by Judith Curry
Will Pachauri’s karma run over IPCC’s dogma? – Peter Foster
The short version of the story is this. Rachendra Pachauri, IPCC Chair since 2002, has resigned from his position as Chair of the IPCC. His resignation was triggered by charges of molestation, stalking and sexual harassment. Pachauri’s defense is that his email accounts, mobile phone, and messages have been hacked. His arrest in India has been delayed owing to Pachauri’s hospitalization for a heart condition and UTI.
The text of Pachauri’s resignation letter is found [here]. An overview of Pachauri’s tenure as IPCC Chair is described by the DailyClimate. Resignation from IPCC is just the tip of the iceberg for Pachauri – the Indian Court has barred Pachauri from the premises of TERI, and there are calls for his resignation as President of TERI. He is also rapidly resigning from his other positions, including India Climate Council.
If you liked Pachauri’s romance novel ‘Return to Almora‘, you’ll enjoy reading the text of Pachauri’s (alleged) romantic emails; for a summary see the Quadrant. ‘Innocent until proven guilty’ and all that, but it seems pretty plausible that these emails were written by Pachauri, and no one seems to be defending his claim that he was hacked.
Will Pachauri’s karma run over IPCC dogma?
So, what does all this mean for the IPCC? Are the peccadilloes and trials of an individual – Pachauri – capable of adversely impacting the reputation of the IPCC and the forthcoming policy negotiations in Paris?
Inside Climate News argues that the credibility of the IPCC and negotiations in Paris will not suffer. On the other hand, the Telegraph writes: He may now finally have gone, but the damage he did to the IPCC’s credibility as a serious scientific body is irreparable.
Donna LaFramboise highlights what I regard as the most serious issue for the IPCC’s reputation.From Pachauri’s resignation letter:
For me the protection of Planet Earth, the survival of all species and sustainability of our ecosystems is more than a mission. It is my religion and my dharma.
Yes, the IPCC – which we’re told to take seriously because it is a scientific body producing scientific reports – has, in fact, been led by an environmentalist on a mission. By someone for whom protecting the planet is a religious calling. Even here, at the end, Pachauri fails to grasp that science and religion don’t belong in the same sentence; that those on a political mission are unlikely to be upholders of rigorous scientific practice.
From an article in The Blaze: Climate change skeptics aren’t entirely jubilant about his exit, said Myron Ebell, director of the center for energy and environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free market think tank. “On the skeptics side, he had zero credibility from day one,” Ebell told TheBlaze. “But, his kooky behavior helped to undermine the credibility of the institution.
The bottom line is this. It is very difficult to ‘enforce’ or even defend the IPCC consensus when the leader of IPCC for more than a decade is alleged to have partaken in sleazy and illegal behavior, regards climate change as his religion, has massive conflicts of interest, and has used his position as a platform for personal advocacy. All of this reinforces criticisms that the IPCC is about politics, money and dogma, rather than science.
This situation is terribly unfair to the scientists who have worked very hard for the IPCC, at least some of whom are not dogmatists. It is very disappointing to see no apology from Pachauri to these scientists. Will the top tier of scientists want to sign up for the AR6 after all this?
Whither the IPCC?
There are two issues here:
- Can the IPCC clean up its act?
- How should the IPCC proceed with regards to future assessment reports?
The 2010 InterAcademy Council Review of the IPCC made two recommendations of relevance, which have not yet taken effect:
- The term of the IPCC Chair should be limited to the time frame of one assessment.
- The IPCC should develop and adopt a rigorous conflict-of-interest policy that applies to all individuals directly involved in the preparation of IPCC reports, including senior IPCC leadership.
Regarding the length of Pachauri’s term, Andy Revkin states:
But the real shame is that he stayed in his position so long — and my reasoning has nothing to do with sexual misconduct. In his resignation letter to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Pachauri said he’d planned to step down on Nov. 2 last year after the release of the final portion of the panel’s fifth climate report, but “close friends and colleagues advised me against that action and to continue with outreach efforts worldwide.” Pachauri also had colleagues on the panel who had, privately, been eager for new leadership for years. One reason was his habit of mixing personal advocacy with the authority granted by his position.
