Rajendra Pachauri endorses 350 ppm, not as IPCC chair but “as a human being”

I’m delighted to have the great environmental writer and founder of, Bill McKibben, as the guest blogger for this big story. Note that Pachauri was the guy handpicked by Bush to replace the “alarmist” Bob Watson. But it’s the facts that make people alarmists, not their politics or professional background (see “Desperate times, desperate scientists“).

This blog was the very first place to take note of an oped I wrote for the Washington Post in late December of 2007, which in turn was the first public notice of a talk Jim Hansen had given a few days earlier at the AGU conference in San Francisco. That was where Hansen announced his finding:  350 ppm CO2 represented the bottom line for the planet.

In the 18 months since, as we’ve built, we’ve found lots of support–from Al Gore, from 94 of the world’s smallest and poorest nations, and so on. But today may have been the biggest breakthrough of all: Rajendra Pachauri, head of the IPCC, said clearly and unequivocally that 350 is the number. Here’s a few lines from his interview with Agence France Presse:

“As chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) I cannot take a position because we do not make recommendations,” said Rajendra Pachauri when asked if he supported calls to keep atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations below 350 parts per million (ppm).

“But as a human being I am fully supportive of that goal. What is happening, and what is likely to happen, convinces me that the world must be really ambitious and very determined at moving toward a 350 target,” he told Agence France Presse in an interview.

It’s not going to be stated any more clearly than that, at least until 2014 when the next IPCC report is due. There’s now no convenient gray area for national governments (or environmental groups) to hide in. The Obama administration, among others, has made 450 ppm its target, but that target is now clearly exposed as too little too late.

We’re now working towards our October 24 day of action at with redoubled energy. We’ve already got 1300 actions scheduled around the globe–it’s going to be the most widespread day of environmental action ever. It’s a day for the world to say what its leading climate scientists have now unequivocally declared: 350 is the most important number in the world.

— Bill McKibben, Middlebury College

JR:  For the science behind 350 ppm, see “Stabilize at 350 ppm or risk ice-free planet, warn NASA, Yale, Sheffield, Versailles, Boston et al.” Since the science is preliminary and it is not not yet politically possible to get to 450 ppm, let alone 350, my basic view, as expressed in that post, is Let’s start working now toward stabilizing below 450 ppm, while climate scientists figure out if in fact we need to ultimately get below 350.  Either way, this is what needs to be done technology-wise:  “How the world can (and will) stabilize at 350 to 450 ppm: The full global warming solution (updated).”  The difference between the two targets is that for 450 ppm, you need to do the 12-14 wedges in four decades.  For 350 ppm, you (roughly) need 8 wedges in about two decades plus another 10 wedges over the next three decades (and then have the world go carbon negative as soon as possible after that), which requires a global WWII-style and WWII-scale strategy (see “An open letter to James Hansen on the real truth about stabilizing at 350 ppm“).


20 Responses to Rajendra Pachauri endorses 350 ppm, not as IPCC chair but “as a human being”

  1. kramer says:

    What does this guy know about climate? He has no formal training in climate physics. He’s an economist.

    Maybe the reason he is where he is has to do with the political redistributive economics of AGW?

  2. kramer says:

    Joe, this site keeps deleting my posts. What’s the matter, are they a bit “inconvient” to handle?

    [JR: No, they are just plain uninformed, when they aren’t spreading disinformation, that is. You don’t even understand the history of Pachauri — that he was installed by Bush Administration to replace the “alarmist” Bob Watson — but it is the facts that make people alarmists, not their training. BTW, he’s also an engineer.]

  3. MarkB says:

    “Pachauri was educated at La Martiniere College in Lucknow[2] and at the Indian Railways Institute of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering in Jamalpur, Bihar.

    He began his career with the Diesel Locomotive Works in Varanasi.

    Pachauri was awarded an MS degree in Industrial Engineering from North Carolina State University, Raleigh, in 1972, as well as a PhD in Industrial Engineering and a PhD in Economics. The thesis titles or the year of award of the two doctoral degrees he has stated he received from North Carolina State University are not known in public at present.

    He served as Assistant Professor (August 1974 — May 1975) and Visiting Faculty Member (Summer 1976 and 1977) in the Department of Economics and Business at NC State.”

    I’m not sure why the Bush Admin. picked him, but perhaps this background helped:

    “Pachauri was on the Board of Directors of the Indian Oil Corporation (January 1999 to September 2003);”

    The following article is a good indicator. It doesn’t go as far as to say Pachauri was “installed by the Bush Administration”, but it indicates that they were a key driver behind Watson’s oust. Perhaps they figured Pachauri was a fellow oil man, so was “alright”. Frankly, I don’t have total trust in Pachauri.

    [JR: That’s why his strong statements carry such weight, I think.]

