Crank of the Week - January 25, 2010 - Rajendra Pachauri
Like a star footballer headed for the goal, Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has seemingly been rushing toward his own dismissal. After a report debunking IPCC claims that Himalayan glaciers were melting faster than other glaciers and that they would be fully melted by 2035, Pachauri termed the research “voodoo science” and accused the Indian environment ministry of “arrogance” for its report. As it turns out, it was the IPCC's claims that were bogus, based on third hand speculation from a little known scientist.
The target of Pachauri's disparaging remarks was V. K. Raina, the former Deputy Director-General of the Geological Survey of India. Raina, India's senior-most glaciologist, recently published a research document on Himalayan glaciers debunking claims made by the IPCC that these glaciers would disappear by 2035. Raina, in his report, had maintained that glaciers have “not shown any remarkable retreat in the last 50 years and the reports of the glaciers demise are a bit premature.” For more details about the report and additional references see the earlier Resilient Earth blog post, “Himalayan Glaciers Not Melting.”
The assertion that the glaciers were melting was made in the IPCC AR4 report, issued in 2007. The scientist behind the bogus claim, Dr Murari Lal, has admitted it was included purely to put political pressure on world leaders. By his own admission, he was well aware the statement did not rest on peer-reviewed scientific research. Dr Lal, the coordinating lead author of the report’s chapter on Asia, said: “It related to several countries in this region and their water sources. We thought that if we can highlight it, it will impact policy-makers and politicians and encourage them to take some concrete action.”
Raina's claims were backed up by Rajinder Ganjoo, director of the Institute of Himalayan Glaciology at the University of Jammu. According to Dr Ganjoo, the famed Siachen glacier has shown “hardly any” retreat. In an interview reported in the Christian Science Monitor, he called the melt rate “insignificant.” In the face of mounting bad publicity, the IPCC quickly admitted the error but dismissed it as an aberration carried on just one page of a report thousands of pages long.
Those pesky Himalayan glaciers just won't melt. Photo: C. Anand/AP.
Raina was not satisfied by the regret expressed by the United Nations agency. “I want a personal apology from the IPCC chairperson R.K. Pachauri who had described my research as voodoo science,” Mr. Raina told India's The Hindu. “Forget IPCC, Dr. Pachauri has not even expressed regret over what he said after my report—Himalayan Glaciers: a state-of-art review of glacial studies, glacial retreat and climate change—was released in November last year.”
Having eventually been forced to apologize over the 2035 claim, Dr Pachauri blamed Dr Lal and his team, accusing them of failure to apply IPCC procedures. “We as authors followed them to the letter,” replied an angry Dr Lal. “Had we received information that undermined the claim, we would have included it.” However, an analysis published by the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), suggests that when reviewers did raise issues that called the claim into question, Dr Lal and his colleagues simply ignored them. Seems like Dr Pachauri's IPCC is rotten all the way down.
Amazingly, Pachauri was backed by President George W. Bush when he was elected in 2002 to chair the IPCC over the objections of Al Gore. Gore denounced Pachauri in an article in the New York Times in 2002 as “the "let's drag our feet" candidate” to head the IPCC. Pachauri was known for “virulent anti-American statements” that Gore said could undermine the IPCC's authority in the United States. A politician to his core, Pachauri patched up the feud with the former US Vice President after the IPCC and Gore shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.
Dr Pachauri and new found friend Al Gore.
That moment was probably the high point of Pachauri's reign as IPCC chief. Given the latest scandal there are now calls for him to resign his post. A defiant Dr Pachauri said: “I want to tell the skeptics... who see me as the face and the voice of the science of climate change, I am in no mood to oblige them; I am going to remain as chairman of the IPCC for my entire term.” Some would like to see him stay in place to deliver AR5, thereby ensuring it completely lacks credibility.
Further disclosures have indicated that claims in the AR4 report, blaming rising temperatures for an increase in the number and severity of natural disasters such as hurricanes and floods, were not properly reviewed by other scientists. The first people to apologize for these errors and to promise to rectify them were the IPCC scientists themselves. They, at least, seem to understand how important this is for the credibility of their climate change claims. For his part, Dr Pachauri defended the IPCC, saying it was wrong to generalize based on a single mistake. But the story does not end with the embarrassment over the AR4 report.
Pressure on the UN Climate Chief has increased as investigators uncovered more evidence that he may have used mistakes printed in the IPCC report for personal gain. The London Times reported that Pachauri's foundation, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), was awarded over $500,000 based on a grant application that specifically referred to the erroneous Himalayan claim in the IPCC report. Dr Syed Hasnain, the glaciologist who, back in 1999, made the now discredited claim that Himalayan glaciers would be gone by 2035, is now head of Pachauri's glaciology unit at TERI which sought the grants.
In addition to the $500,000 awarded by the US Carnegie corporation, the same claim was also used on a $4 million grant application awarded by the the British Government last year to “assess the impact of Himalayan glacier retreat.” TERI has been under scrutiny for some time due to contributions it has received from major corporations, including the Indian conglomerate TATA, Toyota and Deutsche Bank. Pachauri denied having a conflict of interest stating that “these payments are all made directly to [his] institute.” He claims his only income comes from his salary at TERI. Unfortunately, TERI does not publish his salary and he refused to divulge it.
As of this report Pachauri is hanging on, stating that he will not step down over “unintentional and insignificant errors.” Pachauri went on to say that, as IPCC chief, he saw no reason to take action against the authors and editors that published the now-disproven section on the Himalayan ice sheet. As much as it pains us to admit it, Al Gore was right—Pachauri has undermined the IPCC's authority. Dr Pachauri's leadership has resulted in sloppy science, humiliation in the press, and even calls for the IPCC to be disbanded. Way to go, Raj. You have managed to do what thousands of skeptical scientists have not been able to do—discredit the IPCC in the eyes of the public and the media. If anyone has ever deserved a Crank of the Week you do: Dr Rajendra Pachauri.