Pachauri’s ‘power base’ for continuing in the position so long was apparently a desire to appease developing countries and so to obtain their ‘buy in’. Their ‘buy in’ for exactly what is more about politics than about science. It was a colossal mistake for the IPCC not to have forced Pachauri to step down earlier.
So, what next for the IPCC in terms of its future assessment reports? Sophie Yeo writes: The panel, set up in 1988, will be tackling the questions of a typical midlife crisis: what’s my purpose? Am I going about it in the right way? Does anyone really care about me?
The DailyClimate has a good article IPCC future hinges on greater relevance, amid tricky politics. The IPCC has issued a press release from its recent meeting in Nairobi to discuss the future of the IPCC. Richard Tol sums it up with this tweet: The IPCC continues on its merry old way.
Apart from the details of IPCC procedures, the GWPF highlights the overarching concern: IPCC has lost its scientific objectivity.
Selecting the next Chair of the IPCC
Information about the IPCC’s election procedures can be found here. The most relevant point at present is that nominations for Chair must be submitted by national governments.
So far, three individuals have been nominated:
- The US has nominated Dr. Chris Field, who served as co-Chair of AR5 WGII.
- Jean-Pascal van Ypersele of Belgium, see his statement [here].
- Thomas Stocker has been nominated by Switzerland.
Other names of likely nominees mentioned by the Guardian include:
- German economist Ottmar Edenhofer
- Austrian economist Nebojsa Nakicenovic
- South Korean Economist Hoesung Lee
Several of these names are unfamiliar to me, and I don’t know any of the candidates personally. But a brief google search on each of these individuals suggests that any of them would be an improvement over Pachauri. I briefly comment on two of the names that strike me favorably:
- Nebjosa Nakicenovic: I used a quote of his in my paper Reasoning about Climate Uncertainty: “there is a danger that the IPCC consensus position might lead to a dismissal of uncertainty in favor of spuriously constructed expert opinion.”
- Chris Field: As co-Chair of the AR5 WG2 report, about which I wrote: The AR5 WG2 SPM has some startling differences and substantial additions relative to the AR4 version, and is in many ways a much better report.
The actual election of a new Chair is conducted by the member nations, specifically under the auspices of the IPCC Bureau. I suspect that raw politics will be more important than individual credentials or platforms.
While I’m not sure why any scientist/academic would want this (unpaid) position that requires you to travel all over the world and deal with some nasty politics, it seems that there is a strong list of candidates, none of whom would appear to have anything approaching Pachauri’s conflicts of interest.
With the Paris summit looming in December, the credibility of the IPCC would seem to be important, although the UNFCCC seems to be about raw politics and I’m not sure how relevant the IPCC is any more.
In my 2013 post IPCC diagnosis – permanent paradigm paralysis, I wrote:
Diagnosis: paradigm paralysis, caused by motivated reasoning, oversimplification, and consensus seeking; worsened and made permanent by a vicious positive feedback effect at the climate science-policy interface.
Perhaps the Pachauri scandal will be jolt the knocks the IPCC out of its paralysis. Hopefully a new Chair can provide the impetus for torquing the IPCC in a better direction. I am not optimistic, but there is a window of opportunity here.
The IPCC needs to regain its scientific objectivity. WG1 needs to begin addressing natural variability in a more serious and comprehensive manner. If the model projections and observations of surface temperature continue to diverge, continued high confidence in attribution and future projections will become ludicrous. As recommended in my paper No Consensus on Consensus, the IPCC should abandon its consensus seeking approach and do a more serious job of assessing uncertainties, ambiguities and areas of ignorance.
The issue of conflict of interest is a critical one – not just financial and political conflicts, but conflicts associated with lead authors assessing their own research. A serious effort at identifying conflicts and managing them would go a long way towards rebuilding the credibility.
The New American writes of the potential political implications:
The IPCC’s media promoters are afraid that many more erstwhile global-warming believers may jump ship at the very time that the warming alarmnists are trying mightily to win popular support for the UN’s upcoming climate summit in Paris, which they hope will birth a new planetary climate regime to control all human activity. They are afraid that many more scientists (and common taxpayers) will adopt the position of Professor Judith Curry, former chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology.