Pachauri has refused to apologise for the claim that Himalayan glaciers would melt away by 2035, which came from a report by green group WWF, who had in turn sourced it from a magazine article. “You can’t expect me to be personally responsible for every word in a 3,000 page report,” he said.
But yesterday John Sauven, director of Greenpeace UK, said Pachauri should have responded faster to the glacier error, after reportedly being told of it in December, before the Copenhagen climate conference. Pachauri has said he first became aware of the problem in January.
Sauven said a new leader at the IPCC could restore confidence in climate science: “If we get a new person in with an open mind, prepared to fundamentally review how the IPCC works, we would regain confidence in the organisation…. [but] if you changed the head, I don’t think that would necessarily restore the credibility of the IPCC.”
Sauven added: “The person at the top has to lead the organisation through a turbulent era when the scientists are in the crosshairs of a sophisticated campaign of disinformation. They will make mistakes, everybody does. Can Pachauri be trusted to be honest, open and transparent if a mistake is made? Does he have the continuing confidence not only of the scientific community but the wider public? These are the key questions he must answer.” The IPCC’s mistake did not undermine the wider body of climate science, Sauven said.
However, other green groups defended Pachauri and said he should not resign. Andy Atkins, executive director of Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland, said: “It would be incredible if there wasn’t the occasional error in a work of this size. We don’t see any evidence that he has done anything that warrants his resignation. The danger is that if he is forced to go because of one error, how will we ever get this job done? Who could ever lead this organisation? It would set an incredibly dangerous precedent for the future. If it happened to him it could happen to the next chair.”
Other groups said that there was a danger that public and governments would use the scandal as an excuse to water down pledges to move away from fossil fuels and cut greenhouse gas emissions. “We remain absolutely convinced of the vast body of scientific evidence. The overall integrity of the science remains undented … but the danger is this becomes a distraction from the big decisions that governments have to make,” said Keith Allot, head of climate change at WWF.
Oxfam’s senior climate change policy adviser, Antonio Hill, said that such inaction would have a serious humanitarian impact, and stressed: “Climate change is increasing the day-to-day burdens of poor people and still demands an urgent response.” His warning echoed comments from Pachauri last month, who predicted a surge in climate change scepticism this year could exacerbate hardship for the world’s poorest people.
Chris Smith, who chairs the Environment Agency, called for perspective and said man-made climate change was happening and the science had not been undermined. “Let’s not allow one or two errors to undermine the overwhelming strength of evidence that has been painstakingly accumulated, peer reviewed, tested and tested again, and that shows overwhelmingly that our emissions of greenhouse gases are having a serious impact on the earth’s atmosphere, and that as a result climate change is happening and will accelerate. We should not underestimate the damage that has been done by the glee with which the sceptics have seized on the one or two scientific mistakes and used them to undermine the whole consensus about the evidence and the conclusions we need to draw from it.”
Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, told reporters in New Delhi today it would be “senseless” for Pachauri to take the blame for the error. “I believe that the scientific evidence that is provided by the IPCC has not been shaken in spite of the very unfortunate mistake,” he said.
He added that Pachauri was a good chairman and “a very vocal advocate of the need to address climate change at the global level”.