana v. United States - The climate lawsuit, January 23, 2020.
When WSDF convened in Mexico in 2018, the youth from the POP Movement joined as active participants. And in 2020, when WSDF met again in Mexico, 1,200 young people from approximately 27 countries joined. Over the past two years, the WSDF and the POP Movement have continued working to pursue a common agenda. In addition to organizing global and regional WSDF meetings and implementing actions to realize its declarations, the POP Movement has grown to cover 123 countries with approximately 2.6 million youth in alliance with more than 400 cross-sectoral partners, since its launch on Earth Day, 2016.
The programs that Patchy's organizations are undertaking will undoubtedly set the right direction and continue his crusade as their efforts multiply, grow, and develop over the coming years. This is befitting for Patchy, a man who committed his life and work to the climate crusade, and has left a legacy that is sure to eternally live on.
UN: A major new UN climate report issues a code red for humanity, August 10, 2021.
And like a mirror, the current COVID-19 crisis reflects the great value, foresight, and clear warnings of the IPCC's 4th and 5th Assessment Reports, which were released during Patchy's Chairmanship. As a result of the pandemic, a new sense of urgency is felt to reverse the path the world has taken and define a new sustainable future, which protects our planet and the species that inhabit it. In considering both the UNGA and COP26, it's clear that the need to have the entire world working together was not just a belief my father held, it's our reality.
Patchy would be proud that even after we lost his voice, we are still channeling his leadership. But my father wouldn't want us to save the planet for him -- in death, as in life, he'd want us to do this work for the next generations. And so we can -- and so we must.