Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) chief R.K. Pachauri, battling calls for resignation due to a mistake in the IPCC report on Himalayan glaciers, found support from both the United Nation’s top climate official and the Environment Ministry on Thursday.

“The Government of India, starting at the highest level, supports Dr. Pachauri. There is no question about it,” Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh told journalists. He added that the IPCC was an important institution of climate science, but it “should not become a climate evangelist.”

Indian IPCC

The errors of the IPCC and other Western scientific bodies, especially on climate science involving India, served to spur the establishment of the Indian Network for Climate Change Assessment (INCCA), which was set up last October. “It will be the Indian IPCC,” he said, adding that for the first time, India will now provide institutional inputs to the IPCC in its fifth assessment report.

India has been at the receiving end of such errors before. In 1990, the United States environment regulator estimated that India’s methane emissions from wet paddy cultivation at 38 million tonnes per year. Later, research proved it was only 2 to 3 million tonnes per year, he said.

“With regard to the glaciers…The panic and scare created bore no relation to actual reality,” said Mr. Ramesh. Now black carbon is set to become another major issue, and India must have its own data measuring and modelling capabilities, rather than depending on foreign publications all the time, he added. “We must have our own scientific house in order.”

Accordingly, the Ministry has also announced a 12-member forum of Indian-origin environmental scientists to advise the government, an expert committee to enhance the Ministry’s scientific capacity, an action plan to enhance forestry science, and a fellowship programme for 10 young scientists.

Quid pro quo

The Ministry has also announced that “as a quid pro quo” for providing an annual funding of Rs.57 lakh to the IPCC’s Delhi office, it will now send one of its own scientists to accompany Dr. Pachauri to all IPCC bureau meetings, starting with the May 2010 meeting in Bonn. “This will give us a foothold into the IPCC meetings, [which] are like the Davos of climate science,” said Mr. Ramesh.

Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, also expressed strong support for Dr. Pachauri. “I hope he does not [resign] and I think he would be a fool to… Asking him to take responsibility for a single mistake which he has recognised and abandoned from the process is senseless,” he said.

Mr. de Boer is in Delhi to attend a summit organised by The Energy and Resources Institute, also headed by Dr. Pachauri.

He admitted that the error would make it easier for sceptics to question climate science, but such questioning could only help make it more robust. The fact glaciers are melting is not under question, only the timeline by which they could disappear. “It’s like the Titanic sinking more slowly than expected…But that does not alter the inevitable consequences,” he said.

Mr. de Boer was hesitant to term the recent attacks on Dr. Pachauri and other scientists as a campaign against climate science. “As the stakes get higher, governments get more serious, companies that feel threatened by ambitious action to combat climate change are feeling more concerned,” he said, adding that this may be motivating those outlining the weaknesses in the science.

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