In the 12 or so months I have been doing this digest, I have probably screened 20,000 articles and had a detailed look at 10 per cent of them. About half of my 100 sources come from organisations and individuals outside of Australia. No story in this time has generated more international coverage about Australia than the decision to axe over 300 staff from the climate change and other related divisions at the CSIRO. And to cap it all off, Australia’s Environment Minister was named as the global minister of the year by a group largely funded by oil rich organisations based in the United Arab Emirates. It was one of those weeks.
CSIRO scientists say deep staffing cuts facing key divisions constitute "a real crisis for all environmental science" in the organisation, amid mounting international criticism, the Sydney Morning Herald reported. Elsewhere, the paper reported “If the Abbott era was about climate change denial it seems that with the Turnbull zeitgeist it is all about climate change outsourcing. At first blush, it sounds like a joke,” the SMH said. The head of the CSIRO, Larry Marshall, said in a letter to staff on Thursday that the government's science agency's job had been "to prove climate change”. "CSIRO pioneered climate research, the same way we saved the cotton and wool industries for our nation." The SMH interpreted this as: “So it's time to move on. Continuing to do climate research would be akin to resting "on our laurels" and would be the "path to mediocrity””. “Presumably the ongoing work of deepening our understanding of climate change can be outsourced to ... someone else,” the Herald said.
Mr. Andy Pitman, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science, UNSW Australia was scathing in The Conversation about Larry Marshall’s comments: “That is among the most ill-informed statements I have ever heard from a senior executive. It will take a little to unpack it and to show that the apparent decision to dramatically downscale CSIRO’s ocean and atmospheric research will cost taxpayers and governments billions of dollars in flawed investments unless, by sheer blind luck, the right guesses are made.” The Climate Institute condemned the decision: “On face value, this would appear to be another reckless blow against sensible, strategic, informed action on climate change in this country. As one of the nations in the world with the highest exposure to the effects of climate change, we are at a critical time where we should be devoting maximum capacity to understanding it - precisely so we can be agile and informed in our ability to respond to it. It is impossible to manage climate change if you can't measure it”. In condemning the move, The Age editorialised: “Mr Turnbull should have the political courage to properly fund climate research and not force such an invidious choice on the country's premier science organisation.”
Still on this story, Australia’s new chief scientist Alan Finkel has had "significant conversations" with leading researchers to ensure planned deep cuts to climate science programs by the CSIRO would not undermine the country's ability to deal with global warming, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. In his first appearance in his new role before Senate estimates, Dr Finkel said he was not aware of the CSIRO's cuts until they were announced last Thursday. Dr Finkel told senators he had been "doing as much as I can in the time available" to understand what capacity exists among other agencies such as the bureau and universities to "help facilitate continuous capacity" in climate research. Mr Marshall, the besieged CEO of the CSIRO issued a “correcting the public record” statement: “Australia’s biggest challenges and opportunities lie in the health, prosperity and sustainability in the face of rapid global changes; climate is one piece of a much larger puzzle. As we balance our broad portfolio of investments from Digital to Agriculture we must weigh up where we can have the greatest impact and where Australia has the greatest need. No one is saying climate change is not important, but surely mitigation, health, education, sustainable industries, and prosperity of the nation are no less important.”
Then, to cap it all off, came the news the Australia’s Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, had been named as ‘Minister of the year’ by a United Arab Emirates based organisation and conference. Renew Economy greeted the news this way: “Do not adjust your screens. This is not a hoax. Greg Hunt, Australia’s environment minister who has presided over the dumping of the carbon price, a cut in the renewable energy target, the removal of the Climate Commission, and attempts to dismantle three other key institutions, and set the country on a path for a rise in emissions to record levels, was named the “world’s best minister” at an event in Dubai on Tuesday.” New Matilda didn’t think much of the news: “Hunt said he was “genuinely humbled” by the award, which he supposedly won for lowering greenhouse gas emissions and – I swear to God we did not make this up – “efforts towards protecting the environment”. Hunt in turn praised the UAE for supporting research in clean technology.”
The icing on the cake for the week came with news that approximately half of all complaints made to Australia’s windfarm commissioner relate to turbines that have not yet been built. “Andrew Dyer was appointed as the country’s first windfarm commissioner in October and started in the role the following month. Since November he has received complaints relating to 12 wind farms, affecting 42 residents. Dyer told Senate estimates on Monday that 50% of complaints – of which he did not have a specific number – related to seven yet-to-be built facilities,” the Guardian reported. Giles Parkinson in Renew Economy looked at the first near first six months of Malcolm Turnbull in the PM’s role: “Malcolm Turnbull became prime minister after Tony Abbott was dumped by his own party. But nothing changed. If the swap had been made by deed poll or a cardboard cut-out, the practical impact on climate and clean energy policies would have been no greater. A new composite figure, call him Malcolm Abbott or Tony Turnbull, has emerged.” As I said, it was one of those weeks.
Briefly in other news this week:
Sigh. That’s for the next global minister of the year to deal with.
This Week in Climate Change (formally The Week That Was), a weekly review of climate change politics, policy, innovation and science from Climate Reality Leader Andrew Woodward. @climatecomm