Rajendra Pachauri, director of think-tank The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) and chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has resigned as chief of the United Nations (UN) panel of climate scientists today after allegations of sexual harassment, which he has denied. He was to lead 2015 Climate Change Conference (COP21), the high-stakes global warming summit to be held in Paris in December, making this news especially “hot”.
Pachauri, who lives in New Delhi, withdrew from an IPCC meeting in Kenya after Indian police started an investigation into a sexual harassment complaint against him earlier this month. A 29-year-old female researcher at TERI had filed a complaint with the Delhi police accusing the 75-year-old of repeated inappropriate behavior, both physically and through social media messages.
He has denied all charges, asserting that he was a victim of hacking, and that cyber criminals had accessed his computer and mobile phone without his permission to commit criminal acts using email, Facebook, and WhatsApp.
In a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Pachauri said that his inability to travel to Kenya showed he may be unable to ensure the “strong leadership and dedication of time and full attention by the chair” needed by the panel. “I have, therefore, taken the decision to step down from my position as chair of the IPCC some months before completion of my term,” he wrote, as reported by the Khaleej Times.
Local media reported that police had granted Pachauri “interim protection” from arrest until 23 February to enable him to “seek necessary relief” after he handed over his laptop to officers.
He has been chair of the IPCC since 2002. Although his current term was due to end in October 2015, he maintained a significant role in preparations for the Paris climate summit where world leaders have pledged to agree to significant carbon emission cuts to curb global warming. Former U.S. vice-president Al Gore has expressed his strong belief that the Paris climate talks will be game-changing.
Speaking at Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week in January, Gore said, “The odds are extremely high that the world will reach an agreement in Paris this year. The architecture has been negotiated, the signs are clear and easy to read. Agreement between China and the U.S. earlier this year represents a historic breakthrough. Korea just become the world’s second largest carbon capture market. Two thirds of Canada’s regional governments are moving forward on carbon limits. Take these developments and look to the end of this year. It’s clear that the world is moving in the right direction. Paris will be a turning point.”
In 2007, Gore and Pachauri jointly received the Nobel Peace Prize for their roles in promoting climate change. Two years earlier, Pachauri launched the Lighting a Billion Lives Initiative to bring solar-generated electricity to rural areas of India. He serves as chancellor of TERI University and is chairman of the governing council of the National Agro Foundation (NAF). He is also chairman of the board of Columbia University’s International Research Institute for Climate and Society.
Pachauri is controversial, despite his clear commitment to halting climate change. In 2010, he admitted that an 2007 IPCC report was wrong in claiming there was a “very high” chance of glaciers disappearing from the Himalayas by 2035. The incident nearly discredited the entire organization, yet Pachauri refused to issue an apology, saying, according to The Independent, “You can’t expect me to be personally responsible for every word in a 3,000-page report.” The report was also alleged to have cited magazine articles as reference documents.
He was also lampooned for a steamy novel he penned titled Return to Amora, the story of an elderly academic reminiscing on journeys through India, Peru and the U.S. The UK Telegraph described the 2010 release as a “smutty” romance novel, laced with lots of sex and a cameo appearance from Hollywood actress Shirley MacLaine.
There is no word about who will replace him.
Image of Rajendra Pachauri from YouTube