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Chairman of UN climate panel quits after harassment allegation

February 24, 2015

BERLIN — Rajendra Pachauri, who supervised work on the two most detailed studies of climate change ever completed, stepped down as head of the United Nations panel examining the science after allegations he sexually harassed a colleague.

The chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change wrote to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that he was resigning effective immediately Tuesday because he may be unable to provide the panel the leadership it needs.

His decision removes from the climate debate one of the most prominent and authoritative voices calling for the reining in of greenhouse gases. Pachauri, who led the compilation of some 2,000 of the world’s top climate scientists for 13 years, worked to tighten up the credibility of the reports that guide policymakers and survived a scandal five years ago over exaggerated claims about the speed of glaciers retreating.

“For me, the protection of Planet Earth, the survival of all species and sustainability of our ecosystems, is more than a mission,” Pachauri wrote in his letter to Ban. “It is my religion and my dharma. The IPCC needs strong leadership and dedication of time.”

Pachauri’s departure is a blow for U.N.-led talks that hope to produce by the end of this year a deal to limit fossil-fuel pollution in all nations for the first time. The IPCC’s main contribution to that process was an assessment of the climate science delivered last year.

Last week, a 29-year-old researcher accused the 74-year-old Pachauri of making physical advances and sending lewd text messages and emails, according to a copy of the complaint and her lawyer. She had joined The Energy and Research Institute Pachauri leads in September 2013.

Pachauri’s resignation won’t affect the drive for a global climate deal in Paris, said Alden Meyer, a long-time observer to the talks for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

By shepherding the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report to completion last year, “Pachauri made a major contribution to public and policymaker awareness of the mounting risks of climate change, the urgency of action and the availability of cost-effective climate solutions,” Meyer said in an e-mail. “This body of work will continue to provide strong momentum for action in the run-up to Paris.”

The IPCC released Pachauri’s letter on its website along with a statement saying Vice Chair Ismail El Gizouli from Sudan will serve as acting head of the group until a new leader is chosen. Pachauri, elected to the post in 2002, accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the panel in 2007 for its work on sharpening climate science.

Appointing El Gizouli “will ensure that the IPCC’s mission to assess climate change continues without interruption,” Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Program, said in a statement.

Pachauri skipped an IPCC meeting in Nairobi this month after police started an investigation into the harassment allegations. His term was due to end in October. In his letter he said he wanted to step down last year but was persuaded to stay on by friends.

The IPCC had to backtrack on findings in its 2007 report overestimating the rate at which glaciers in the Himalayan mountains were melting.

It’s “understandable” that Pachauri resigned while he faces “allegations against him in India. The allegations are unrelated to his post as chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,” Bob Ward, policy director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics, said by e-mail.

“There will no doubt be some climate change ‘skeptics’ who seek to use Dr. Pachauri’s resignation as an opportunity to attack the IPCC,” Ward wrote. “Such efforts should be recognized as the act of desperate people who have simply lost the argument over whether human activities are primarily driving climate change and who cannot face up to the truth.”

© 2015, Bloomberg News

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