Updated at 8:29 a.m. EST.
Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), resigned today following accusations of sexual harassment by a former employee at the energy think tank he heads in New Delhi.
The United Nations’ climate science body, which is currently meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, will now be headed temporarily by Vice Chairman Ismail El Gizouli.
Pachauri, 74, did not travel to Nairobi this week for the IPCC meeting due to a police investigation into a complaint filed Feb. 13 by a 29-year-old employee. According to to the complaint, she accused Pachauri of sending text messages and emails since September 2013 that were inappropriate (ClimateWire, Feb. 19).
Since then, at least one other former employee has leveled similar accusations at Pachauri through Indian media.
Pachauri has not commented to ClimateWire on the incident. In a court filing, his lawyer has said the IPCC chief’s phone and email were hacked. Pachauri submitted his resignation in a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
"The IPCC needs strong leadership and dedication of time and full attention by the Chair in the immediate future, which under current circumstances I may be unable to provide, as shown by my inability to travel to chair the plenary session of the Panel this week," he wrote.
Pachauri’s term as chairman of IPCC was due to expire in October 2015. He has served as head of the panel since 2002, and in 2007 was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with former U.S. Vice President Al Gore.
"For me the protection of Planet Earth, the survival of all species and sustainability of our ecosystems is more than a mission," he wrote. "It is my religion and my dharma [duty]."
Almost immediately this morning, Twitter lit up with scientists and skeptics alike opining on the resignation.
"Sad end to roller coaster tenure," climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer wrote, posting the news.
"Important work of [IPCC] needs a leader who can keep focus where it needs to be," tweeted longtime environmental activist Kelly Rigg.
Harvard University economist Robert Stavins said in an email that the resignation would not hinder the workings of the IPCC.
"The IPCC will not be significantly harmed in the long term, partly because Dr. Pachauri’s term was to conclude later this year, in any event," Stavins said.
"It is certainly a sad day, given the nature of the accusations against Dr. Pachauri," he said.
Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, IPCC vice-chairman, said that the IPCC will formally decide by the end of the week who will assume the chairmanship until the end of Pachauri’s term.
Van Ypersele, who has been campaigning for the top spot for years, said that he "will continue to meet as many governments and stakeholders as possible to listen to concerns and suggestions in the run up to the elections of the new Chair and Bureau in October."
In a statement, Bob Ward, communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics, praised Pachauri’s longtime steering of the IPCC and said he was "unafraid of confronting policy makers" with scientific findings.
"There will no doubt be some climate change ‘sceptics’ who seek to use Dr Pachauri’s resignation as an opportunity to attack the IPCC. Such efforts should be recognised as the act of desperate people who have simply lost the argument over whether human activities are primarily driving climate change, and who cannot face up to the truth," Ward said.