Pachauri also accused critics who have used an error in the 2007 IPCC report to question the scientific basis of climate change of “an act of astonishing intellectual legerdemain [sleight of hand]”. Scientific knowledge of climate change, he says, is “something we distort and trivialise at our peril”.
Pachauri’s comments come after repeated attacks on the credibility of the IPCC following the high-profile discovery of a mistake about melting Himalayan glaciers in its report. The mistake has prompted calls for Pachauri to resign and forced the IPCC to convene an international panel of experts to review the way it operates.
In the Guardian article, Pachauri writes: “Thousands of scientists from across the world have worked diligently and in an objective and transparent manner to provide scientific evidence for action to meet the growing challenge of climate change. To obscure this reality through misplaced emphasis on an error in a nearly 3,000-page rigorous document would be unfortunate.”
He adds: “Even more unfortunate is the effort of some in positions of power and responsibility to indict dedicated scientists as ‘climate criminals’. I sincerely hope the world is not witnessing a new form of persecution of those who defy conventional ignorance and pay a terrible price for their scientifically valid beliefs.”
This appears to be a reference to James Inhofe, a US senator and long-standing climate sceptic, who last month called for a criminal investigation of climate scientists. Inhofe published a minority report from the Senate committee on environment and public works that claimed climate scientists involved with a controversy over emails from the University of East Anglia released online “violated fundamental ethical principles governing taxpayer-funded research and, in some cases, may have violated federal laws”.
The report named 17 US and British climate experts as “key players” in the affair and highlighted their roles in preparing IPCC reports. The list included Phil Jones and Keith Briffa of the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit, and Peter Stott, a leading expert at the Met Office.
Michael Mann, a US scientist at Penn State University, who is on the list, said: “I think the following quote characterises the situation best: ‘Continuous research by our best scientists … may be made impossible by the creation of an atmosphere in which no man feels safe against the public airing of unfounded rumours, gossip, and vilification.’ The quote wasn’t made during the last few months. It was made by US president Harry S Truman in 1948, in response to politically motivated attacks against scientists associated with the dark era of McCarthyism.”
Mann added: “I fear that is precisely the sort of atmosphere that is being created, and sure, it impacts research. The more time scientists have to spend fending off these sorts of attacks and dealing with this sort of nonsense, the less time is available to them to actually do science, and to push the forefront of our knowledge forward. Perhaps that is the intent?”
Pachauri says it was “to be expected” that the critical choices that climate change asks of human society “would pose challenges for some stakeholders and sectors of the economy”.
He added: “But to ignore the IPCC’s scientific findings would lead to impacts that impose larger costs than those required today to stabilise the Earth’s climate.”