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March 01st 2012 print

Tony Thomas

The Fictive World of Rajendra Pachauri

It is the cause, it is the cause, my soul.
                                                   Othello

In 2005 the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Rajendra Pachauri, flew to a Washington conference. He spent ninety minutes getting through the airport formalities. A chauffeur-driven car had been waiting outside, with the engine and air-conditioner running so that Pachauri would have a cool car to step into. Pachauri was indignant. “My God! Why did you do that?” he rebuked the driver. “You probably had the engine on for two hours. Was that really required?” He told North Carolina legislators three years later: “So that’s the kind of change in lifestyle that I’m talking about … which when put together will really make an enormous difference.” [1]  

In January 2010 Pachauri was under fire for the howler in the 2007 IPCC report about melting Himalayan glaciers. The fracas inspired the London Mail OnLine to check out Pachauri’s lifestyle in Delhi.[2] It turned out that Pachauri ran a chauffeur-driven Corolla; a smoky Indian derivative of the Morris Oxford; and an eco-friendly G-Wiz electric car provided for his short urban trips. On January 29 Pachauri had his chauffeured Corolla collect him for the 1.6 kilometre drive from his home to the office. The chauffeur hung round (meanwhile being chatted up by the villainous Mail reporter) before driving Pachauri in the Corolla to lunch at an upmarket restaurant one kilometre from Pachauri’s home. The battery-powered G-Wiz stayed in the carpark. The next day Pachauri issued a statement urging the masses to use public transport.

The 194 countries comprising the IPCC “panel” elected Pachauri chair in 2002. The term of office is the six years or so required to compile an IPCC “assessment report” on the state of climate science, although the panel has discretion to make it two terms. Pachauri’s second term is to 2013-14. Because the IPCC still has no executive director and only an in-house secretariat, the office of chair is influential (to put it mildly). Pachauri also heads the IPCC’s 31-member “scientific” bureau, on which Sudan is a Working Group vice-chair, with Cuba, Maldives, Madagascar and Iran also represented. Pachauri is the public face of the IPCC, although he is far from full-time (he has about fifty non-IPCC roles). The job is honorary but packs vast prestige.

In assessing Pachauri’s style and record, the transcript of his talk to the North Carolina legislative committee is worth further study, although it is oddly transcribed (“anthropogenic” becomes “natural progienic” and Pachauri is vexed about “vulnerable dentures”).[3]

Normally one is careful not to mis-speak to legislators. Pachauri hardly began before telling a whopper: “The IPCC … mobilises the best experts and scientists from all over the world and we carry out an assessment of climate change based on peer-reviewed literature, so everything that we look at and take into account in our assessments has to carry credibility of peer-reviewed publications, we don’t settle for anything less than that” (emphasis added).

Pachauri was wrong, 5587 times wrong, because that’s the number of non-peer-reviewed or “grey-lit” citations in the IPCC’s 2007 assessment report—30 per cent of all citations, as journalist Donna Laframboise discovered.[4] The grey-lit included press releases from Greenpeace and Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), not to mention a “first version of a draft”. The science team even used grey-lit in preference to unwelcome peer-reviewed findings. As George Filippo, a 2002–08 IPCC vice-chair of Group 1 (science), put it in a Climategate e-mail in 2000: 

I feel rather uncomfortable about using not only unpublished but also unreviewed material as the backbone of our conclusions (or any conclusions) … I feel that at this point there are very little rules [sic] and almost anything goes.[5] 

Pachauri telling whoppers to legislators was naughty. Telling whoppers to a High Court judge was naughtier, as Pachauri discovered in 1996.[6] In 1981 Pachauri became a director of Tata Energy & Resources Institute (TERI, in 2003 renamed “The” Energy & Resources Institute). TERI was set up by Tata to fund external research. Pachauri’s job was to turn TERI itself into a research institute. He started in a New Delhi guest house, with kitchen and dining room as his office.[7] TERI has grown into a global consultancy with 900 workers and influence over ten-figure investment flows. Clients include BP, Britain’s Department for International Development, and the World Bank.

