The disclosure that the UN has ordered a review of its Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), chaired by Dr Rajendra Pachauri, head of The Energy & Resources Institute (TERI) in Delhi, may once again start a fresh round of vicious attacks on the Indian personage who has been in the eye of the storm - if you will pardon the pun - well before the UN climate change summit in Copenhagen in December 2009. This will be a travesty of the highest order.
The attacks have been meticulously orchestrated by a climate sceptic, Richard North, who has apparently made it his life's mission to destroy Pachauri and the IPCC - in that order. As Copenhagen loomed, it was laden with both hope of a resolution to the global climate imbroglio as well as the dread of failure, which could literally be a matter of death or mayhem in the planet in the decades ahead. The IPCC was rocked with revelations from leaked e-mails from scientists at a reputed climate centre at the University of East Anglia in the UK. They were adivising each other to withhold data which suggested that warming wasn't as serious as was being made out.
These mails were widely reported as evidence that the IPPC is a massive fraud being perpetrated on the people; die-hard conservatives like North and his comrade-in-arms, Christopher Booker, being essentially right-wing conservatives, tend to echo the mainstream American view that the UN is basically an international sinecure for Third World diplomats and experts, who jet around the world with nothing of any special merit to perform. The US administration's systematic undermining of UN resolutions relating to its long-time ally Israel, and spurious and self-serving allegations like the so-called Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq, contrary to the findings to the contrary by UN arms inspectors, are ample evidence of this mindset.
The timing of the disclosures could hardly have been worse: global attention had been riveted on Copenhagen and in the Danish capital itself, there were some 3000 international journalists on call, all only too ready to fever their credulous minds that this was indeed a fraud which discredited the entire findings of the IPCC over the recent decades and rendered their period scientific assessments of the world's climate highly suspect, if not downright concocted. As is well known, the damage that false allegations make in the media far outweigh the corrections and clarifications that come - sometimes, as in this East Anglia case, dubbed 'Climategate' - months after the event in question.
In the end, a review found that scientists, while behaving 'unscientifically' and giving rein to their emotions, were far from trying to withhold vital information which would have made a fundamental difference to the globe's assessment of which way the world's climate was heading.
A side issue in such controversies, which is seldom commented upon, is the damage that it does to UN negotiations over the massive funding that were not just expected but promised by rich industrial countries to developing countries. Following the "polluter pays" principle, these countries - not through any pangs of conscience but shamed by the protracted negotiations on climate since the 1992 UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro - would have to compensate the latter for virtually irretrievably altering the climate though two and half centuries of reckless industrialisation and the combustion of fossil fuels.
I can well recall the panache with which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came to Copenhagen ahead of her President, dressed in a natty navy blue trouser suit, and promised a $100 billion a year for two years. She conveniently forgot to add that these were by no means only US funds, as she implied, but OECD nations' commitment. In the denouement this year, this promise has vanished into thin air, rather like the hopes of millions of people - not least, the hapless inhabitants of what are officially in UN parlance as 'small island states' - who will literally have to migrate or be swamped in the decades to come by the relentless, though gradual, rising of the tide, as ocean levels swell with warming.
But this was just the first 'recce', to employ military jargon, before the full-throated attack. The month Copenhagen began The Sunday Telegraph of London carried a long and prominent feature written by Christopher Booker and Richard North, titled: "Questions over business deals of UN climate change guru Dr Rajendra Pachauri". Note the pejorative implication of a woolly-headed oriental godman, rather than a person who has spent most of his professional life promoting research on energy issues at TERI, for which he was rewarded the top honorary job as head of the IPCC; that led in time, to the institution being awarded the Nobel prize for focusing global attention on a movement whose time had come.
Contrary to what its title implies, the IPCC consists of a small paid secretariat out of an office in Geneva; the bulk of the collation of data (it doesn't conduct independent research of its own, but assembles and synthesises findings from scientific institutions around the world, from different geographies). Top officials, like Pachauri, only get their travel bills reimbursed, and are not simply biding their time till they can quit and earn a fat tax-free UN pension in foreign currency.
