Published online 19 December 2007 | Nature 450, 1150-1155 (2007) | doi:10.1038/4501150a

News Feature

Newsmaker of the year: Rajendra Pachauri

In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change delivered its most thorough and authoritative assessment yet — and shared a Nobel prize for its efforts. Gabrielle Walker profiles its indefatigable leader.


Rajendra Pachauri is standing quietly at the front of the small, plain room, his hands clasped behind his back. His expression is thoughtful as he weighs the words of his colleague, M. K. Halpeth. But look at his shoes — unexpectedly large, like a policeman's — and the sense of calm is undercut. Again and again he shifts his weight from foot to foot, or rocks backwards and forwards, heel to toe, toe to heel.

Several dozen of his employees are sitting in front of him in the meeting room. In his role as director-general of TERI, the Indian energy-research institute he has run for 26 years, Pachauri had come to the organization's Southern Regional Centre in Bangalore to present some senior members of staff with long-service awards. Three handsome gold trophies are lined up beside him on a wooden table. But before he could hand them over, his employees sprang a surprise on him, forcing him to wait and watch. Heel and toe.

When the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which Pachauri chairs, was awarded a half share in the Nobel Peace Prize just a few weeks earlier, TERI's headquarters back in Delhi exploded into celebration with bottles of champagne — a waste to spray it, Pachauri admonished — sticky Indian sweets and the beat of traditional drummers. Now the staff at TERI's southern outpost wants its chance to fuss over him. Halpeth, the centre's director, is singing Pachauri's praises and presenting him with an enormous bouquet resplendent with irises, carnations and bright orange lilies. “You have made all Indians proud,” he says.

Pachauri accepts the bouquet with grace, but immediately deflects the compliment. “I just happened to be captain of the team when this thing happened,” he says. “And, as in cricket, the captain often gets credit for what the players have actually done.” Then he launches into a stern call to arms. He has been looking at the figures, and the centre will struggle to meet its targets in the next quarter. “In the next couple of months you will need to go flat out,” he tells them. And he urges them to think big, to think out of the box, to read all the time, to sharpen their intellectual skills. “The solutions that worked yesterday won't be adequate tomorrow.”

On 10 December, a few weeks after his brief visit to Bangalore, Pachauri was on a far bigger stage in Oslo. Rather than giving the prizes he was receiving one — an award for the thousands of scientists whose team he has captained over its most recent five-year innings. And he presented a similarly urgent call to arms. Dealing with climate change means finding a path to development that is truly sustainable, he said. “We need to commit ourselves to this path before it is too late.” Former US vice-president Al Gore, winner of the other half of the prize, echoed Pachauri's message. “We are what is wrong,” he said, “and we must make it right.”

On his way to collect his own medal, Gore stopped to shake Pachauri warmly by the hand. Patchy and Al, as they call each other, get along famously. It is all a far cry from the situation in 2002, when Pachauri beat Gore's favoured candidate to run the IPCC in a bitterly fought contest. Immediately afterwards, Gore lambasted Pachauri in the pages of The New York Times as the “let's drag our feet candidate”, a patsy put in place to weaken the IPCC as one of various “acts of sabotage” by the new Bush administration. Pachauri had fought back with a letter of his own to the Times. “In a 1991 speech, Mr Gore [referred] to my 'commitment', 'vision' and 'dedication' … Will the real Al Gore please stand up?”

“He thought I was part of some kind of plot,” Pachauri says. “Maybe he believed I had some sort of deal with the US administration, that I'd be soft in pushing the truth on climate change.” If so, he knows better now.

It's not hard to see why an administration hostile to the science of climate change might have got the wrong impression of Pachauri. In background, international standing, scientific accomplishment and pugnacity he is a long way from Robert Watson, the IPCC chair whose bid for re-election Pachauri defeated. Pachauri is far from confrontational. He speaks softly and with old-fashioned courtesy. His dark beard, with its characteristic white stripe down the centre, gives him an ascetic air. He seems mild, self-effacing, even shy. But there is also that underlying sense of urgency that bears no resemblance to Gore's erstwhile accusations. At 67, Pachauri's feet do everything but drag.

At TERI — the initials stand for The Energy and Resources Institute — Pachauri's work habits are legendary. He can get off an international flight at two in the morning and go straight to the office. His driver says that on the 20-hour drive to TERI's Himalayan Centre in Mukteshwar, Pachauri never sleeps. He sits to attention in the back of the car, fielding phone calls, reading, thinking, sometimes chatting about the cricket.

