WASHINGTON, DC, April 3, 2002 (ENS) - With the State Department's announcement Tuesday that the U.S. government will sponsor an Indian scientist as the new chair of an international climate change group, the Bush administration took another swipe at efforts to understand and combat global warming. Dr. Rajendra Pachauri would replace Dr. Robert Watson, a widely respected American scientist who has warned of the human causes of climate change for almost six years.
Watson, an atmospheric researcher and the chief scientist at the World Bank, is considered one of the world's leading experts on climate change. He is also a strong proponent of the idea that human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels are the primary forces behind the warming climate, and that efforts to combat global warming must focus on reducing human emissions of greenhouse gases.
Under Watson's tenure, the IPCC last year produced its third comprehensive assessment of the state of climate science, concluding that, "there is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities."
The panel also predicted that average global temperatures will rise between three and 10 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century. These conclusions were reaffirmed last spring by the National Academy of Sciences, which reviewed the IPCC's report at the request of the White House.
The removal of U.S. support for Watson's leadership makes it likely that he will not be reelected when the IPCC meets in Geneva from April 17-20 to elect a new 30 person bureau. On Tuesday, the State Department announced it will support Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, the candidate proposed by the government of India, as the new chair of the IPCC.
Pachauri, the director-general of the Tata Energy Research Institute in New Dehli, India, is now one of five vice chairs at the IPCC. If elected chair, Pachauri would be the first IPCC chair from a developing country.
Today, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a private conservation group, released papers showing that the energy industry has been quietly pressing for the removal of Watson from the helm of the IPCC since the Bush administration took office in January 2001.
Oil giant ExxonMobil sent a confidential memo to the White House urging the Bush administration to replace Watson, who "was hand picked by [former Vice President] Al Gore," along with other Clinton era appointees, with a "team that can better represent the Bush Administration interests."
The memo recommends that President George W. Bush "restructure the U.S. attendance at upcoming IPCC meetings to assure none of the Clinton/Gore proponents are involved in any decisional activities."
The memorandum was obtained by the NRDC from the White House Council on Environmental Quality under the Freedom of Information Act.
In meetings this week with State Department officials, lobbyists for the coal industry, electric utilities, and automakers joined ExxonMobil's call to replace Watson.
"It's bad enough that ExxonMobil controls White House energy and climate policies," said Daniel Lashof, science director of the NRDC climate center. "Now they want to control the science too."
In a letter yesterday to Undersecretary of State Paula Dobriansky, NRDC's Lashof wrote, "The industry effort to block the reappointment of Dr. Watson is a thinly veiled attempt to undermine the effectiveness of the IPCC as a body that produces high quality, objective scientific assessments. I urge you to reject this campaign and to give Dr. Watson the United States' strongest possible support."