In the early 1990s, TERI moved into one of Delhi’s most desirable complexes, the India Habitat Centre, an eco-friendly government convention centre on four hectares of parkland.

In 1996, Pachauri and the Centre’s other two governing directors were defendants—who lost—in a dispute before the Delhi High Court about a contract.[8] The dispute was with the Centre’s design-and-management hotelier company which found itself ousted in 1995 two years into a twenty-year profit-sharing contract, possibly because of cost blow-outs. The governing trio claimed the hotelier arrangements had been only ad hoc pending finalisation of a contract, hence the hotelier could be (and was) ejected at will. The hotelier in rebuttal cited chapter and verse of an official contract with the Centre.

Pachauri’s sworn affidavit was that his council had never seen, discussed or approved the alleged contract and that the Centre’s then-director had misrepresented to the hotelier that the council had approved it.

Judge K. Ramamoorthy said Pachauri and his two co-defendants “have suppressed material facts and they have sworn to false affidavits”. The judge said that since the three were claiming lack of knowledge of a relevant contract, “I am afraid they demonstrate themselves totally unequal to the task entrusted to them.” He continued, “And I am afraid that the affairs and the efficient management of the Centre are not safe in the hands of officers like Mr K.K. Bhatnagar, Dr R.K. Pachauri and Mr Dinesh Mehta and they had ignored that the officers have to function as a public functionaries within the parameters of the Constitution.”

Well, the Centre took all that in its stride. Pachauri went on to serve two years as Centre president and remains a member.[9] More to the point, in 1997, a year after his put-down by the High Court, the IPCC panel of 194 governments elected him the Asian group’s vice-chair of the IPCC.[10] Today a man whom a High Court judge considered unsafe to run the Delhi Habitat Centre is urging the world to engage in multi-trillion dollar spending to “save the planet”.

In August 2011 Pachauri caught some further official flak over neglect of an environment issue, of all things. The siting of the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games Village on the environmentally sensitive Yamuna riverbank had roused the ire of local environmentalists, who won a court challenge. The Supreme Court overturned the lower court’s verdict, but conditional on a committee being set up to monitor and ensure the Village project met the concerns of the environmentalists. The three-person committee, appointed by the Prime Minister no less, included Pachauri. The Auditor-General found no evidence the committee had ever met.[11]

Pachauri as a lad was fascinated by maths and became a railways engineer. He earned a joint PhD in Economics and Industrial Engineering from North Carolina State University in 1974—incorrectly stated in his official IPCC biography as two separate PhDs.[12] The university confirms that he was awarded only one PhD.[13] North Carolina State University is currently ranked 101st on academic clout, compared with its neighbour the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill, on twenty-ninth, according to the US News & World Report league ladder.

Pachauri’s family are high-achievers. A brother is a lieutenant-colonel.[14] His father was an educational psychologist with a London PhD. Pachauri is married to Saroj, a medico and PhD who is a Distinguished Scholar with India’s Population Council. He lives in Central Golf Links Road, New Delhi, a top Indian address. Houses equivalent to Pachauri’s are advertised at around $9 million. His co-residents include Britain’s richest man, steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal.[15]  How Pachauri finances his residency in this mansion is none of our business. It certainly isn’t from his salary at TERI—what he calls a “laughable” $45,000, nor at the IPCC (zero). “I have never bothered about money—I come from a family of academics,” he told the Independent.[16] He’s a cricket player and fanatic. His TERI has its additional purpose-built “RETREAT” (an acronym) at Gurgaon near Delhi. The RETREAT includes not one cricket ground but two, dubbed by staff the “Patchy Greens”.[17]

Patchauri’s helpful suggestions to the world include a meat-free day weekly, curtailing iced water in restaurants and imposing severe taxes to deter passenger flights and promote trains.[18] Pachauri himself flew more than 700,000 kilometres in one nineteen-month period as IPCC chair (the equivalent of flying around the world every month), including a flight of 5000 kilometres for a Brookings Institution dinner.[19] During a seminar in New York, he flew to Delhi and back to join a cricket practice session.[20] He has claimed his big travel “footprint” is unavoidable in proselytising global warming.[21]

