RK Pachauri: A climate champion mired in controversy
The last decade of Pachauri was mired in controversy - he resigned from the IPCC in 2015 following allegations of sexual harassment by a 29-year-old employee of TERI.Updated: Feb 14, 2020 06:59 IST
RK Pachauri, former chairman of the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change andformerdirector general of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), has passed away, TERI announced on Thursday. Pachauri was 79.
He died of cardiac complications according to Fortis Escorts.
As the head of the IPCC, a United Nations body that assesses the science related to climate crisis and informs global policy, between 2002 and 2015, Pachauri’s team drafted iconic scientific reports on the climate emergency that later formed the basis for the 2015 Paris Agreement to which 195 nations are signatories.
The IPCC won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former US President Al Gore for its work on climate change under Pachauri, who was conferred the Padma Bhushan, the third-highest Indian civilian honour, in 2001 and the Padma Vibhushan, the second highest, in 2008 for his contribution to science and the environment.
The last decade of Pachauri was mired in controversy - he resigned from the IPCC in 2015 following allegations of sexual harassment by a 29-year-old employee of TERI.
“I remember him as an institution builder. He built TERI, one of the largest research institutions in the world. The IPCC AR5 report that was completed under him formed the basis for the Paris Agreement in many ways because it spoke of the 2 degree threat,” said NH Ravindranath, climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Science, who worked with Pachauri on IPCC reports, said referring to warning of a potential 2 degrees Celsius increase in the global average temperature above pre-industrial levels.
“It was a very difficult time for the IPCC because of various controversies. Dr Pachauri knew every world leader personally. He had great reach,” he added.
Annapurna Vancheswaran, senior director, communications and outreach at TERI, said: “He was an incredible institution builder and a professional with a human touch. He would know from our faces if something was wrong at home. I had worked with him for 25 years and he had shaped our minds. He had put processes in place, I admire his professional side.”
The last decade of his career was mired in controversy. The UK-based Daily Telegraph alleged that Pachauri was making money through his links with carbon trading companies in 2007. The allegation was denied by Pachauri and the Daily Telegraph issued an apology following an audit of his earnings.
IPCC’s 2007 fourth assessment report came under fire for its claim, termed a “Himalayan blunder”, that the glaciers in the Himalayas would disappear by 2035. The claim was later found to be unsubstantiated and based on a media interview by a scientist. IPCC later acknowledged the error, but the controversy tarnished the image of the institution.
Pachauri resigned from the IPCC in 2015 following allegations of sexual harassment by a 29-year-old employee of TERI. More controversy and criticism arose when the TERI governing council reinstated Pachauri as its executive vice chairman despite the pending probe into the sexual harassment complaint against him.
TERI University students said they will not accept degrees from Pachauri. The governing council asked him to go on leave. According to a TERI statement of February 12, 2016 Pachauri was sent on indefinite leave and Ajay Mathur took charge as director general of TERI.
“Dr. R.K. Pachauri, who had been at the Head of the Institute since 1982 will be on leave from TERI, TERI Governing Council, and TERI University till this is reviewed by the Governing Council given the subjudice nature of the matter,” it said adding that “TERI, is a unique organisation with a global presence, and a staff strength of 1200 people, of which over 33% are women. At the highest echelons of the Institute, 14 of the 30 Directors are women. The Governing Council of TERI supports the rights of women and has consistently ensured the provision of a secure environment and a safe work place for its employees.”
A member of TERI’s internal complaints committee investigating the sexual harassment case said it will not be right to comment on how the case was handled “under the present circumstances” .The complainant also said she did not want to comment.
“TERI is what it is because of Dr Pachauri’s untiring perseverance. He played a pivotal role in growing this institution, and making it a premier global organisation in the sustainability space,” said Mathur, director general of TERI, who succeeded Pachauri in 2015 but took charge in 2016.