He doesn't keep his work ethic to himself. Everyone at TERI is expected to show just as much dedication. Arrive even a few minutes late and you are likely to be greeted with a dry “good afternoon”, whether you clocked off at six or at midnight. Do it several days in a row and you will receive an e-mail from the director-general reminding you of the values of hard work and discipline. And his staff love him for it. He was a hero to his employees long before the rest of the world took note. Although he has begged them to call him by his name, he is always “Sir”, even when he's not in the room.

Rajendra Kumar Pachauri was born in Nainital, a beautiful hill station in the northern lake district of Uttarakhand. His father was an educational psychologist who earned his PhD in London before returning to work in his beloved India. His mother, born and educated in Burma (now Myanmar), never, ever, left a task unfinished; she insisted on the same from her children.

As a boy, Pachauri would sit for hours on the window ledge, gazing dreamily at the exquisite lake surrounded by mountains. His first poem, written at the age of eight, was published by The Illustrated Weekly of India. His mother expected him, the most sensitive of her three sons, to find a respectable position in the civil service. But when Pachauri attended the élite La Martinière College in Lucknow his career took an unexpected turn.

It was there that he met Arthur Flynn, a stickler for attention whom the students called “Mamu”, which means 'mother's brother'. If you were distracted from one of his maths lessons, a well-aimed piece of chalk would bring you back to Earth. Like Pachauri's mother, Mamu demanded the highest possible standards. Pachauri loved his insistence on intellectual rigour, and discovered that he loved maths too. In the winter holidays, Mamu sent him home with a book of extra problems to work through. Pachauri found each solution incredibly satisfying; the work set him on a course that would lead to engineering.

Arthur Flynn is now in his mid-80s and suffering from Alzheimer's. He lives with his wife and daughter in Bangalore. Encouraged by an article Pachauri wrote in 2006, titled “My best teacher”, for The Times of India, the family got in touch after the Nobel announcement. Would Dr Pachauri like to visit?

“It's one thing to make sure that our reports are sanitized. It's another for me as an individual to talk about policies that might work.”

Rajendra Pachauri

Pachauri immediately set about figuring out how to fit a visit into his perpetually crowded schedule. On his hectic six-hour trip to Bangalore in November he reckoned that he could cram Arthur Flynn in between his lunch meeting with multibillionaire software magnate Azim Premji and the prizegiving and other duties at TERI's Southern Regional Centre. This was optimistic. Flynn lives on the other side of town, and Bangalore's notorious traffic was even worse than usual. Pachauri sat out the traffic jams with gift-wrapped parcels (a tie for Flynn, chocolates for his wife) beside him on the back seat of the car. He was both eager and hesitant.

When he arrived at Flynn's apartment the old man was sitting on the sofa, unable to rise. His family hovered excitedly. Flynn gathered that this visitor was important and whispered: “I want to ask his blessing.”

“Papa, you're his teacher,” said his daughter. “He is here to ask your blessing.”

Pachauri knelt down and touched Flynn's feet. The old man rested his hands briefly on Pachauri's bowed head.

“I owe it all to you,” Pachauri said.

In Oslo, with Al Gore.In Oslo, with Al Gore.O. ANDERSEN/AP

A few minutes later, just long enough for a sip of tea, a samosa and some sweets, and promising to visit again, Pachauri is hurrying back to business. But he stops just beyond the door and gives a deep, satisfied sigh. “It enriches the soul to make these connections,” he says. Why? Did he feel that he had repaid some sort of debt? Pachauri hesitates. “Well yes,” he says, “I owe a great deal to him.” But it's obviously more than that. “Just to talk to him gives me a high,” he goes on. “Human relationships are all that life is about. And there's something wonderful about the relationship between a teacher and a student. This was an opportunity to delve inside and get that richness of feeling that otherwise stays submerged. It's an experience that goes deep.”

The spiritual sustenance remains with him; the serenity soon departs. “Look at the state of our traffic!” he complains as the car struggles back. “All of this should have been anticipated years ago. But our system is so hopeless at looking beyond the immediate interests of the individual.” Does he feel hopeless? “No. Not at all. I just feel that we need to work harder and harder.” Then he laughs. “That's why I'm a slave driver.”