Around 2009 he used his air-time partly to write a novel, Return to Almora about the enlightenment of a climate scientist, Sanjay.[22] The sex scenes in the novel have led to mockery in the blogosphere. For example, when Sanjay found that “the excitement got the better of him” before he could enter the village tart, bloggers suggested he needed to “hide the decline”. Pachauri rejects criticism that Return to Amora is a soft-porn novel, and I’d agree that half a dozen sex scenes, such as a bride being forcibly buggered by her husband on their wedding night, are incidental to the eco-friendly plot of a soporific 402 pages. It’s the narcissism that got me down: “He decided to champion public causes and to expose and fight injustice and deceit”. Author and protagonist are way too close: Sanjay even checks in to a “smart suite” at Pachauri’s address at India Habitat Centre, tries to hose down the “personality cult” arising from his fame as a seer, and agonises about the melting Himalayan glaciers.

There were allegations in late 2009, led by the Sunday Telegraph (UK), that Pachauri was misusing his IPCC and TERI positions for personal financial gain, to the tune of millions of dollars.[23] He responded by commissioning a report from KPMG on his own and TERI’s finances from April 2008 to December 2009.[24] This review was not an audit, although he claimed it was a “forensic audit”. It said, “No evidence was found that indicated personal fiduciary benefits accruing to Dr Pachauri from his various advisory roles that would have led to a conflict of interest.” Moreover, his consulting fees had all wound up as income in TERI’s books. The Sunday Telegraph apologised.[25]

The KPMG report showed that in the seventeen months, Pachauri earned about $330,000 from his consulting and directing roles with eleven outside bodies, which all went to TERI along with expense reimbursements. Pachauri also held honorary roles with thirty-nine other bodies, yielding only expense reimbursements. This is modest compared, say, with Al Gore’s speaking fee of $130,000.[26] Pachauri had the bad luck to be computer-selected for a random tax audit for his 2005-06 personal finances. The Indian tax office gave him an all-clear.[27]

The IPCC chair is a driven man (no pun intended). A work day can be 6 a.m. to midnight. At an IPCC meeting in November 2007, he negotiated without sleep for forty hours and successfully threatened that if delegates didn’t agree, he would go sleepless for a further forty hours.[28]

He has made no pretence at objectivity as IPCC chair, referring derisively to AGW “deniers” and “denialists” and writing enthusiastic forewords to two Greenpeace publications.[29] As early as 2009, he was outlining the thrust of the Fifth Assessment Report, which will not be delivered until 2014: “When the IPCC’s fifth assessment comes out in 2013 or 2014, there will be a major revival of interest in action that has to be taken. People are going to say, ‘My God, we are going to have to take action much faster than we had planned.’”[30] But things are not going according to his script. In November 2011, a one-off IPCC report confessed that for the next twenty to thirty years, carbon dioxide emissions would have so little influence on extreme weather events that natural variability would be dominant.[31]

Pachauri’s standing as chair has degraded in the past two years. Principally, there was the melting-glacier gaffe, and rapid exposure of other serious errors in the fourth Report. A chastened Pachauri in March 2010 had to call in the Inter-Academy Council (IAC), a world peak-of-peak science body, to report on necessary IPCC reforms. The IAC in August 2010  recommended in four places, but in vain, that IPCC chairs serve only one term: “A 12-year appointment (two terms) is too long for a field as dynamic and contested as climate change.”[32] Pachauri is in his second term to 2013, although senior IPCC members, including a German co-chair of a Working Group, have put him on notice to shape up.[33] The IPCC panel at Abu Dhabi last May (2011) agreed about the “one-term limit” but said it could make exceptions, and anyway the one-term limit would only apply post-2013. Other important IAC recommendations were also negated by the IPCC at Abu Dhabi.[34] At the following session in Kampala last November the IPCC adopted—after twenty-three years—its first conflict-of-interest policy, but exempted any conflicted authors for the fifth Assessment Report in 2014 because, as Pachauri put it, it wouldn’t be “fair” to the authors to include them retrospectively.[35]

