'I'm not quitting' says under-fire UN climate boss

Michael McCarthy,Environment Editor
Saturday 27 March 2010 01:00 GMT

The much-criticised head of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Dr Rajenda Pachauri, gave a vigorous defence of his position last night, accepting there had been mistakes in the IPCC's work, taking responsibility for some of them, but robustly refusing to stand down.

He would see out his term and preside over the next IPCC assessment report, due in 2013, he said.

Dr Pachauri agreed that the actions of the IPCC in recent months, when some of its forecasts had been shown to be wrong and it had not responded quickly enough to criticism, had contributed to the public loss of belief in predictions of global warming and in human responsibility for climate change.

But he said the organisation had learned from these events and was taking steps to become much more responsive in future.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Independent, the 69-year-old Indian scientist also gave an extraordinary detailed defence of his personal life, allegations about which have been used in attacks on him in the last three months.

He has been accused of leading a film-star life with Bollywood friends in Delhi, enriching himself through his IPCC connections and publishing a raunchy sex novel.

"My salary is something that you would find laughable," he said (later revealing it was $45,000 dollars per annum). "I have never bothered about money – I come from a family of academics.

"My lifestyle is barely comfortable, but there are some things I am very conscious of. When I leave my office, I switch off the lights even if I am out for five minutes. In Delhi, temperatures drop to 1 degree Celsius in the winter, but I refuse to use heating in my bedroom – I'll take an extra blanket or whatever. I've been a vegetarian for several years now, I haven't seen a movie for years together, and I work every day of my life."

Dr Pachauri said a "forensic audit" of the money he made from advising organisations on climate change, carried out by the auditors KPMG, had shown that it all went into his Indian energy institute, TERI.

"They've checked on that and clearly come up with conclusion that not a penny comes to me," he said. "I could be earning a lot, I could be earning a million dollars a year if I wanted, but whatever little I get, which is nowhere near a million dollars, goes to my institute which is a charitable institution not owned by anybody. Any minor surpluses we generate, we use for doing work in rural areas, making sure the poorest of the poor get lighting by using solar lanterns."

He agreed he had friends in Bollywood, but said that it was Bollywood stars who were used to promote his institute's "Lighting a million lights"project.

"Amitabh Bachchan, who is really the biggest Bollywood superstar we've ever had perhaps, he's a brand ambassador for us, and if I can use these personalities for a good cause, I feel perfectly comfortable doing so," he said.

As for his recently-published novel, Return to Almora, he said suggestions that it was a "sex novel" were "totally off the mark."

"This is absolutely ridiculous, he said. "This is a novel of 400 pages about a person who is trying to look at the meaning of life, what happens to the human soul when we die, where does it go, and in the course of this he falls in love and he has a few relationships, but I'm not describing any explicit sex scenes. That's a totally false impression. I'm happy to send you a copy if you have the patience to go through it, but it's 400 pages all about spirituality."

Dr Pachauri accepted the IPCC was at fault in some of the incorrect predictions in its last report, in particular the suggestion that the Himalayan glaciers would melt though global warming by 2035 (the real figure should be 2350).

He said he was informed of this in mid-January and acted immediately to correct it, but he accepted that the IPCC had not responded quickly enough to media inquiries, and said it would be setting up its own media unit at its Geneva headquarters (it is currently without a dedicated media operation or press office).

He revealed that just how much carbon the world can emit and keep global warming temperature rises to no more than two degrees Celsius will be worked out this year, for the next UN climate meeting to be held in Cancun, Mexico, next December.

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