As it happens, that's the same phrase that one of TERI's executive directors, Leena Srivastava, uses when describing Pachauri. She should know — she has worked with him there almost since he took over as director in 1981. When he left school, Pachauri worked for India's railways, but in the 1970s he went to the United States, where he took two doctorates, one in engineering and another in economics, at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. His wife wanted to stay there but, like his father before him, Pachauri felt the tug of home.

A few years after returning, he accepted the directorship at TERI. Back then, the 'T' stood for Tata — the business group that had set up the institute mainly to provide funding to external researchers. The board wanted TERI to become a serious research institute in its own right, and persuaded Pachauri to oversee the transition. The plan was that the research would take place in Mumbai, near the business's headquarters. Pachauri, though, wanted it to be in Delhi, where it might attract intellectuals and influence the government. While Tata officials tempted him with talk of a beautiful Mumbai flat and spacious offices, Pachauri set up shop in a Delhi guest house. The kitchen and dining area became his office. He engaged a part-time secretary.

Today, TERI's staff runs to more than 700 and there are TERI offices in London, Washington DC, Tokyo, Dubai and Petaling Jaya in Malaysia as well as the four regional centres in India at Bangalore, Guwahati, Goa and Mukteshwar. The heart of the operation is the Delhi headquarters, now housed in a seven-storey building in the magnificent India Habitat Centre. No longer part of Tata, TERI is an independent non-profit organization, part think-tank, part research institute. Employees seek out their own projects or put in bids for international tenders, often in collaboration with institutes from other countries. They study the effects of climate change, possible adaptations, new energy technologies and their implementation in rural areas. They also investigate ventures with the potential to be part of the Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism, through which developed nations can meet part of their commitments to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by investing in energy projects in the developing world.

TERI's clients include Britain's Department for International Development, the World Bank, the Canadian International Development Agency and the Indian government. They also include major industrial companies; TERI sees its links with industry as a major strength. A current project with BP is investigating the potential to generate biodiesel from jatropha, a traditional oil crop — and by so doing to help farmers and to reclaim marginal lands (see Nature 449, 652–655 ; 2007). “We are grounded in the real world,” Srivastava says. “You can't work in abstracts. You have to take climate change to the people.”

This same deeply practical streak extends to the complex that Pachauri insisted on building in the outskirts of Delhi. The RETREAT — Resource-Efficient TERI Retreat for Environmental Awareness and Training — sits among the farmhouses owned by Delhi's élite, just a few miles short of the burgeoning energy-hungry high rises that house the workers for many of India's call centres. It's designed to embody sustainable ideals. Delicate trellises called jalis, copied from ancient forts, allow breezes to pass through the buildings' walls. Solar-panel mosaics sit on the roof. Solar chimneys draw air up from tunnels below, cooling the rooms in summer and warming them in winter. It makes a great conference centre. Indeed his friend Al's people have recently checked it out as a potential venue for a meeting.

Pachauri loves going to the retreat. He says he'd like to live there. He especially relishes its two cricket grounds — the “Patchy greens”, as the staff calls them. Hundreds of cricketing trophies take pride of place in his office in Delhi, and the corporate team tries to schedule TERI's matches for whenever Pachauri is in town. He is not just a spectator — he is a handy swing bowler. He has taken 348 wickets for TERI's team and is anticipating the 350th with boyish enthusiasm.

Cricket got into his blood when he was seven, and it has been there ever since. “It wouldn't be enough for him to go into coaching,” says a team mate. “He wants to play and he plays every match to win.” He never spares himself when it comes to hurling himself at the crease or stopping a fast ball; indeed, in 2005 a cricketing injury was to make one of his hardest tasks as IPCC chairman harder still.

“Human relationships are all that life is about.”

Rajendra Pachauri

In the run-up to the IPCC plenary at Addis Ababa, Ethiopia,in April 2005, Pachauri was desperately concerned that some countries were mounting a campaign to remove the fourth assessment's 'synthesis report' — the summary of summaries that, unlike the massive working-group reports it draws on, stands a chance of being read by non-experts. Then, just before the meeting, when he threw himself with typical vigour at the crease to avoid being run out, he tore off his cricket pads and ripped the muscles of his leg. Dry ice that was supposed to help instead burned the skin; his thigh swelled up alarmingly. His family begged him not to fly, but he insisted. In Addis he limped painfully through the sessions, persuading, arguing and building a consensus with his own brand of polite implacability. Finally, the dissenting countries said they would agree to a synthesis report if it were short; Pachauri took what he could get. And it wasn't long before he was back at the wicket.

