Climate Etc.

IPCC’s problems at the top

by David Ritson

After the Copenhagen meeting and Himalaya-gate the IPCC has been faced with serious credibility problems. Himalayan-gate was largely dismissed by the establishment loyalists as a minor error that slipped through the system and was then corrected. What was so disquieting was not he occurrence of a mistake but the subsequent reaction of the IPCC chairman, Dr. Pachauri. Dr Pachauri, when questioned in an interview (youtube), not only reaffirmed the correctness of the original report but characterized the Indian government report, whose disaster-predictions were measured in centuries not decades, as “voodoo science”. Only after a month’s delay, and under pressure, was the mistake admitted (youtube).

In view of this situation, last May 2010, a highly prestigious committee under the auspices of the IAC was convened under the chairmanship of Harold T Shapiro, an ex-president of Princeton University, to examine and make recommendations relative to the processes and procedures of the IPCC. The committee reported back in October 2010 in a voluminous 103 page report that contained numerous recommendations. The IAC report can be found here.

Unfortunately the IAC did not rate the relative importances of its over twenty recommendations, and the IPCC is dealing with them through bureaucratic processes requiring assent by the totality of member-states. A year later key recommendations are still unresolved. The flavor of the ongoing discussions can be found in a May IPCC report, a “REVIEW OF THE IPCC PROCESSES AND PROCEDURES.”

The IAC recommendations relative to the IPCC chairman’s leadership and to the central secretariat are currently buried in the process. The intent of this post is to put the spotlight back on the office of the chairman and the central secretariat.

Firstly we examine Dr Pachauri in his role as chairman of the IPCC. Dr Pachauri, in addition to his IPCC chairmanship, still retains his position as Director General of TERI  (The Energy and Resources Institute) a think-tank of about seven hundred employees located in New Delhi). TERI has worldwide, not for profit, subsidiaries, whose mission is to commercialize the patents and discoveries stemming from TERI’s work. TERI, not the IPCC, provides Dr Pachauri’s salary. Dr Pachauri uses TERI, New Delhi as his central base, not the central IPCC secretariat in Geneva, Switzerland. New Delhi is 4,000 miles from the central IPCC Secretariat in Geneva. Pachauri’s residence is also in New Delhi. This is certainly not optimal to provide close oversight and coordination with the central secretariat. In addition to his responsibilities as IPCC Chairman and TERI DG, Pachauri is Chancellor of TERI University, New Delhi, an eleven year old doctoral granting institution. Two years ago Dr Pachauri accepted a half-time appointmment at Yale University to head a new “New Climate and Energy Institute” at Yale. Additional to these commitments Pachauri currently serves as a scientific advisor to fifteen commercial enterprises, included among them is the Deutche Bank. The current list of advisory and board positions held by Dr Pachauri can be found in the Bloommberg’s business weekly

One of the listed companies is Glorioil limited, is a five year old ’start-up’. Glorioil lists Pachauri as “founder and scientific advisor” and board member. Glorioil is marketing a TERI patented bio-process that is claimed to substantially increase output from existing oil and gas wells, hardly the ’greenest’ of projects.

In December 2009,based on his extensive industrial advisory  activities, the Telegraph and other British papers accused Pachauri of gross conflicts of interest that had been entered into for personal pecuniary gain. TERI commissioned a major independent management company, KPMG, to investigate the situation. KPMG found that Pachauri had meticulously turned over all payments ensuing from his advisory work to TERI. As a result the papers in question had to sheepishly withdraw their allegations of a monetary conflict of interest.

However Dr Pachauri’s time is so over-committed that conflicts of interests must inevitably arise as to whose interests he chooses to pursue at any given time. Conflicts of interest may assume many forms and the question that should have been asked is whether, if Pachauri had not been IPCC chair, the companies in question would have been so eager to hire his advisory services. Undoubtedly many of them were happy to have his name listed on their letter-headings or descriptive materials to provide an implied endorsement of them by the climate community. For a person in Pachauri’s position, not to have been aware of this, demonstrates poor judgment.

It would have been in the best interests of the IPCC if Dr Pachauri, subsequent to the Copenhagen meeting, had followed the example of the UN representative Yves De Boer, who resigned to make room for new blood and new ideas. The IAC report recommended for these reasons that an IPCC chairperson should serve for only one term. Dr Pachauri, now into his second term, has rejected any idea of resignation and threatened that, if a move was made to oust him, a divisive fight would ensue. LINK??? Thus unfortunately the time has passed to pursue this path. It is not too late, however, for the IPCC member nations to insist that the primary loyalties of its chairmen be to the IPCC, and that should conflicting demands on his time arise, that the pursuit of IPCC goals would be overriding.

The second area of major concern is the IPCC central Geneva secretariat. All direct IPCC support comes from the IPCC Trust Fund that is largely financed by the 194 member states. This money, on approval by the Chairman and the member states, is disbursed by the Geneva central secretariat. Separate from this, the six IPCC co-chairmen, responsible for overseeing the preparation of the three working group assessments, are supported by Technical support groups (TSUs), independently funded by their own governments. Dr Pachauri heads a fourth group responsible for a synthesis report overviewing WG1, WG2, and WG3.

Dr Pachauri’s financial and technical support for both his own work and for the preparation of the synthesis for the 5th Assessment Report (AR5) comes in part from the IPCC Trust fund, in part from TERI in-kind, and in part from the Indian government.  After the completion of the assessment term, new co-chairs are appointed, with new TSUs and the old TSU’s are disbanded.

The IAC sums up the unique role that the central secretariat plays in the IPCC organization by “The Secretariat is the only operational unit of the IPCC that remains active between assessment reports, and thus provides important institutional continuity and centralized administrative support. It comprises 10 individuals, including the Secretary; a Deputy Secretary (currently a WMO retiree); a science officer; a communications specialist; an information technology officer; a financial administrator; and office assistants who handle travel, meetings, and outreach.” The report further notes that “the only senior-level management position in the current IPCC structure is the IPCC Secretary” and recommends the addition of a high level executive director. As noted by the IAC, outside of conference and travel management, the real support for central IPCC scientific coordination is carried by five individuals.

By any standards this is a small number when compared to other comparable international projects. Given a largely absentee chairman and a secretariat staffed at the current levels there is a serious potential for disaster. The current annual budget for the IPCC Trust Fund contains two million dollars to cover the secretariat with the bulk of the monies, and roughly ten million dollars assigned to support conference travel expenses for eligible members of the working groups. Certainly 194 world member states should be able provide  a further two or so million dollars to qualitatively strengthen the current permanent secretariat. Details of the “IPCC TRUST FUND PROGRAMME AND BUDGET” are provided here.

Not only should the current IPCC secretariat be expanded, but at the same its mission should be substantially increased. One area, in particular, that would have substantial impact is the provision of a central service library. Such a library would contain all publications, reviewed papers, internal lab reports, etc. used in the preparation of the IPCC assessments and make them freely and conveniently accessible through the Web. It further would be desirable to extend its services to climate conference proceedings and video recordings. The climate field has transitioned from small beginnings into big-science and the IPCC mechanisms should be changed accordingly.

Biosketch. David Ritson received a Doctorate from Oxford University in 1947, was a Professor of Physics at Stanford m 1960-1987 and is currently Stanford University Emeritus Professor of Physics. Rsearch Interests include Cosmic rays, Particle Physics, Accelerator Physics, and computer modeling and lately climate-warming. He has worked at many of the large international accelerator-centers including the Stanford Linear Accelerator, CERN at Geneva, LBL, Fermi Lab, BNL, the SSC.