This blog is written by Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Posts appear Monday & Wednesday.
A US official recently called Rajendra Pachauri’s leadership of the world’s most important climate body ‘extraordinary.’ But ‘inadequate’ and ‘inexcusable’ are more appropriate.
A few weeks ago, the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, delivered a speech in India in which he publicly praised the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
“I was just able to meet with my friend, Dr. Pachauri, Nobel Laureate,” he said, “and we thank him for his extraordinary work.”
Let us leave aside the fact that Pachauri is not a Nobel laureate. (He merely accepted the IPCC’s one-half share of the 2007 Peace Prize on behalf of that organization.)
The larger issue is that, according to the US government, Pachauri has done a great job. An extraordinary job, even. So let us review some salient facts.
1. The 2007 IPCC report mistakenly said that Himalayan glaciers were in danger of disappearing by 2035.
When various parties tried to tell the IPCC this was ludicrous, Pachauri called those people names and disparaged their intelligence. He said they were practicing “voodoo science” and “schoolboy science.”
Eventually, however, the IPCC admitted its glacier claim was wrong.
2. Pachauri has publicly ‘joked‘ that his critics (aka climate skeptics) should be given a one-way ticket to outer space. He has alleged that they are part of a “carefully orchestrated” campaign, and that they believe “asbestos is as good as talcum powder – and I hope they put it on their faces every day.”
Are these remarks worthy of the leader of an eminent international body?
3. Pachauri says it’s “gratifying that [an] independent review found our work solid and robust.”
But the 2010 report to which he refers actually identified “significant shortcomings in each major step of [the] IPCC’s assessment process.” It said “significant improvements” were necessary – and criticized the IPCC for claiming to have “high confidence” in many statements for which there is actually “little evidence.”
The authors of the independent review did not use the ‘robust’ in that report. Neither did they use the word ‘solid.’
4. The independent review said an IPCC chairman should serve no more than one term, since a two-term, 12-year appointment, was “too long for a field as dynamic and contested as climate change.”
Pachauri, who was then two years into his second term, refused to take the hint. Rather than helping the scandal-ridden IPCC press the reset button, he clung to his post.
6. When criticized by the media, Pachauri has a track record of responding unprofessionally.
He has spoken of the “scurrilous writings by some journalists,” the “mal-intent of those who are behind the falsehoods” and “ill-founded criticism.” In his view, the IPCC has been “belittled” by “misleading” and “irresponsible” reporting.
7. The independent review said the IPCC was too insular and could benefit from “a greater variety of perspectives.” It recommended the establishment of a new, Executive Committee that would include “three independent members,” particularly individuals “from outside of the climate community.”
Pachauri’s IPCC has, indeed, established such a committee, but it includes no outsiders. Instead, IPCC employees fill those three slots.
8. Nine weeks prior to the release of the independent review’s findings, the Pachauri-led IPCC announced the names of the experts it had selected to work on its upcoming climate assessment.
The review recommended the adoption of “a rigorous conflict of interest policy” with respect to these people.
Pachauri told The Economist “it wouldn’t be fair” to impose a conflict-of-interest policy “retrospectively.” In other words, there’s good reason to suspect that the new report has been written by at least some people whose judgment is questionable.
9. The IPCC’s job is to objectively evaluate climate research. But for the past 32 years, Pachauri has been the head of TERI. That institute recently ranked #1 globally “in climate change research.”
In other words, Pachauri himself suffers from a massive conflict-of-interest. Other IPCC personnel – who might have a low opinion of TERI-produced research – find themselves in an unenviable position.
10. The IPCC is supposed to be a scientific body. But Pachauri fraternizes with green lobbyists.
In his capacity as IPCC chairman, he has written forewords for Greenpeace publications – in one case describing the document as “comprehensive and rigorous.” He has declared the annual State of the World reports, published by the sky-is-falling Worldwatch Institute, to be “a remarkable source of intellectual wealth.”
TERI’s most recent sustainability conference was partially financed by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). A few days ago, TERI jointly released a report with the Natural Resources Defense Council – which styles itself “the Earth’s best defense.”
11. Pachauri has long insisted that IPCC reports rely – only and solely – on peer-reviewed source material.
The independent review observed that, to the contrary, the IPCC’s 2001 climate assessment cited peer-reviewed material only 36% of the time in one section, only 59% in another section, and only 84% in a third.
12. The independent review noted that non-peer-reviewed source material wasn’t being identified as such by the IPCC – and that this was a clear violation of its own policy. It said the IPCC needed to:
strengthen and enforce its procedure for the use of unpublished and non-peer-reviewed literature…ensuring [that such literature] is appropriately flagged in the report.
The exact opposite has since occurred. The Pachauri-led IPCC has abandoned that policy altogether.
13. Pachauri insists that the people who write IPCC reports are the world’s best and brightest, at the very top of their profession. He says they’re selected for their academic publication record as well as their depth of experience.
In fact, many IPCC authors have been graduate students still working on their doctorates. Many authors have links to green organizations. Still others are “clearly not qualified” personnel from the developing world (chosen to give the report an international flavour).
14. When the IPCC was criticized for permitting Greenpeace employee Sven Teske to serve as a lead author (for an IPCC report that cited Greenpeace literature written by none other than Teske), Pachauri defended its choice of authors.
“These people are not dummies,” he said. “They are distinguished scientists.”
But according to an online CV, Teske holds a diploma in engineering (in Germany, this is reportedly equivalent to a Masters). Immediately after graduating, he took a job with Greenpeace and has been an employee of that organization ever since.
Nothing in Teske’s employment history makes him a “distinguished scientist.”
15. The IPCC is supposed to be a “policy-neutral, never policy-prescriptive” organization.
He has advised the public that it needs to adopt a “new value system” and berated politicians for not doing enough.
16. When IPCC insiders answered a questionnaire in 2010, their views of Pachauri contrasted sharply with those of John Kerry.
Pachauri’s handling of the glacier mistake was described as “inexcusable” – a “major communication blunder” that “damaged the integrity” of the organization.
Overall, his leadership was deemed “totally inadequate,” and in need of “very serious and urgent introspection.”
17. There is one final reason why Pachauri is a disaster as chairman of the IPCC. He, himself, has acknowledged that the process is rigged. Nevertheless, he continues to pretend otherwise.
Let us travel back to 2009. The individuals who would write the upcoming climate report hadn’t yet been selected (that didn’t happen until the following year). They hadn’t yet attended any IPCC meetings. Much of the research it would be their duty to evaluate hadn’t yet been published.
Nevertheless, the IPCC chairman knew – all those years in advance – what their conclusions would be. In September 2009, he told religious leaders in New York:
When the IPCC’s fifth assessment comes out in 2013 or 2014, there will be a major revival of interest in action that has to be taken. People are going to say, ‘My God, we are going to have to take action much faster than we had planned.’
Not only did Pachauri know the nature and direction of the IPCC report’s conclusions, he knew these conclusions would be alarming and dramatic.
This is not how a scientific body operates. This is the mark of a political organization, established to serve political ends.
If Rajendra Pachauri has done a good job as IPCC chairman, what would a bad job look like?