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Head of UN's climate science panel resigns over harassment claims

Nobel laureate Rajendra Pachauri resigns as IPCC head after allegations of sexual harassment

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(Image by COP20)

Facing a charge of sexually harassing a female colleague in the think tank he heads, Rajendra Kumar Pachauri, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), was forced to step down from the chair on Tuesday and to go on leave from the think tank – New Delhi-based The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI).

 
Pachauri has obtained an interim order from a New Delhi court, so he cannot be arrested on the charge till Thursday. But he was forced to give an undertaking that he would not travel outside India, and was thus unable to chair a meeting of the IPCC which began in Nairobi on Tuesday. His resignation from the IPCC came within hours.
 
And that was followed within a few hours more by the announcement that Pachauri had proceeded on leave from TERI, the think tank he built in the early 1980s and has been heading ever since. An official statement read, “TERI today announced that Dr R.K. Pachauri, Director General, has proceeded on leave for the time being and adequate internal arrangements have been made to ensure the smooth operations of the organization.”
 
Pachauri, 74, has been accused by a 31-year-old TERI research associate of harassing her physically, over the phone, through SMS messages and through e-mails ever since she joined in late 2013. The woman has given a 33-page complaint to the Delhi Police, 31 pages of which are reported to be inappropriate SMS messages and e-mails. Pachauri has denied all charges and has said his phone and computer had been hacked.
 
The police have lodged a First Information Report, which talks of grave charges under the Indian Penal Code. Following a rash of incidents, the code has recently been amended to include certain categories of stalking and harassment under the definition of rape. Pachauri has been seeking anticipatory bail.
 
Over the last few days, he has twice obtained short-term interim court orders that prevent his arrest. It was during the hearing on one such order that the complainant’s lawyer expressed the apprehension that Pachauri may not return to India to face justice if he went to Nairobi to chair the IPCC meeting. Following that hearing, Pachauri announced that he would not be travelling to Nairobi for the meeting.
 
Resignation letter
 
On Tuesday, Pachauri sent his resignation letter to UN Secretary General Ban ki Moon. He wrote, “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, as shown by my inability to travel to Nairobi to chair the plenary session of the Panel this week. I have, therefore, taken the decision to step down from my position as Chair of the IPCC some months before completion of my term…”
 
Pachauri’s current term as IPCC chair was scheduled to end this October. During his first term, the IPCC shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore in 2007, and Pachauri was the one who received the prize on behalf of the panel.
 
This was a few months after the IPCC came out with its fourth assessment report on the climate change situation, a report that went a long way to focus global attention on the threat posed by climate change. The fifth assessment report was unveiled in instalments from late 2013 to late 2014, and contained a lot more evidence on how climate change was gathering pace, but also what could possibly be done to combat the situation.
 
Moving swiftly to minimise damage, the IPCC bureau agreed on Tuesday to designate vice chair Ismail El Gizouli as acting chair.
 
This week in Nairobi, the IPCC – the world’s largest collective of climate scientists and policy analysts, with thousands of members – is considering its future course of action. 
 
Tuesday’s IPCC meeting was facilitated by Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme. Steiner said, “The actions taken today will ensure that the IPCC’s mission to assess climate change continues without interruption.”

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