23 December 2009

Pachauri Responds

UPDATE #2: The TERI press release is online here.

UPDATE: Some additional details from the TERI press release

Rajendra Pachauri has responded to the conflict 0f interest allegations levied against him in the Telegraph, which I discussed here several days ago. Dr. Pachauri's rebutal comes in the form of a press release issued by TERI, the organization that he directs in India. I am in possession of the press release, having received it from a colleague who sent it to an email list. Yesterday, I emailed the TERI media office to ask if I could post the release up here in full. I have not yet heard back from them, so I won't yet post it up in full. Presumably, they issued it to be read and I assume that The Telegraph will post it up sooner or later. The release ends with a threat to escalate the issue, presumably a reference to UK libel laws.

The release provides details on more than $250,000 in payments to TERI over the past three and a half years in exchange for Dr. Pachauri's services from companies with a direct financial stake in climate policy. I do not see how this information in any way clears up the issue. In fact, it raises more difficult questions for the IPCC and Dr. Pachauri, who based on this information is unambiguously in violation of conflict of interest policies of the WMO and UN, the parent bodies of the IPCC. This level of remuneration from parties interested in specific climate policy outcomes would clearly violate conflict of interest guidelines at most federal agencies with respect to service on science advisory panels (e.g., FDA has a threshold of $50,000 per year). The fact that the money goes to an organization that Dr. Pachauri directs rather than directly into his pocket is not relevant (to the FDA, WMO or UN).

The press release is being reported on in India, for instance:

In his rejoinder to the newspaper, Pachauri said: “IPCC makes no policy recommendations, and all its reports are in the public domain, widely distributed and disseminated across the world. There is nothing in this report that could have any proprietary benefit.”

The newspaper reported that Pachauri was part of groups, including green firms, which benefited from IPCC’s recommendations, terming this a conflict of interest.

The article said The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), which Pachauri is heading since the 1980s, maintains close links with the Tata group and assists it in developing its carbon trading business worldwide.

“This is far from the truth. The Tatas do enjoy the envious reputation of establishing many institutions of excellence and TERI was one among them. As TERI’s interest went beyond energy and included natural resources, we decided in 2001 to retain the acronym and change the expansion. This signifies our independence from any direct Tata connection,” Pachauri said.

It is odd that Dr. Pachauri would raise the policy irrelevance of the IPCC as defense. This is odd for two reasons. First, the IPCC is designed to be "policy relevant" and second,perhaps more than anyone, Dr. Pachauri routinely invokes the IPCC in support of very specific policy recommendations. This line of defense raises even further questions for the IPCC.

That the media -- other than the Telegraph -- is not on this issue is rather amazing. Writing recently in the Washington Post, Michael Gerson helps to explain these dynamics: "Climate scientists are clearly accustomed to deference. Theirs is a community coddled by global elites, extensively funded by governments, celebrated by Hollywood and honored with international prizes." If Dr. Pachauri were the head of a drug safety advisory committee, a Bush administration official editing agency climate reports or a different type of UN bureaucrat, allegations of conflict of interest would almost certainly get closer scrutiny.

It is not anti-science or anti-climate policy to ask that scientists be held to the same standard as everyone else. I'd argue that holding science to high standards is about as pro-science and pro-climate policy as one can get. The IPCC needs to be asked some uncomfortable questions. In the long run, climate science and policy will both be better for it.