High profile head of the UN’s climate science panel resigns and denies charges of sexually harassing a 29-year female researcher
The chair of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Rajendra Pachauri, resigned on Tuesday, following allegations of sexual harassment from a female employee at his research institute in Delhi, reports The Guardian.
The organisation will now be led by acting chair Ismail El Gizouli until the election for a new chair which had already been scheduled for October.
“The actions taken today will ensure that the IPCC’s mission to assess climate change continues without interruption,” said Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme, which is a sponsor of the IPCC.
Pachauri, 74, is accused of sexually harassing a 29-year-old female researcher shortly after she joined The Energy and Resources Institute. Lawyers for the woman, who cannot be named, said the harassment by Pachauri included unwanted emails, text messages and WhatsApp messages.
Pachauri, one of the UN’s top climate change officials, has denied the charges and his spokesman said: “[He] is committed to provide all assistance and cooperation to the authorities in their ongoing investigations.” His lawyers claimed in the court documents that his emails, mobile phone and WhatsApp messages were hacked and that criminals accessed his computer and phone to send the messages in an attempt to malign him.
In his letter of resignation to the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, he said: “The IPCC needs strong leadership and dedication of time and full attention by the chair in the immediate future, which under the current circumstances I am unable to provide.”
Pachauri thanked the thousands of scientists who had worked for free on the IPCC’s reports and made an “unmatched contribution to global society.” He added: “I will continue to [work on climate change] assiduously throughout my life in what ever capacity I work. For me the protection of planet Earth, the survival of all species and sustainability of our ecosystems is more than my mission, it is my religion.”
Climate scientist Professor Iqbal Hasnain, at Jawaharlal Nehru University told The Hindu newspaper: “I am outraged on the news that R.K. Pachauri is suspected to be involved in a sexual harassment case with a Teri employee.” He said Pachauri should step down from both the IPCC and Teri “to safeguard the interest of global climate science”.
Bob Ward, policy director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at the London School of Economics, said: “It is understandable that Dr Pachauri has resigned from his post while he is facing allegations against him in India.”
Ward said: “There will no doubt be some climate change ‘sceptics’ who seek to use Dr Pachauri’s resignation as an opportunity to attack the IPCC [but its most recent report] is the most comprehensive and authoritative assessment of the causes and potential consequences of climate change that we have ever had, and that remains true with or without Dr Pachauri as chair.”
Pachauri had chaired the IPCC since 2002, during which time it has taken the lead in the scientific assessment of the causes and risks of climate change. Its reports are written and reviewed by thousands of scientists and approved by the IPCC’s 195 member nations.
The most recent report concluded that climate change is set to inflict “severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts” on people and the natural world unless carbon emissions are cut sharply and rapidly. The IPCC was jointly awarded the Nobel peace prize with former US vice-president Al Gore in 2007 for their part in driving international action against climate change.
Pachauri was reelected unopposed by the 195 member nations of the IPCC in 2008 but the election in October will see a number of scientists standing as candidates. Prof Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, from Belgium, and Prof Thomas Stocker, from Switzerland, have both declared their candidacy. It is also understood that Prof Chris Field, from the US, will run.
Prof Nebojsa Nakicenovic, from Austria, South Korea’s Hoesung Lee and the German economist Prof Ottmar Edenhofer, who said in 2014 that “it doesn’t cost the world to save the planet”, are understood to be considering putting themselves forward. The successful candidate has to be nominated by their home country and then elected by the member nations.