20 January 2010

The Guardian on Pachauri

The Guardian Environment Blog has this to say about Rajendra Pachauri's conflicts of interests:
The chairman of the UN's panel of climate scientists, Dr Rajendra Pachauri, has been under an unwelcome spotlight this week. First, he announced a review into the panel's claim that Himalayan glaciers would disappear by 2035. Then he had to defend himself from reports by the Sunday Telegraph that he's financially profiting from the influence of his UN role – a claim he trenchantly denies. Now, Pachauri has come out fighting, calling himself "unsinkable". . .

"They can't attack the science so they attack the chairman," Pachauri, who chairs the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) told me. "But they won't sink me. I am the unsinkable Molly Brown. In fact, I will float much higher."

Pachauri chairs another panel, the judges of the 2010 Zayed Future Energy prize, an illustrious jury that includes former BP chairman Lord Browne, architect Norman Foster and the president of Iceland. Yesterday in Abu Dhabi, Pachauri took to the stage at the seven-star Emirates Palace hotel to hand out a large cash prize – to one of the companies he has been advising.

Last year the $1.5m award was given to Dipal Chandra Barua, an entrepreneur whose company, Grameen Shakti, trained women in rural Bangledesh to install solar energy systems. This year, Pachauri and his judges awarded the prize to car-making giant Toyota.

Arguably Toyota neither needs the money nor the recognition for its work on hybrid technologies. It's worth noting that until less than a year ago, Pachauri was also a member of Toyota's International Advisory Board. I asked Pachauri why Toyota had won, when giving the money to a smaller-scale venture could have had more impact. . .

. . . in the science community skilled, engaging communicators like Pachauri – the author of 23 books, including one of English verse – are all too rare. We're looking to them to convey the gravity of climate change and need for action. Not give succour to sceptics.

A good way to avoid giving succor to skeptics is to distinguish advice from advocacy, and to have in place transparent and credible guidelines for managing conflicts of interest. The IPCC does neither.