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Pachauri to Head IPCC
19 April 2002 (All day)
In a keenly contested election today in Geneva, India's Rajendra Pachauri captured nearly 60% of the vote in defeating the current chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), American Robert Watson. Pachauri is director general of the nonprofit Tata Energy Research Institute in New Delhi, and Watson is chief scientist for the World Bank. The tally was 76 to 49, with a third candidate, Brazil's Jose Goldemberg, receiving 7 votes.
IPCC was set up in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Program to assess the scientific, social, and economic issues related to human-induced climate change. Its reports, published roughly every 5 years, have shaped the debate through careful analysis of the science and impact of climate change, and of ways to mitigate and adapt to it.
Pachauri, an economist and an industrial engineer, was nominated for a 5-year term by the Indian government and openly backed by the Bush Administration, which chose not to renominate Watson (see ScienceNOW, 10 April). Watson was appointed by the Clinton Administration and served in the White House as a senior environmental official, and he did not support the Bush Administration's position on the 1997 Kyoto climate treaty.
Asked before the vote about the role of the IPCC chair, Pachauri said that he would not criticize any individual government's position on climate change: "The chairperson has to remain politically neutral." He said that the time has come for IPCC to place more emphasis on "regional assessments, local assessments, and outreach activities."
Environmental groups and scientists who had backed Watson are taking a wait-and-see attitude. "The Bush Administration and the fossil fuel industry cynically promoted Dr. Pachauri's election in hopes that the IPCC, under his leadership, would be less credible and effective than under Dr. Watson," says Peter Frumhoff of the Union of Concerned Scientists, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "Dr. Pachauri and the climate science community must now work together to prove them wrong."