Rajendra K Pachauri on Tuesday stepped down as chairman of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) amid a snowballing controversy over accusations that he sexually harassed a woman researcher.
The decision was announced by IPCC on the day Pachauri decided to take leave as Director General of his Delhi-based research organization, The Energy and Resources Institute (Teri).
A statement issued by the UN panel said Pachauri had decided to “step down as Chairman of the IPCC effective today”.
In an internal email sent to officials of Teri, Pachauri said he was proceeding on leave “for the time being” in view of the “present circumstances and in the interest of taking an immediate decision for removing any fears of my influencing the due processes being followed within the Institute”.
The Bureau of the IPCC designated vice-Chair Ismail El Gizouli as the acting chair for the panel’s session to be held in Nairobi during February 24-27.
“The actions taken today will ensure that the IPCC’s mission to assess climate change continues without interruption,” said Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
The 74-year-old Pachauri, one of the UN’s top climate change officials, had pulled out of the high level meeting in Nairobi two days ago after police began investigating the 29-year-old researcher’s allegation of sexual harassment against him.
Sources in the IPCC told HT that Pachauri was advised to step down in the wake of the allegations of sexual harassment and he agreed.
In an FIR, the researcher accused Pachauri of harassing her after she joined Teri. She has alleged that the harassment included emails and SMS and WhatsApp messages.
Pachauri has denied the charges and his spokesperson has said he will cooperate in the ongoing investigation. His lawyers claimed his emails, mobile phone and WhatsApp messages were hacked and criminals accessed his computer and phone to send the messages in an attempt to malign him.
The government is yet to decide whether Pachauri can continue as a member of some official panels, including the Prime Minister’s Council on Climate Change, which is India’s top decision-making body on climate issues.
He is also advisor to several states on climate change action plans and TERI provides consultancy to the government in several sectors, including energy, environment and water.
Government officials expect Pachauri to resign from these panels on his own. “We are giving him some time to step down voluntarily,” said a senior official. “The issue has not been discussed. We will take a call at an appropriate time.”
Women’s rights activists have said that a second woman has also come forward to level similar allegations against Pachauri.
Pachauri was elected to the first of two terms as chair of the IPCC in April 2002 and he had been scheduled to complete his second term in October.
Elections for a new IPCC chair have already scheduled been scheduled for the panel’s 42nd Session to be held in October. Pachauri was reportedly seeking a third term.
The IPCC is the world body for assessing the science related to climate change. It was set up in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization and UNEP.