In his article this August titled The Smearing of an Innocent Man, Guardian journalist George Monbiot, one of the most radical environmental journalists in the world, wrote: "Has anyone been as badly maligned as Rajendra Pachauri? ... The [Telegraph article] alleged that Pachauri has been 'making a fortune from his links with 'carbon trading companies'. The article maintained that the money made by Pachauri while working for other organisations 'must run into millions of dollars'. It described his outside interests as 'highly lucrative commercial jobs'. ...
"The story (which has subsequently been removed from the Sunday Telegraph's website) immediately travelled around the world. It was reproduced on hundreds of blogs. The allegations it contained were widely aired in the media and generally believed. For a while, no discussion of climate change or the IPCC appeared complete without reference to Pachauri's 'dodgy' business dealings and alleged conflicts of interest. There was just one problem: the story was untrue.
"After the Sunday Telegraph published its story, the organisation for which Pachauri works - a charity [more correctly, a non-profit] TERI - asked the auditors KPMG to review his financial relationships. This week, for the first time, the Guardian is publishing KPMG's report. KPMG studied all Pachauri's financial records ... for the period April 2008 - December 2009. It found that any money paid as a result of the work that Pachauri had done for other organisations went not to him but to TERI. None of the money was paid back to him by TERI: he received only his annual salary, which is £45,000.
"Amazingly, the accounts also show that Pachauri transferred a lifetime achievement award he was given by the Environment Partnership Summit - Rs.200,000 - to TERI. As for 'how much we all pay him' as chairman of the IPCC, here is the full sum: - zero. It wouldn't have been difficult for the Sunday Telegraph to have discovered this. It's well known that the IPCC does not pay its chairmen. His job at TERI is not a 'sideline', as many of his opponents maintain. It is his livelihood ... This is a reflection of the lack of support given by governments to the IPCC. Its opponents like to create the impression that it's an all-powerful body on the verge of creating a communist/fascist world government. In reality it's a tiny, underfunded organisation which can't even pay its own chairman ...
"After months of refusing to back down, the Sunday Telegraph accepted the KPMG finding that Pachauri has not made 'millions of dollars' in recent years and has apologised to him," writes George Monbiot. (Above: Dr Rajendra Pachauri. Photo credit: veja.abril.com.br)
"When Pachauri approached the Sunday Telegraph, asking for a retraction, he was rebuffed. Far worse, the journalists continued the attack in a series of further articles and blogposts. To me it looks as if Richard North was pursuing a vendetta against the IPCC chair. In a post in February, he wrote: 'Pachauri is on the ropes but he ain't down yet. The view is it will take one more "killer blow" to fell him ... and it looks as if it's been found! ... Pachauri needs to be acquainted with the first rule of politics - DFWN ... since it is a family blog, you'll have to work it out for yourselves' [Don't F... With North]...
"Repeatedly stonewalled when he tried to clear his name, Pachauri found he had no option but to instruct a firm of libel lawyers. Now, after months of refusing to back down, the Sunday Telegraph accepted the KPMG finding that Pachauri has not made 'millions of dollars' in recent years and has apologised to him. North has reacted to it with a new blogpost, also widely reproduced on the web, in which he refers to the Sunday Telegraph apology as a 'non-apology'.
"So what can Pachauri do?" Monbiot asks. "There is now a large community of people - those who deny that man-made climate change is taking place - who appear to be out to get him. His crime is being chairman of the IPCC. That, as far as they are concerned, makes him guilty of any charge they wish to throw at him. They appear determined to keep repeating the falsehoods they have been circulating since December. We can expect this smear campaign to continue, and to become ever more lurid as new charges are invented."
The most supreme irony of all, which even perceptive writers like Monbiot have forgotten, is that the previous head of the IPCC, the American Robert (Bob) Watson, was ousted from his post by the US administration in 2002. President George W Bush was an anti-climate change fundamentalist and took umbrage at Watson, an atmospheric researcher and chief scientist at the World Bank, who reiterated that human actions were heating the planet. One should recall Bush's infamous remark that American lifestyles could not be compromised by the US having to reduce emissions. The administration flexed its muscle and voted Watson out, over feeble opposition from EU countries, which are most proactive in acting against man-made warming.