Pachauri is true to his boyhood in another way, too: writing poetry. In 1993 he published a slim volume called Moods and Musings, which was co-written with his daughter Rashmi Pachauri-Rajan, and dedicated to his mother. The poems are conventionally styled. Love and its regrets loom large — but in some a more angry passion wells up, as when he channels the feelings of a television viewer watching the suffering of a boy and his mother in Bangladesh:

'Ma, Ma' he sobs<newline/>To the tinkle of his melancholy bell. That meagre<newline/>Handful of uncooked rice, she gives him<newline/>Till weary of chewing, he slips into slumber's security.<newline/>As I sip Chivas and soda, I pause to laugh at Tony Randall —<newline/>A commercial they show to extol the purity<newline/>Of dog's food with 'beef chunks, vitamins and minerals<newline/>For a complete and balanced diet.' The man says<newline/>'Doesn't your dog deserve Alpo?'

The poems are another way for Pachauri to delve into himself; many, probably most, are not destined for publication. “You just feel an urge to write it and get it out of your system,” he says.

Pachauri joined the IPCC as a lead author for its second assessment report, published in 1995. By the time of the third assessment, he was serving as one of the five vice-chairs. After that, in 2002, he decided to stand for the top job. He's an ambitious man, as the growth of TERI shows. “One is always looking for a bigger challenge in life,” he says, still his mother's son.

It was in some ways an unlikely candidacy. The organization's two previous chairs had both been physical scientists: Bert Bolin was a meteorologist, Robert Watson an atmospheric chemist. They had both been highly regarded academically, and had worked for international organizations, Bolin as scientific director of the European Space Research Organization (a precursor to today's European Space Agency), Watson as chief scientist at the World Bank. Pachauri, on the other hand, was an engineer and economist by background, an administrator by experience. He was not very well known outside India. More damningly, in the eyes of some, he and TERI had close relationships with energy companies. He was even on the board of the Indian Oil Corporation. Worse still, Pachauri came to be heavily supported by a new US administration, led by President George W. Bush, that was sceptical of climate change.

The IPCC, which was set up as part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, works by assembling teams of scientists willing to synthesize the current state of knowledge about climate change, its causes and its effects into periodic assessment reports. Watson, who had presided over the third assessment report, published in 2001, was eager to reprise his role. But the forthrightness that made him popular among climate scientists did not serve him well with the industrial carbon lobby, or with a US administration that was close to that lobby and wary of Watson's close links to the previous Clinton administration. On 6 February 2001, a memo from ExxonMobil to the White House (which was later leaked) asked “Can Watson be replaced now at the request of the US?”

In Delhi, at the office.In Delhi, at the office.R. RAI/MAGNUM PHOTOS

The United States threw its weight behind Pachauri, who had been nominated for the chair by India. Many developing countries lent their support. Watson was distraught. He proposed that he and Pachauri should be co-chairs. “I still think we would have made an excellent team,” he says now. But Pachauri would have none of it. “Two co-chairs is an unworkable concept except for someone who is desperate to keep the title of chairman in any form,” he told Science at the time, although he now says he regrets saying something so intemperate. In the end, the vote went in Pachauri's favour, 76 to 49. Al Gore, still smarting from a previous electoral loss, wrote his angry letter to The New York Times, and the world settled down to see how Pachauri would fare.

“It wasn't a pleasant experience at all,” says Pachauri. “But having got into it I didn't see why I should back off.” Besides, he felt and still feels very passionately about what he refers to constantly as “the cause”.

“We have been so drunk with this desire to produce and consume more and more whatever the cost to the environment that we're on a totally unsustainable path,” he says. “I am not going to rest easy until I have articulated in every possible forum the need to bring about major structural changes in economic growth and development. That's the real issue. Climate change is just a part of it.

“If you want to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases you have to tackle the structure of every sector of the economy. I think there's no point in concealing this fact. In fact the sooner we get it out in the open the better. This doesn't mean that we're advocating sackcloth and ashes or that we go back to a pastoral form of existence or live in caves. But we have the technological and economic muscle to transform the system that we have today into something that is less burdensome to the environment, less threatening for the conservation of natural resources and that lessens the global inequities in income and wealth.”

“If anything, Patchy has spoken out more forcefully than I did.”

