People are still not taking seriously enough the damage they are doing to the planet, says Rajendra K. Pachauri, co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.
The Indian president of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) gives swissinfo the full force of his opinions at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Last year the IPCC was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, along with co-recipient Al Gore, former vice-president of the United States.
The WEF has returned once again to the question of climate change, which has now become an topic of everyday conversation. This year it is focusing on water.
But is the situation any better on land? For Pachauri, most of the work still remains to be done.
swissinfo: How would you describe the current state of the planet?
Rajendra K. Pachauri: Not very healthy! The planet is going through very hard times. We must rectify this situation as soon as possible.
swissinfo: Has the economy done enough regarding this?
R.K.P.: No one has done enough! Not the economy, not governments, not the civil society, not the man in the street.
swissinfo: What should our first step be?
R.K.P.: First we have to understand the nature of the problem – and the nature of the problem requires a shift towards a more sustainable pattern of development. What we are pursuing is not a sustainable pattern of development. Climate change is only part of a much larger problem, namely we are using nature's resources and ecosystems in a manner that is not going to allow the survival of these resources.
We need to bring about a shift, and that can only happen if we place a price on carbon and by looking at the impacts of our actions on the planet's ecosystems. This has to be carefully included in all our decisions. Only then can we start moving towards a system where we don't impose the burden that we are imposing today.
swissinfo: Everyone is talking about a possible recession. To avoid this consumers are being encouraged to consume. What is your view on this?
R.K.P.: We can consume, but we should consume those goods and services which are not going to add to the ecological problems of the planet. There's nothing wrong with consumption providing it can be sustained. If you go back 1,000 years, the world consumed a lot of silk, cotton and timber, but it was all done on a very sustainable basis. We were not depleting the planet's resources – today we are.
swissinfo: Water – and the idea of pricing it – is the subject of much talk this year at Davos. Where do you stand on this issue?
R.K.P.: We will have to price water. Water is a scarce resource and we cannot treat it as though it has no value. That value has to appear in the market place. But on the other hand we also have to make sure that the poor don't suffer as a result. Just as we have subsidies on other goods and services, maybe for the poor we'll have to have some concessions.
swissinfo: An Environmental Performance Index has just been presented at Davos, putting Switzerland at the top of the list. What do you make of this type of exercise?
R.K.P.: It's useful to carry out such assessments because you can then find out how countries are performing. This may not be the final verdict but it's something on which we can carry out dialogue and debate.
swissinfo-interview: Pierre-François Besson in Davos
The annual WEF meeting is taking place in Davos from January 23–27.
Those attending include 27 heads of state or government, 113 ministers, the heads of several international organisations, 1,370 business leaders and 340 representatives from civil society (religion, culture and NGOs).
Six of the seven Swiss cabinet members will also be there. The exception is the newly elected Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf.
Decision makers are expected to discuss the economy, geopolitics, ecology, business, technology and society at this year's event, which has as its theme "The power of collaborative innovation".
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