Bush Administration Seeks to Oust Climate Expert By Cat Lazaroff

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.


Dr. Robert Watson may lose his seat at the head of the IPCC later this month. (All photos courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin)
Since 1996, Dr. Watson has chaired the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a joint project of the United Nations and the World Meteorological Organization. The 2,500 researchers and other experts who are part of the IPCC have led international efforts to assess the science behind human and natural causes of climate change since it was formed in 1988.

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.


Dr. Rajendra Pachauri has been backed by India and the U.S. to chair the IPCC
Critics of Pachauri's candidacy note that his two PhDs are in economics and industrial engineering, and argue that a scientist with a stronger background in atmospheric science would be a better choice.

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.


Watson at the 6th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Bonn, Germany, July 17, 2001
The energy industry has stepped up its lobbying efforts in Washington since Bush, a former oil industry executive, was elected. Dozens of industry officials met last year with the vice president's energy task force to help shape the administration's national energy policy, which would offer millions of dollars in new tax breaks and subsidies for the industry.

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."