India supports a toothless IPCC
February 8, 2010
Wall Street Journal Asia/Europe
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed support for the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and its leader, Rajendra Pachauri, at a local energy conference in New Delhi Friday. The move has surprised many observers, but it may prove to be politically astute.
The IPCC’s credibility is in tatters. From climategate to glaciergate, Amazongate, natural-disaster gate, and now Chinagate, the revelations of bad science keep coming. Given all that, plus the much-publicized flap between Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh and Mr. Pachauri over the science behind “melting” Himalayan glaciers weeks before the Copenhagen climate summit in December, superficially one might have expected the Indian government to jettison Mr. Pachauri as soon as possible.
But Delhi isn’t just offering him and the organization rhetorical backing. At Friday’s annual flagship event of the Energy and Resources Institute—which Mr. Pachauri has headed for almost 30 years—the prime minister offered to provide technical assistance through a newly established glacier research center. The government has also formed a network of scientific institutions to develop domestic science and research capacities on climate issues.
The explanation for this support is simple: It is in the Indian government’s interest to perpetuate a weak IPCC and a toothless Mr. Pachauri at its helm. Given the recent scandals, the IPCC is hardly in a position to lobby India for carbon concessions. No one from the IPCC can again cavalierly dismiss their critics as promoting “voodoo” science or “vested interests,” as was Mr. Pachauri’s wont. By offering scientific support to the IPCC, the Indian government is actually confirming its lack of confidence in the U.N. body’s scientific credentials.
Mr. Pachauri is now in his second term as the head of IPCC. He is not a climate scientist—or indeed a scientist at all. He is an able science administrator who built his institute from scratch. Influential governments in the rich world probably accepted Mr. Pachauri not just for his redoubtable skill in institution-building, but also in the hope that by placing an Indian like him at the head of IPCC, he might be able to influence Indian policy.
That’s important because after all, if countries like China and India do not subscribe to any commitment to reducing emissions, developed countries’ best efforts will not have any significant impact. Having bought the idea of man-made global warming, rich countries had to try and ensure that developing countries fell in line.
But in democratic India no leader can afford to ignore the developmental aspirations of the people. Even if some Indian elites want to sell the future of the country by agreeing to some form of restrictions on energy usage—and thus on economic growth—in the fiercely competitive world of Indian politics they stand no chance.
The IPCC was created as a way to make the world, particularly the poor, fall in line and support expensive climate-change initiatives by overwhelming them with the apparent authority of the world’s leading technical body on the subject, backed by a supposed scientific consensus. This attempt was doomed to fail, because scientific inquiry does not respect consensus, and orthodoxy is anathema to scientific progress.
There is some poetic justice in this whole drama. Countries like India that were always apprehensive of institutions like the IPCC now prefer to keep it twisting in the wind. The rich countries that gave birth to the idea of the IPCC cannot afford to disown it without exposing their own underlying design. They could try to replace its head, in the hope that the new face might be able to rebuild the credibility of the institution. But having tasted blood, there is no reason why India and China should let the current advantage pass so easily.
The IPCC has been checkmated, as have so many other U.N. institutions before it. This is the inevitable consequence of the desire for global government under the misguided belief that ordinary people do not know what is in their own interest. With the deepening of democratic ideals, people power can no longer be overturned so easily. The failure of the IPCC shows that sovereignty still lies with the people, not with the aspirants for global government.
Mr. Mitra is director of the Liberty Institute, an independent think tank in New Delhi.