Robert Watson

These are not the words of an oil-industry stooge or a Bush placeman. “If anything, Patchy has spoken out more forcefully than I did,” says Watson. And this has caused some trouble. The IPCC's mandate is to be 'neutral with respect to policy' — to set out the options and let policy-makers decide how to act. The reports themselves reflect this. Every word is checked and double-checked by scientists, reviewers and then government representatives — “sanitized”, as Pachauri puts it. But Pachauri is the face of the IPCC, and he often can't resist speaking out, despite a few “raps on the knuckles” for his comments. He insists that he always makes it clear he is speaking on his own behalf and not for the IPCC. “It's one thing to make sure that our reports are sanitized. It's another for me as an individual to talk about policies that might work. I feel I have responsibility far beyond being a spokesman for the IPCC. If I feel there are certain actions that can help us meet this challenge, I feel I should articulate them.”

“I think Patchy needs to be careful,” says Bert Metz, a senior researcher at the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency in Bilthoven, who is one of the co-chairs of the IPCC's working group on greenhouse-gas mitigation. “One of the things about the IPCC is that it lays down the facts. If you start mixing [that] with your own views that's not very wise. But he gets away with it because of his charm.” Steve Rayner, director of the James Martin Institute at the University of Oxford, UK, and a senior author with the same working group, feels that Pachauri's personal statements place too much stress on lifestyles and not enough on technologies. But he also concedes that a certain amount of outspokenness is an essential part of the job. “I don't think you can provide inspirational leadership in an enterprise like this unless you are passionate. That's something Bob [Watson] and Patchy have in common. They are both very passionate about the issue and I think that's appropriate.”

In other ways, Pachauri turned out to be Watson's opposite. Rather than confrontational, Pachauri's leadership style is heavily consensual. He gives the protagonists time and space to come to their own agreements. Sometimes a lot of time. Pachauri will patiently go through the night if he feels that's what is needed. Take last month's meeting in Valencia, Spain, to agree the text of the synthesis report that Pachauri had battled for in Addis Ababa. Pachauri had been alarmed, as the week of meetings got under way, to see unusually high levels of representation from the oil-exporting nations. “I thought, 'they have lined up their warriors'.”

Pachauri and the synthesis report's core writing team had spent the previous weekend going through all the comments they had received on a draft report and anticipating the problems to come. During the plenary itself, Pachauri set up contact groups on the issues that he thought would cause the biggest trouble: the report's “five reasons for concern”, which set out the biggest dangers to come; the section on key vulnerabilities; and the explicit statements of how impacts would become more serious as temperatures rise. The meetings went on each evening until 10 or 11 at night.

By Thursday, with a host of objections still to work through, Pachauri took his session right through the night. When interpretation facilities stopped at 2 o'clock on Friday morning Pachauri persuaded the delegates to continue without them, using English as a working language.

In Valencia, with Spanish deputy prime minister María Teresa Fernández de la Vega.In Valencia, with Spanish deputy prime minister María Teresa Fernández de la Vega.D. TUSON/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Friday came and went; objections were still coming in after sunset. A press conference was scheduled for the next morning at which UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon was due to speak. Pachauri had made the invitation personally; he was determined that the report would be ready. Around 7:30 that evening he finally showed his annoyance. “I haven't slept for 40 hours,” he told the delegates before calling a brief break as a cooling off period. “And I can go another 40 hours if necessary. But what message are we sending to the world?” The intervention worked — after the break the remaining objections evaporated. The next morning, Ban Ki-moon's emotional comments about his personal experience of climate change were beamed around the world, and the last words of the fourth assessment report were set before the planet whose future they described.

For all his diplomacy and determination, Pachauri did not put his own intellectual stamp on the fourth report as Watson had on the third. Although Pachauri will speak out at public events, his consensual style does not lend itself to forceful leadership in intellectual discussion or the shaping of ideas. “He tends to let people do the talking until they find their own consensus,” says Metz. “You can end up waiting quite some time, which can be frustrating.” When the lead authors of the different working groups disagreed — as they did on various things, most acrimoniously on the question of whether the natural-science assessment by Working Group I should look at scenarios in which there was deliberate action to mitigate climate change — Pachauri was unwilling to take one side or the other. Instead he stayed cool while temperatures rose around him. At least one of the senior scientists who unsuccessfully campaigned for mitigation scenarios to be assessed still feels let down.

