Sunday, January 31, 2010

Pachauri conflict of interest charge pretty murky at this point

The forces of inaction on climate change are gunning for the head of the IPCC, Rajendra Pachauri, to resign.  I doubt it has much anything to do with him and everything to do with pretending the IPCC is a mess and the science is discredited.  The next logical step would be to demand a complete reworking of the process of compiling Assessment Reports and a several-year delay added to the schedule for the next Report. 

The effort to try and take him down has little to do with whether he's done a good job, which in reality is a bit of an open question.  I actually think his aggressive reaction to criticism has been mistaken, resulting in a climbdown on the-minor-but-embarrassing mistake over the rate of Himalayan glacier melt (and some more dodgy citation is alleged for the IPCC Working Group II report on impacts here, which would also be embarrassing if true). As for Pachauri's main job of running the IPCC, however, I have no idea if it's run well or not.

Instead of focusing on something real, the inactivists first blamed him for the partial mistake about Himalayan glaciers and demanded he resign, which is just stupid.  Slightly more realistic is pointing to his paid positions with some business and research institute organizations, and to contracts between those organizations and a nonprofit energy institute (TERI) that Pachauri runs, saying that constituted a conflict of interest.  Pachauri responds that all money goes to his non-profit and not to him (he does get paid by TERI, however).

There's a lot of heat but little light.  Roger Pielke Jr. waves some UN and WMO conflict policies for employees (Pachauri isn't an employee, he's unpaid) and says "Since we do not have details on Dr. Pachauri's activities or compensation from these various organizations and businesses, it is impossible to tell what, if any, conflicts actually may exist."  Roger tried again later, arguing "IPCC Chairman Pachauri was making public comments on a dispute involving factual claims by the IPCC at the same time that he was negotiating for funding to his home institution justified by those very same claims."

Worth mentioning that the dispute, responding to criticism by the Indian government of the IPCC, only partially concerned the rate of Himalayan glacier melt.  Also that the funding grant for TERI (no indication given that Pachauri was involved in negotiation, although he did make a favorable statement after it was given) was not principally about the mistaken claim that glaciers would melt by 2035.  And that no one disputes that the reason for the grant - responding to melting Himalayan glaciers - is still valid despite the false 2035 claim.  So Roger's overstating things, but what else is new.

This isn't nothing, though.  I would say first, Pachauri would have a conflict of interest at the various boards he serves on if he doesn't recuse himself from decisions between that board and his nonprofit.  I haven't seen this alleged, though, and even if it were, the conflict is at the board level and not at the IPCC.

At the IPCC, there's little question that its work can affect the future of the energy research institute that pays Pachauri a salary.  This is the real issue that Roger seems to stumble around.  The problem is that virtually every high level player in the IPCC will have a similar issue of having fingers in multiple pots that could be affected by their volunteer work at the IPCC.  That problem can't be totally fixed for everyone, but it should be fixable at the highest level.  The IPCC Chair and maybe a few other top officials should be generously-paid executive officers, and that should be their exclusive job, with the same conflict of interest rules that apply to top UN officials.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. As far as I know, nobody's salary is paid directly by IPCC. What you propose would require some, you know, funds.


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