 In October 2011 the investigative journalist Donna Laframboise published her “Delinquent Teenager” expose of the IPCC’s reliance on grey-lit and its wholesale infiltration by Greenpeace-style activist authors. Other tidbits included documentation about graduate students and sub-PhDs mysteriously doubling as “world-leading” scientists to become IPCC authors, lead authors and even top-rung “co-ordinating lead authors”. She also revealed how quality-assurance rules supposedly binding on IPCC writers and reviewers were routinely flouted. Within weeks Professor Ross McKitrick, a prominent sceptic, issued his own documentation of why the IPCC should either shape up or be replaced by a non-political scientific body.[36]

Pachauri’s nadir was in January 2010 when he had to issue to the world the Himalayan-glacier correction. He failed to “man up”, with the statement coming not from the chair, but from the chair plus nearly a dozen vice-chairs and co-chairs.[37]

The gaffe about the Himalayan glaciers melting away by 2035 is far worse than Joe Public realises. Rather than traverse the universe of IPCC failings, for which Pachauri as chair is procedurally accountable, I’ll focus on just this Himalaya episode.

In late 2009, the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests issued a sixty-page discussion paper by glacier expert Vijay Raina, who had a track record of forty years of glacier fieldwork and research. He concluded that the glaciers were not retreating abnormally, neither through global warming nor anything else. On November 9, 2009, New Delhi Television brought Pachauri on to its evening news to defend the IPCC report.[38] 

Q: Are you questioning this report’s credibility completely?

Pachauri: I am questioning this evidence. They are totally wrong. This is one government report. The IPCC uses thousands of scientists and uses peer-reviewed literature … [Raina’s report] is, if I may say so, voodoo science, this is not science.

Q: The Minister says the IPCC report is “alarmist”.

Pachauri: I don’t think he has any business questioning a body that has established its credentials over the last 21 years, and whose reports are accepted by every government of the world including India.

Q: Are you willing to sit down with the Minister … ?

Pachauri: No, I will not sit down with the Minister … If this report is all that solid, let them publish it, let it go through a peer review process … I question these [Raina’s] findings completely. They don’t make sense to me at all.

[emphasis added] 

This was not just a Pachauri brain-snap. He gave the same message to print interviewers, deriding the Raina report as “divine intervention … magical science … indefensible”.

In fact the IPCC’s Himalaya forecast was based on nothing more than speculation by an Indian scientist, Syed Hasnain, in an Indian eco-magazine in April 1999, recycled into the New Scientist and then into a report in 2005 by the activist group WWF. The grey-lit WWF report was then cited in the IPCC’s draft glacier chapter in 2007. (By February 2010 Pachauri was back-pedalling on his previous claims about use solely of peer-reviewed material, saying it was “perfectly valid” to use grey-lit provided the grey-lit was carefully scrutinised and authenticated, and caveats noted.[39] Incidentally, IPCC guidelines mandated that grey-lit be specifically flagged as such, but this requirement was ignored in all but six instances out of the 5587 IPCC grey-lit citations that Laframboise found, and the IPCC has since dropped the “flagging” rule.)

Six IPCC experts reviewed the draft chapter and none saw anything odd. Twelve reviewers looked at it again in second draft. One of them (from Hebron University) said caustically that two elements in the forecast contradicted each other. Another, (from Newcastle University in the UK) told the authors to look up certain contrary references that cited glacier expansion (the IPCC authors’ brief is to assess the full range of scientific views on a topic). The reviewers’ comments were ignored. None of the total eighteen reviewers found anything untoward about the lone WWF citation for the dramatic forecast.[40] The page even included a table showing the annual rate of retreat of nine well-studied glaciers. It took me one minute’s googling to calculate that one of the glaciers, Bara Shigri, is eleven kilometres long and would therefore take 305 years to disappear—that is, by 2317, not 2035. The Milam glacier drips its last in the year 3024.

The IPCC authors also got the area of Himalayan glaciers wrong (33,000 square kilometres, not 500,000!), and the number of glaciers wrong (9000 to 12,000, not 15,000). The Pindari glacier shown as having annual shrinkage of 135 metres is actually shrinking only by 25 metres a year [41]. A bright high-school student would have done a better job at checking these IPCC authors’ sensational claims.