And then there's the synthesis report as agreed in Valencia. The IPCC's three working-group reports are crafted in large part by the relevant group's two co-chairs. But the synthesis report is the responsibility of the overall chair. Watson describes writing the synthesis report for the third assessment as “the best fun I ever had in my life”. The fourth assessment's synthesis report lacked that added value that Watson had relished supplying with a handpicked team; it was more a simple retelling of the salient points.

“The new synthesis report may have been a bit more of a cut-and-paste job,” Watson says, “but that wasn't Patchy's fault.” Instead, Watson lays the blame with the format into which the synthesis report was forced at the Addis plenary and the sheer difficulty of getting the countries to agree even on that.

Pachauri's procedural victories and persistencies are his great contribution; the report's reception as the IPCC's most impressive yet bears witness to them. Still, the report belongs to the group as a whole. “The IPCC is far more than any individual,” says Watson. “When Burt [Bolin] chaired, it was teamwork. When I chaired it was teamwork. When Patchy chaired, it was teamwork. It takes all the chairs, all the authors, all the reviewers, everyone. That's why I was so pleased by what the Nobel committee said. They didn't give it to Burt or me or Patchy. They gave it to the IPCC over the 20 years of its existence, and that's the strength of the thing.” Pachauri invited Bolin, as founding chairman, to accept the Nobel medal on the IPCC's behalf, but Bolin's poor health prevented him from doing so.

In delhi, on the pitchIn Delhi, on the pitchTERI

Pachauri's concerns now are to oversee whatever reshaping of the IPCC its members see as necessary — there is much discussion of replacing or augmenting the mammoth assessments with more focused projects that are turned around much more quickly. Pachauri has not yet said whether he will be seeking another term as chair when the post comes open for re-election — “You know, it takes a lot out of you” — but he does say that he wants to focus more energy on his work at TERI and on serving 'the cause' by spreading the message. Speaking to a crowd of Bangalore intellectuals during his lightning visit to TERI's Southern Regional Centre, Pachauri warns them that the state of the world is even worse than he had feared, then fields a storm of questions.

How can we deal with the population problem? Educate girls. What does he think of the Kyoto Protocol? “It's a beginning, but it's certainly inadequate. Let's hope that beyond 2012 we see much more effective action.” Do the developed countries feel ashamed of what they have done? “Some do. But I have also been told that the American standard of living is 'non-negotiable'.” Why shouldn't Indians aspire to the same standard of living as the Western world? “Gandhi was asked if he wanted India to reach the same level of prosperity as the United Kingdom. He replied: 'It took Britain half the resources of the planet to reach its level of prosperity. How many planets would India require?'”

Elsewhere in the world, Pachauri has been adamant that India has a long way to develop before it can consider taking on an emissions-reduction target. But here at home he warns constantly that India and the other developing nations can't afford to follow the path that the industrialized nations took.

“It's all very well in international negotiations for us to say we're not going to do a damn thing and we can continue saying that,” he says, “but for our own local domestic reasons let's start doing the right things. In my view, and this might not be popular, we need to reduce the rate of growth. I think it would be terribly wrong for us to emulate what the Western world has done.”

His voice is measured, his face shows no sign of impatience. But his restless feet give him away. “There's so much to do and we have very little time,” he says. Is he afraid that his own personal time is running out? “I don't know how long I can keep going at this pace,” he admits as he hurries back to his car. “I suppose I'm blessed that my energy levels and endurance limits are still high. But I don't know how long that will last.”


Pachauri clearly has no intention of slowing down. His next ambition is to mount a major global assessment of energy and the poor: close to 2 billion people still have no access to electricity. “We need to start planning for institutional structures, pricing arrangements, technological initiatives. Otherwise everyone will just sit on their haunches and wait for the electricity line to come their way.”

It is easy to miss the energy beneath the calm assertiveness — an energy that, although now tied firmly to 'the cause', surely predates it. Five years ago both his detractors and those supporting him under a misapprehension missed that passion, and the get-things-done focus that it powers. Maybe they should have watched him on the cricket pitch. “He's a match winner for us,” says Tanmay Sharma, a 24-year-old employee at TERI who was surprised at first to find his 67-year-old director-general on the same cricket team. “Just recently we had a match where we required a few wickets urgently and he came into bowl. He's a very deceptive bowler. From the look of it you'd think that his ball is coming very slowly to you and you could just hit him wherever you want to. This was a mistake that the opposition made. They lost all the vital wickets. We won the match.” 

See Editorial, page 1127 .

Gabrielle Walker is the author of The Hot Topic, with David King, to be published in 2008.

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