NAIROBI (AFP) – The head of the UN’s climate science panel, Rajendra Pachauri, stepped down Tuesday in the wake of sexual harassment claims against him that have surfaced at a crucial time on the climate agenda.
Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) since 2002, has denied any wrongdoing, claiming his email account and mobile phone were hacked.
But the 74-year-old Indian tendered his resignation with immediate effect on Tuesday in a letter to UN chief Ban Ki moon.
“The IPCC needs strong leadership and dedication of time and full attention by the Chair in the immediate future, which under the current circumstances I may be unable to provide,” he said in the letter, without referring to the allegations.
The IPCC announced that its deputy chairman Ismail El Gizouli will stand in for Pachauri, who was on Monday granted official “relief from arrest” for three days as Indian police investigate the complaint.
Observers and officials said the resignation of Pachauri, a leading voice on the dangers of climate change, was unlikely to dampen progress towards a universal planet rescue pact by year-end.
“The actions taken today will ensure that the IPCC’s mission to assess climate change continues without interruption,” said the UN Environment Programme’s executive director, Achim Steiner.
The IPCC, which jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, first announced Pachauri’s resignation from the Kenyan capital where a four-day conference opened Tuesday on the latest global warming science.
Pachauri had cancelled his attendance at the meeting after a 29-year-old female researcher from the New Delhi-based think-tank he heads, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), accused him repeated inappropriate behaviour, including through emails, text and WhatsApp messages.
The world’s nations are meant to sign a universal carbon-curbing pact by December, which will be largely informed by the findings in the panel’s latest analysis, dubbed the Fifth Assessment Report.
A summary of the latest climate science, it was published in chapters over several months until November last year.
“I don’t think that this will have consequences for Paris,” said climate ambassador Laurence Tubiana of France, which will host the UN’s 21st Conference of Parties (COP) from November 30-December 11 to finalise and ink the new climate deal.
“The work of the fifth (assessment report) has been finalised and nothing is going to change from this point of view,” she told AFP of Pachauri’s resignation.
The report had warned that on current greenhouse gas-emission trends, the world is on track for double the UN goal of limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), with devastating floods, droughts and sea-level rise the result.
Alix Mazounie from the Climate Action Network NGO said the latest events will have “no impact on COP 21”.
“It is not people’s private lives that decide the quality of the reports of the IPCC,” she said.
“It may be that climate sceptics in the United States will be tempted to use this to derail the climate discussion. But it just isn’t very good ammunition.”
Pachauri said he had already considered announcing his resignation with the presentation of the assessment report last November, when his “work was done”, but was dissuaded by friends and colleagues.
And he offered his continued “help, support and advice” to the IPCC.
“For me the protection of Planet Earth, the survival of all species and sustainability of our ecosystems is more than a mission. It is my religion and my dharma”, which in Hinduism is an obligation under the laws of the Universe.