Just over two years ago, Rajendra K. Pachauri seemed destined for a scientist’s version of sainthood: A bearded vegetarian economist-engineer who leads the United Nations’ climate change panel, he accepted the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the panel, sharing the honor with former Vice President Al Gore.
But Pachauri and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are now under intense scrutiny, facing accusations of scientific sloppiness and potential financial conflicts of interest from climate skeptics, right-leaning politicians and even some mainstream scientists. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., called for Pachauri’s resignation on the Senate floor last week.
Critics, writing in Britain’s Sunday Telegraph and elsewhere, have accused Pachauri of profiting from his work as an adviser to businesses, including Deutsche Bank and Pegasus Capital Advisors, a New York investment firm — a claim he denies.
They have also unearthed and publicized a series of problems with the intergovernmental panel’s landmark 2007 report on climate change, which concluded that the planet was warming and that humans were very likely to blame.
The report, they contend, misrepresents the state of scientific knowledge about diverse topics — including the rate of melting of Himalayan glaciers and the rise in severe storms — in a way that exaggerates the evidence for climate change.
With a global climate treaty under negotiation and domestic legislation pending in the United States, the climate panel has found itself in the political cross hairs, its judgments provoking passions normally reserved for issues like abortion and guns. Charged by the United Nations with reviewing research to create periodic reports on climate risks, documents that are often used by governments to guide decisions, the panel’s every conclusion is being dissected under a microscope.
A number of the recent accusations have proved to be half-truths: While Pachauri does act as a paid consultant and adviser to many companies, for example, he makes no money from these activities, he said. The payments go to the Energy and Resources Institute, the prestigious nonprofit research center based in Delhi that he founded in 1982 and still leads, where the money finances charitable projects like Lighting a Billion Lives, which provides solar lanterns in rural India.
The panel, in reviewing complaints about possible errors in its report, has so far found that one was justified and another was “baseless.” The general consensus among mainstream scientists is that the errors are in any case minor and do not undermine the report’s conclusions.