U.N. climate panel head aims to lead "overdue" reforms

SEOUL (Reuters) - The head of the U.N. panel of climate scientists said on Monday he aimed to stay on and lead “overdue” reforms after errors in a 2007 report, including an exaggeration of the thaw of the Himalayan glaciers.

India’s Rajendra Pachauri, opening an October 11-14 meeting of 300 delegates from 130 nations in Busan, South Korea, admitted “shortfalls and mistakes” in the 2007 overview of climate science but has resisted suggestions that he should quit.

“I am committed to carry reform forward,” he told the first talks of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) since an August 30 report by the InterAcademy Council, grouping science academies, urged fundamental reform of IPCC management.

“Change and improvement in an organization as important and complex as the IPCC is inevitable and overdue, but it must build on the demonstrated strengths of the system,” he told delegates.

Among the council recommendations were that the chair of the IPCC, which shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with U.S. climate campaigner Al Gore, should serve only one six-year term. Pachauri, elected in 2002, is well into his second.

Pachauri has said in the past that he will fulfill his existing mandate to present a new IPCC review of global warming science in 2013-14, unless governments decide otherwise.

He noted that the InterAcademy Council said the IPCC could “claim many important accomplishments.” It also called for more rigorous checks on information.


In the 2007 report, the most glaring error was a projection that glaciers in the Himalayas could melt by 2035 -- far earlier than the worst projections. It also over-stated the amount of the Netherlands that is below sea level and the number of people in Africa at risk of disruptions to water supplies by 2020.

But scientific reviews have backed up the core IPCC conclusion that it is “very likely” that global warming is man-made, caused mainly by rising concentrations of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels.

At Monday’s session, no nations called for Pachauri to quit.

Diplomats say that forcing out Pachauri, who collected the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the IPCC, could help a fresh start but skeptics might seize on his departure as an admission that the report was badly flawed.

India has affirmed backing for Pachauri, making it hard for others to object to one of the few high-level climate posts held by a developing nation. And Pachauri himself has in the past sought to bolster the IPCC Secretariat in Geneva.

In a video message, Christiana Figueres, the head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, urged governments to carry out pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions and praised the IPCC for alerting the world to risks of climate change.

“But confusion that has arisen recently has dampened the willingness of the public in some countries to support the tough decisions that governments need to make now in order to respond to the full challenge of climate change,” she said.

Last year, most governments agreed at the U.N. summit in Copenhagen to limit temperature rises to below 2 Celsius (3.6 F) above pre-industrial times to avoid more droughts, mudslides, sandstorms, floods and rising sea levels.

“It is the job of governments to make sure that we avoid a future where climate disasters become the normal experience of humanity,” she said.

Writing by Alister Doyle in Oslo, editing by Janet Lawrence