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Robert Watson, the controversial head of the international scientific panel set up by governments to assess the impact of human activities on climate change, has been pushed out of his job after coming into conflict with United States over the urgency of measures to mitigate human-induced global warming.

At a meeting of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in Geneva last week, Watson — whose re-nomination to the position of chair had not been supported by the United States — was replaced by one of its vice-chairs, Rajendra Pachauri, an economist and engineer who heads the Tate Energy Research Institute in New Delhi, India.

Pachauri's nomination was approved by 76 votes to 49, reflecting a desire by many developing countries to see the panel headed by one of their own climate specialists. However the rejection by the United States of a compromise formula under which Watson and Pachauri would have shared the post has given rise to concerns that Watson’s previous success in holding together a consensus on the IPCC between developed and developing country points of view may be at risk.

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