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Friday, 5 April, 2002, 22:01 GMT 23:01 UK
ExxonMobil hits back in memo row
Cooling towers
Critics say Bush is trying to soften scientific warnings
The US oil giant ExxonMobil has hit back at environmentalists in a row over a memo asking the White House to unseat the UN's chief climate change expert.


In the US, you have a perfect right to contact your government and tell them what you think about various issues

ExxonMobil spokesman Tom Cirigliano
The row erupted when a Washington-based environmental group said the company had requested the removal of American atmospheric scientist Dr Robert Watson from his post as the head of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

"In the US, as a citizen, or as a group, as an environmentalist, you have a perfect right to contact your government and tell them what you think about various issues," ExxonMobil spokesman Tom Cirigliano told BBC News Online.

"That's what a free society is all about."

He said Washington DC was "crawling" with environmental lobbyists promoting their own agenda.

"If they can do it, why can't we?" he said. "What's good for the goose is good for the gander."

Memo

The Natural Resources Defense Council said it had obtained the memo through the Freedom of Information Act.

"Can Watson be replaced now at the request of the US?" asks the document, sent to the White House.

The memo goes on to suggest that the administration "restructure the US attendance at upcoming IPCC meetings to assure none of the Clinton/Gore proponents are involved in any decisional activities".

US President George W Bush
Bush has come under fire
President George W Bush has been accused of trying to soften the scientific warnings about the effects of greenhouse gas emissions, under pressure from ExxonMobil.

But ExxonMobil says the memo was plucked from a huge package of information containing 11,000 documents.

"The [Council], as they're prone to do, simply grabbed a piece of that package and distorted what it looked like," said Mr Cirigliano.

"They're playing a game here."

In subsequent comments to BBC News Online, the company has stated that it has no official stance on Dr Watson's position, and that the memo it sent to the White House was not actually authored by anyone at ExxonMobil.

The US Government has now confirmed that it is trying to replace Dr Watson, who chairs a panel of more than 2,000 experts advising world governments on the science of climate change and its impacts.

Re-election campaign

Dr Watson, who also serves as chief scientist to the World Bank, has chaired the panel since 1996.

Oil well
The oil giant wants Dr Watson removed
He is seeking re-election to his post at a vote in Geneva later this month.

The State Department has thrown its support behind Rajendra Pachauri, the Indian Government's nominee.

One of Dr Watson's colleagues on the panel, Professor Terry Barker of Cambridge University, UK, told the BBC's Today programme that he was shocked by the US Government's stance.

He said the chairman's only fault was that he tended to speak his mind to politicians.

See also:

15 Feb 02 | Americas
US scepticism over global warming
14 Feb 02 | Americas
Q&A: The US and climate change
14 Feb 02 | Americas
US plans Kyoto alternative
11 Jun 01 | Americas
Bush faces up to Kyoto critics
17 Jul 01 | Americas
Bush firm on Kyoto and missiles
02 Apr 01 | Americas
Bush urged to rethink Kyoto snub
30 Mar 01 | Americas
Kyoto: Why did the US pull out?
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