Later, the second draft was taken up and run in the all-important Summary for Policy Makers. The draft summary was reviewed line-by-line by 190 government representatives (if the politicians’ changes clash with the science sections, the science sections are altered retrospectively). Only one commented, hitting the bullseye: “This is a very drastic conclusion. Should have a supporting reference otherwise should be deleted (Government of India).”[42]

Even then, IPCC rigour was not to be seen. The summary was watered down, leaving untouched the howlers in the source text. Thus the gold-standard fourth report of the IPCC was launched to the world. Looking at the chapter online today, the single page on the Himalayan glaciers, amounting to 497 words, has attracted not one but nine official errata.[43] (The reviewers obviously took special care not to be caught out again.) In a lifetime of journalism, I seldom made more than five errors per story. However, Glacier-gate has plenty more swings yet.

  • A year after the 2007 report, Pachauri, wearing his TERI hat, recruited Syed Hasnain, the source of the 2035 nonsense, to run a new glacier team in TERI, where Hasnain is now a Professor and Distinguished Fellow.[44]

  • In May 2009 TERI obtained a major share of a $3.9 million European Union grant for Himalayan glacier study, based on the IPCC’s prediction. In January 2010, after the melt hit the fan, the Eurocrats rationalised, in Yes, Minister mode: “Not all glaciers are about to disappear, but their recession is real.” Hence the project is studying a threat due to emerge several centuries hence.[45]

  • Earlier, in September 2008, TERI as part of a small Iceland-based consortium called Global Centre, successfully won approval for a $500,000 grant from the Carnegie Foundation for glacier study. The 2035 forecast was dubbed a “humanitarian challenge”. The Foundation, perhaps smelling a rat, at some point “suspended” the handover of the cash. It claimed that the Global Centre had declined the cash because of Iceland’s “political and economic challenges”.[46]

  • The debunking report by Raina, the glacier expert, was in November 2009. On January 15, 2010, the President of Iceland, Dr Olafur Grimsson, no less, announced via TERI that academics from Iceland, TERI and Ohio would use the Carnegie $500,000 to speed up study of glaciers, given the 2035 melt prediction. Pachauri (wearing his TERI hat, certainly not his Jane Austen bonnet) added helpfully: “It is universally acknowledged that glaciers are melting because of climate change.”[47]

  • The Iceland announcement from TERI was a bare five days before Pachauri (IPCC hat) had to issue his public regrets over the 2035 gaffe. It is barely conceivable that on January 15, while shmoozing with the President of Iceland, Pachauri (TERI and IPCC hats) was unaware of the gathering storm over the gaffe. Had he not even checked the IPCC chapter after his stoush with Raina? And since Carnegie for sixteen months had failed, for whatever reason, to disgorge the promised $500,000, wasn’t Pachauri jumping the gun about deploying the money for scholarly exchanges?
     
  • In December 2011 we had the arrival at the Durban IPCC meeting of three studies from the Nepal-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) asserting that Himalayan glaciers are retreating after all. [48] David Molden, director-general of ICIMOD, informs me that the new studies are “a peer-reviewed ICIMOD report” funded by the Swedish government, and that the findings will be submitted to journals.[49]

  • Finally, the melting-glacier literature, for good or ill, seems a bit overblown. There are long-term data for at most twenty to thirty of the 10,000 Himalayan glaciers; swathes of the region, apart from being uncomfortable, are off-limits for military reasons; and in the whole of the Himalayas, there is only one automated temperature-recording station.[50]

Gaffes notwithstanding, Pachauri is too committed to his “cause” to step down. It’s worth asking, what precisely is this “cause”? In a 5000-word interview with Nature he said it was not the global warming threat but something more important.[51] “I am not going to rest easy until I have articulated in every possible forum the need to bring about major structural changes in economic growth and development. That’s the real issue. Climate change is just a part of it [emphasis added]. The “major structural changes” he wants involve transferring wealth from the West to developing countries—such as India—leading to a convergence of living standards. The West thereby pays for its past sins of emission. Climate Professor Fred Singer waspishly describes this as shifting money “from the poor in rich countries to the rich in poor ones”.[52]

