by BBC News
19 April, 2002
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Sceptics claimed the IPCC had become too political
One of the most outspoken scientists on the issue of global warming has been ousted from his job.
Dr Robert Watson was voted out of the chair of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on Friday and will be replaced by one of the current vice-chairs, Dr Rajendra Pachauri.
"I'm willing to stay in there, working as hard as possible, making sure the findings of the very best scientists in the world are taken seriously
-- Dr Robert Watson
Dr Watson's removal will spark a huge political row -- environmentalists accuse the US Government of orchestrating a campaign to have the scientist sidelined.
They say Washington disliked Dr Watson's willingness to tell governments what he believes to be the unvarnished truth -- that human activities are now contributing dangerously to climate change.
Government representatives attending an IPCC meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, voted 76 to 49 for the engineer and economist Dr Rajendra Pachauri to take the chair.
Dr Pachauri, the director of the Tata Energy Research Institute in New Delhi, was the US administration's favoured candidate.
President Bush repudiated the international climate agreement, the Kyoto Protocol, which is the only political instrument so far to result from the IPCC's work.
The president took the view that the protocol would do enormous damage to the US economy.
Green groups believe Mr Bush is unduly influenced by the energy lobby in America, and point to a memo forwarded to the White House by ExxonMobil last year.
The document raised the question of whether Dr Watson could be replaced as the US representative on the IPCC. Environmentalists claimed the outcome of Friday's vote was proof of ExxonMobil's power behind the scenes in Washington.
"It's just extraordinary that Exxon can tell the US what to do and then they go and do it," said Cindy Baxter of the StopEsso campaign. She claimed the company did not like the science coming out of the IPCC, "so they changed the scientist".
"Luckily, the science of the IPCC is very strong," she added. "No matter what Exxon and the US tries to do -- they cannot change that."
What the environmentalists do fear, however, is that documents produced for politicians may now be less forceful in their presentation -- they are not convinced that Dr Rajendra Pachauri will be so strong an advocate for change in global energy policies as Dr Watson.
Many critics of the IPCC believe this should not be a role the panel assumes anyway. They think it should stick simply to assessing the facts of climate science.
Many sceptics were deeply critical at what they saw as the politicisation of the UN group under the chairmanship of Dr Watson.
They claim humanity's influence on the climate has been overstated -- that the changes we see around us today are the products of natural variability.
ExxonMobil has told BBC News Online that the White House memo was not written by one of its employees and that it merely passed the document on. The company said it had no official position on the post of IPCC chair.
'Time for a change'
Dr Watson spoke to the BBC after the vote.
"I'm obviously extremely disappointed, but my job now is to maintain the integrity of the IPCC," he said.
"I believe Dr Pachauri does have integrity -- I hope he has the integrity. He is an economist; he is a technologist. I thought co-chairing with Dr Pachauri was an appropriate solution but we have a democratic process and a majority of the countries in the world thought it was time for a change."
He continued: "We have to continue to press the case that climate change is a serious environmental issue, both for developed and developing countries.
"I'm willing to stay in there, working as hard as possible, making sure the findings of the very best scientists in the world are taken seriously by government, industry and by society as a whole."