Bitter Battle Over IPCC Chair
Scientists from around the world will meet next week in Geneva
to elect a new chair of the International Panel on Climate Change
(IPCC) amid an uproar over who should head the organization. The
stakes are high, because IPCC has proved highly influential in
global change issues.
The furor stems from the U.S. State Department's decision not to
renominate the current chair, Robert Watson, chief scientist for
the World Bank and a top environmental adviser in President Bill
Clinton's White House. Instead, the government decided to back
Indian engineer and economist Rajendra Pachauri, now vice chair,
who for 20 years has headed New Delhi's nonprofit Tata Energy
Research Institute. He was nominated by the Indian government. U.S.
officials say publicly that they want a scientist from a developing
nation to take charge, although privately some admit that Watson's
occasional criticism of the U.S. stance on climate change and his
Clinton ties sank his renomination.
Members of IPCC will decide next week who will lead the panel,
which has more than 170 members and compiles reports on global
change. Watson hasn't given up his candidacy. "A lot of governments
say they will support me," he says. If Watson were reelected, it
would be an embarrassing defeat for both the Bush Administration
and the Indian government. To avoid a divisive vote, leading
delegates are floating a compromise to split the unpaid position
between the two men. Watson backs the idea, but Pachauri is having
none of it. "I totally reject this proposal," he says. "Two
co-chairs is an unworkable concept."
Many researchers see the U.S. move to dump Watson as part of a
wider campaign by industry and the White House to attack IPCC's
credibility and make it easier for the U.S. government to ignore
its findings. "It is scandalous," says Princeton University
atmospheric scientist Michael Oppenheimer. "This is an invasion of
narrow political considerations into a scientific process."
But presidential science adviser John Marburger rejects that
idea. "There is no evidence of a politically driven conspiracy
theory," says Marburger, who attended several meetings devoted to
the IPCC election. As evidence, he cites the U.S. decision to back
Susan Solomon, an atmospheric chemist at the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration's lab in Boulder, Colorado, as co-chair
of the science working group.
IPCC home page
World Bank site
biography of Pachauri
TATA Energy Research Institute home