  4. David B. Benson says:

    For reasons I have explained before, 350 ppm is a way station in moving to a completely safe approximately 300 ppm CO2e. Stated another way, there will still be some undesirable effects, such as Greenland slowly melting away, at 350 ppm.

    But as Joe Romm points out, first we have to stop going up before we can start back down.

  5. Bob Wright says:

    “Bush” and “Engineer” gave it away. Pachauri is pro-nuke. (Being a pro-nuke / anti-fossil fuel environmentalist puts him in some pretty good company.)

  6. Jeff Huggins says:

    Bravo, and A Few Points

    First, more and more scientists should speak out. This is a VITAL matter. I’m a scientist, originally and at heart, and I’ve also spent much of the last eight years studying morality/ethics. And, quite literally, scientists SHOULD be speaking out.

    Take off the self-imposed handcuffs, scientists.

    Please, scientists should read the Russell-Einstein Manifesto, created jointly by Albert Einstein, Bertrand Russell, and a number of other HIGHLY-REGARDED scientists and thinkers. Read the announcement, given by Bertand Russell in London, and read the Manifesto itself: They are short but wonderful, and valid. Inspirational. Necessary. Silence in the face of an issue such as this is just not responsible or ethical. Hansen, Pachauri, McKibben, Gore, and others are doing the right thing, and they need millions of us to also do the right thing.

    Also, just as an aside, but an important one: It’s vital for people to have the 350 ppm in mind, but it’s ALSO vital for people to “see” the unfortunate human shenanigans going on these days to block progress on this. In other words, many people aren’t actually “moved” by a number or by science itself. But, they DO become moved, or more moved, once they see clearly that Corporation X is lying to them, is speaking out of both sides of its mouth, and is doing things that will not be good for their children’s children. Where there is blatantly irresponsible behavior, and where there is selfishness, and where there is injustice, and where there is dishonesty and deception, people need to SEE those things and “grasp” them. Those things move people, often more than numbers.

    Indeed, science itself shows (psychology, evolutionary psychology, etc.) that humans can process and digest HUMAN and SOCIAL things better than they can more abstract numbers or complex subjects. Do you want someone to get motivated? Don’t just tell them a number: Show them that they are being lied to by someone or some organization that cares more about the Chairman’s bonus than about whether their farm will dry up or their region of the country will flood when the children are grown.

    That’s why J. Stewart should be calling some people to task, and shining light on certain matters. That’s why Rachel Maddow needs to do her thing. (Get well soon, Rachel!) That’s why The New York Times should start shedding clear light on the ExxonMobil issue. That’s why Bill McKibben might want to “sharpen his teeth” just a bit, although I understand that one person can only do so much.

    In any case, Bravo! to Dr. Pachauri. Super!!


    Jeff Huggins

  7. Nancy says:

    I’d like to see a show of hands. How many of you are organizing or attending a ‘350’ rally on October 24th? Joe, if you’re in the Boston area on 10/24, we’d love to have you join us at the Minuteman National Park in Concord, 2PM. This is our big chance to tell national and local leaders that we want strong climate action this fall.

    I am forever grateful to Bill McKibben for his tireless efforts to save mankind.


  8. ecostew says:

    The peer-reviewed climate science supports 350.

  9. Steve Bloom says:

    A recent one-hour interview of Jim Hansen will be broadcast on KQED tonight at 8:00 PM PDT and again at 2:00 AM PDT. It can be streamed, but unfortunately there won’t be a podcast.

  10. paulm says:

    Common sense supports less than 350!

  11. David B. Benson says:

    “… paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm, but likely less that.” from Hansen et al. 2008:

  12. Jeff Huggins says:

    The figure was around 340 ppm, or slightly less, in 1980.

    It was on April 3, 1980 that Walter Cronkite introduced a great segment on the CBS Evening News regarding global warming, to CBS’s national TV audience. At the time, CBS Evening News had the highest ratings of the evening news shows, and cable hadn’t started in a big way. So, many millions of us were warned, way back then.

    It was also around then that George Keller became Chairman of Chevron. The late Mr. Keller is the father of Bill Keller of The New York Times.

    In 1980, I was at Berkeley studying chemical engineering. After graduating in 1981, I joined Chevron Research Company, for a couple years. I had no idea about global warming at the time. I guess it just wasn’t discussed in the oil biz! Too bad.

    From a personal standpoint, I think we should hand the world off to our children in as good a shape — or ideally better shape — then when we “inherited” it. As far as I’m concerned, because of the scientific recommendations and for other reasons, I would like to see us get CO2 down to 350 ppm at most, and ideally 340 ppm.

    I can’t understand people who would be satisfied to hand the world off to next generations in worse shape, with respect to vital measures, than it was when they became adults.

    350 or less!

    There’s work to do!


  13. Hank Roberts says:

    “Our best hope is going to be the courts.”