The key instrument for the wealth transfer is the UN’s Kyoto-designed “Clean Development Mechanism” (CDM). Through this, the West pays to invest in low-emission ventures in the developing world, a process which is usually cheaper than the West cutting its own emissions. India is getting a big share of this investment, with 1400-plus carbon credit projects worth $33 billion approved or under way.[53] Pachauri’s TERI is heavily involved, directly and through TERI executives’ close links and roles with the Indian government’s strategic energy planning. Pachauri’s view is that India, the world’s fifth-biggest emitter, need not itself abate its emissions in its catch-up phase, but should aim merely for reduced carbon-intensity per unit of output.[54]

I began this profile with Pachauri’s address to the North Carolina legislators and will end with it. First, he wrongly thought he was “off the record”. Second, he clearly set out to scare the legislators witless, with such forecasts as a 90 per cent drop in African crop harvests by 2100, along with security and peace issues with Africans heading out of Africa literally for greener pastures. To avert such perils, including “several metres” of sea-level rise, he said that the world need only give up one year’s GDP growth (3 per cent) by 2030, or 5.5 per cent of world GDP if we rashly delayed the emission targets to 2050.

Pachauri climaxed his address with a quote (probably taken from Al Gore’s book Earth in Balance) by native American Chief Seattle in 1854: “Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.” My b.s. detector beeped and sure enough, Chief Seattle’s eco-poetry is, in polite academic-speak, “inauthentic … an evolving work of fiction”.[55]

Tony Thomas is a retired economics and business journalist with thirty years experience at the Age and BRW, and author of Stolen Generations: The Pocket Windschuttle (Macleay Press, 2010).

 

References


[3] Op cit: note 1

[4] Donna Laframboise, The Delinquent Teenager who was mistaken for the World’s Top Climate Expert (Toronto, 2011), p25

[6] Old World Hospitality Pvt. Ltd. vs India Habitat Centre on 23 August, 1996 http://www.indiankanoon.org/doc/290167/

[7] Nature 450, 1150-1155 (2007) “Newsmaker of the year: Rajendra Pachauri” by Gabrielle Walker: http://www.nature.com/news/2007/071219/full/4501150a.html

[8] Op cit: note 6

[9] Rajendra Pachauri—Brief CV, IPCC: http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/press/briefcv_pachauri.pdf

[13] Email to author, 6 January 2012, from Keith Nichols, Director of Strategic Communications, North Carolina State University

[14] Dedication, Return to Almora by Rajendra Pauchauri (Rupa & Co, 2010)

[19] Though the source document is clearly the IPCC’s, http://www.ipcc.ch/meetings/session29/doc7-add1.pdf,the mileage data is absent.

See also: http://eureferendum.blogspot.com.au/2009/12/pachauri-basques-in-glory.html

[22] Op cit: note 14

[23] Sunday Telegraph, UK, 20 December 2009. The article has been removed from its online archive.

[24] KPMG : Review of the personal financial records of Dr Rajendra K Pachauri and other records of TERI for the period 1 April 2008 to 31 December 2009. March 25, 2010. Access at http:/ www.google.com.au/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=kpmg+pachauri+scribd&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&redir_esc=&ei=1zoJT7rsC8aXiAeOifiOCQ, but note a need to sign in to Scribd first.

[27] Op cit: note 24

[29] Op cit: Laframboise, p11

[31] IPCC – Summary for Policymakers of the Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (SREX) Nov 18, 2011): http://ipcc-wg2.gov/SREX/

[32] Climate Change Assessments—Review of the Processes & Procedures of the IPCC. InterAcademy Council: http://www.interacademycouncil.net/24026/26050.aspx

[40] Op cit: note 30

[42] Op cit: note 32, p22

[49] Email to author, 3 January 2012

[54] Ibid: p24-25

[55] “The Myth of Chief Seattle”, William S. Abruzzi, Dept of Sociology and Anthropology, Muhlenberg College, Allentown, PA. Human Ecology Review, Vol 7, No 1, 2000