It replaced him with the Vice Chair of the IPCC, none other than Pachauri, a so-called consensus candidate. Several Indian environmentalists were incensed at the time against Pachauri playing a role in what is known in American parlance, admittedly in the civil rights context, as a "white nigger", who does the slave owner's bidding and sides with the oppressors!
The second salvo was fired this January when critics discovered that the IPCC in its 4th assessment report (the latest), cited 2035 as the deadline by which Himalayan glaciers would melt due to climate change. The statement sourced to Fred Pearce, the reputed British environmental journalist, who quoted Prof Syed Iqbal Hasnain, one of the most prominent Indian glaciologists, then a consultant with TERI.
After an unrelated article of mine connecting the floods in Pakistan and north India with the devastating drought in Russia, appeared recently on the Hindustan Times edit page, Prof Hasnain wrote to me from Washington: "Please read conclusions [in the report of the Working Group on Himalayan Glaciology, which he chaired and submitted in 1999] that nowhere it was mentioned that Himalayan glaciers will vanish by 2035 ... I have referred to IPCC 1996 report where they write about global glaciers that quarter of mass will change by 2050 and in next sentence I write about Himalayan glaciers that 'shrinkage will be more than other glaciers as they are summer accumulation type and sensitive to air temperature'. It was Fred Pearce who gave the world 2035, and sloppy lead authors of 2007 IPCC report included it without verifying and cross-checking ... The buck stops with IPCC chair and he should own responsibility and resign without further damaging the credibility of IPCC."
This is rather rich - or rather an acute dollop of namak haraam, considering he was on Pachauri's payroll, till he, in his own words, shifted earlier this year to the Stimson Centre, a Washington think-tank "where I am working on the water security of south Asia and analysing the impact of cryosphere [areas frozen-over like glaciers] melting and its geopolitical implications."
The current UN review of the working of the IPCC has concluded that it needs to "fundamentally reform" its procedures after the errors were uncovered. The five-month review recommended an overhaul to Pachauri, who said he would accept that fate the UN countries decide for him. The IPCC has genuinely made mistakes, but it has a small secretariat which puts together volumes of data produced by a plethora of experts of different calibre in different countries. It can't and won't generate independent findings. So its working must be streamlined, but to call for Pachauri's removal is plainly a vicious personal attack at best.
At worst, it could be - without resorting to fervid conspiracy theories -the vendetta of oil and other business interests which are threatened by global action against climate change. In all fairness, Pachauri ought to be allowed to continue till its next assessment report is out.
The other concluding irony is that environmentalists all over the world have for years castigated the IPCC for erring on the side of caution and refusing to put harder numbers - as distinct from ranges of possibilities - to likely increases in average global temperatures by 2050 or 2100, as well as rises in ocean levels. But then, climate is a new and, as yet, inexact science by its very nature. In short, the IPCC needs to be streamlined; it's not perfect, but it's the best we have - and recall that this is an era where neo-liberal forces are undermining the very existence of every UN agency and opting for the intervention of private investors in every situation, climate change by no means an exception.
In March 2009, The Daily Telegraph published an editorial titled "Capitalism must show the way on climate change", which was supremely ironical,
considering that it was unbridled capitalism which had caused it in the first place. The British paper concluded: "There is probably no alternative to
an internationally co-ordinated effort to reduce carbon emissions. But that does not mean that the engine of change will be driven by civil servants.
Capitalism accelerated the rise in global temperatures; capitalism should slow it down, by developing the energy-efficient technology that we are going
to need in any case in order to reduce dependence on fossil fuels. This is a time for innovation, not nagging. Global warming is a challenge for
governments, scientists and, above all, businesses. It is not the
responsibility of householders, who should be able retire for the night leaving their televisions on standby with a clear conscience. Planet Earth will