    — James Hansen

    As interviewed a few months ago, broadcast from City Arts and Lectures on KQED Radio, San Francisco, on May 26, 2009.
    Repeat will be: Wed, Aug 26, 2009 — 2:00 am

    Jim Hansen
    Jim Hansen has been at the center of the climate change debate since the early 1980s as both a prominent scientist and spokesman alerting the public to the threats and uncertainties of global climate change. Hansen is the head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and an adjunct professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University. He has been instrumental in alerting the public to how science has been politicized in its translation to government policy. In 2005, Hansen stated that NASA administrators restricted his ability to communicate directly with the public and censored his findings about the threats of global climate change. In a subsequent report, NASA’s inspector general acknowledged the agency had marginalized and mischaracterized climate change science.

    Jim Hansen appeared in conversation with independent journalist and author Mark Hertsgaard on May 26, 2009.

    Next broadcast: Wed, Aug 26, 2009 — 2:00 am

  14. Jay Alt says:

    MarkB writes:
    The following article is a good indicator. It doesn’t go as far as to say Pachauri was “installed by the Bush Administration”, but it indicates that they were a key driver behind Watson’s oust. Perhaps they figured Pachauri was a fellow oil man, so was “alright”. Frankly, I don’t have total trust in Pachauri.

    As your article states, Exxon pressed for the replacement of Watson. Watson was a respected and popular administrator among the scientists who participated and he deserved a 2nd term. Now UN appointments are often politically driven but I am not aware of another successful man whose renomination was opposed by his own country!

    Also, the Bush Administration followed many Exxon recommendations for the switch, including their suggestion of Pachauri. The US was able to overcome the EU support for Watson by nominating and Indian and appealing to developing world nations. Pachauri was an engineer rather than a scientist like Watson, an economist, he owned his own firm and it was in the energy business. They thought he’d be more likely to favor a go-slow approach.

  15. Roger says:

    Nancy, Interesting question regarding who’s involved in a “350” event.

    As you know, I’m a fellow fan of both Bill and Joe, (not to mention Ross, Jim, and others). As you also know, our nonprofit Global Warming Education Network, GWEN, is helping to coordinate one of the larger of the 1300 October 24th global actions mentioned by Bill above.

    We’re encouraging citizens to come to the Old North Bridge in Minute Man National Historical Park in Concord, MA, to “make history where history was made,” by participating in Global Climate Action Day. We aim to help kick off the American Energy Revolution, with participation by hundreds of citizens from dozens of towns. There will be colonial minutemen, elected officials, schoolchildren, banners and much more!

    Readers of Climate Progress are encouraged to join us, or, if too far away, go to where other actions can be found or started.

    As Jeff mentions above, we need citizens to come out to show that they support strong measures to preserve a livable climate for their kids.
    More information for the Concord rally is posted at

    We also need President Obama to deliver a “State of the Climate” address on prime-time, national TV in order to help alert our fellow citizens to both the threats and opportunities posed by climate change.

  16. TomG says:

    I wonder what a fly on the wall in Bush’s office would have heard after Pachauri had shown his true colours.
    Or better yet, Dick Cheney’s office.
    Maybe intense?

  17. JeandeBegles says:

    It is a great news that the IPCC leader gives his support to the 350 target. Our TACA association in france will organize an event for the 24th october, with 350;org world wide.
    Can’t we avoid the alarmist term? It contains a negative tone (about giving false alarm). The correct term is alarming: the facts about global warming are scientific facts and they are basically alarming.

  18. pete best says:

    Great article, its shows the way to tackle climate change. However a few wedges of cultural change would not go amiss either. This entire idea of doing a WW-II type technology deployment ramping up manufacturing and deployment to the point where sufficient wedges can be implemented in the suitable time frame might not be possible even if it is feasible.

    1.5 million 2 MW wind turbines coupled with simulatneous amounts of equivilent CSP, and some CCS and nuclear. Its a pipe dream as we are not at war and its not possible to convicne people that it is. The numbers boggle the mind and the presrnt day objectives to get going by 2012 when as yet we are deploying renewables today but CO2 emissions are still rising!

    10 billion tonnes of oil (oil x gas x coal) makes for 70 billion barrels of oil equivilent and with 1700 KWh per barrels its a number irreplaceable by deplying new low carbon technologies and carry out a wedge of efficienty energy savings when the world can look to change culturally.

    It seems to be that everyone wants the continuation of globalisation whatever the cost.

  19. paulm says:

    How does some thing like Climate Change sneak up on us? A huge elephant just comes up from behind and tramples us.

    We look back at collapsed civilizations of the pass and one would think that in our time we would have set up a mechanism to monitor our over use of resources and guide us to a more sustainable way.

    Now were in big trouble.

  20. RunawayRose says:

    In response to Nancy at #7, I’ve signed up for an event just across the river, and started exchanging email and ideas with the coordinator.