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S L Rao: Behind the attacks on Pachauri

The anti-climate change lobby is using the flaw in the IPCC study to condemn not just the Teri chief but the idea of climate change itself

S L Rao 

RK Pachauri

For the first time, Indians are experiencing an organised, systematic and vicious attack by powerful and well-funded lobbies in the developed world. These lobbies are aiming to diminish the perception of the impact of global warming and climate change on our common future, and the consequent need to change our lifestyle. Such lifestyle changes will damage the future of many industries, so there are vast resources and stakes in continuing present consumption styles.

The anti-climate change lobby has, after Copenhagen, mounted such an attack on RK Pachauri, director general of The Energy and Resources Institute (Teri) and chairman of UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC); on the Indian organisation that he heads (Teri) and thus on the credibility of the IPCC and its reports on climate change. It started with vicious personal attacks on Pachauri’s earnings from his counselling of various organisations around the world.

When they discovered that Pachauri gave all payments made to him in connection with such work to Teri, they charged him with using his position to help fund Teri. They then found a serious mistake in the findings in the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report relating to the melting of Himalayan glaciers, and used this mistake to condemn the idea of climate change itself!

Teri is perhaps the best-managed research-consulting-action institute in the country. It has over the years combined social with scientific research and applied it for the common good. Teri now employs more than 500 capable scientists, economists, lawyers, sociologists, microbiologists, engineers of all types and people from a host of other disciplines who work in teams. Most of them are young and take responsibility for important research. There are also older and more experienced researchers who oversee the work. This model has led Teri (like a few other leading institutions) to develop expertise in combining natural and social sciences for developing policies and methods to promote sustainable development.

Teri has also innovated green buildings in its campuses in Delhi and Bangalore. It has developed policies for governments on independent regulation of infrastructure sectors, energy security, climate change mitigation, etc as well as legislation in a number of areas. Teri’s publications, films, television programmes and other methods of communication have helped build public awareness for sustainable development. This broad range of work over decades has been funded by many private and public organisations from India and overseas. Teri’s administrative and financial procedures as well as discipline have enabled it to build substantial assets that help further propel Teri’s work. Teri University aims to educate and train young people in management and research into energy, environment, and other areas related to both physical and social sciences.

As someone who has headed social science research organisations in India, I can say that it is a constant battle to raise resources and yet adhere closely to the programmatic mandate of the organisation. Teri has done both successfully. Teri’s work speaks for itself and does not require any defence.

Any social or scientific research based on observation and data has many pitfalls. The observer may not be thorough, focused, or diligent all the time, or even sufficiently knowledgeable to evaluate observations. The data might be collected for too short a time frame, might not be representative of the whole area of study, or might not be analysed properly. The findings might be presented badly and conclusions that are striking but not representative might be drawn. A good research institution has supervisory and review procedures that are designed to prevent such errors. Certainly, the IPCC has excellent procedures.

In the case of Himalayan glaciers, both researcher and reviewer appear to have been inexpert on the subject and prone to draw dramatic conclusions than to word their findings carefully, so as to limit the conclusions to the data. The supervision failed to catch the excessive statements. The conclusion that the glaciers will disappear by 2035 is obviously a wrong one — a gross overstatement not based on data. In a report of over 3,000 pages that had over 4,000 scientists working on it, and many hundreds of issues, there might even be other errors. However, nothing can take away from the fact that Himalayan glaciers are melting (or that there are other changes due to climate) faster than they did; that if this continues, there would be awful consequences for a vast humanity that depends on the waters from rivers fed by melting glaciers; and that the process of mitigating these effects must be initiated, while trying to prevent this faster melting.

By focusing on an overstated conclusion of obviously incompetent “assessment”, the anti-climate change lobby is trying to deny climate change as a whole. With its personal attack on the chief of the IPCC, it is trying to discredit his values and principles to claim that IPCC’s reports are biased for his personal financial benefit and that of his organisation, thus discrediting all IPCC’s laborious work in four reports over many years.

By further extending the attack to Teri, the lobby is trying to discredit the work of a unique Indian interdisciplinary research-cum-action organisation, and attack its funding sources — a vulnerable point of any research organisation. We, in India, must be aware of this well-financed and vicious plot by international agencies. While the IPCC and all research organisations must be ever vigilant in terms of the quality of people it employs, the quality of supervision, and review, the work of two Indian “glaciologists” must not be allowed to bring disrepute to Indian science. But, we can be certain that the anti-climate change lobby will persist in trying to discredit IPCC’s work, its president and others in the organisation.

The author is visiting fellow, Teri, and former director general of National Council for Applied Economic Research (NCAER)

First Published: Thu, February 04 2010. 00:41 IST