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CSIRO cuts will leave us heading forward blind

By Imogen Jubb - posted Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Cutting climate science is like throwing out your speedometer while driving at full speed down a road you have never been down before. We know the direction, but we lose our ability to control how fast we are going. So what will be the impact? It doesn't take an innovative entrepreneur of a start up to figure it out.

Yet late last week Larry Marshall, Chief Executive of the CSIRO sent an email to staff announcing his plan to decimate the CSIRO's highly revered climate science division. The move is incredibly short-sighted and apparently caught even the Prime Minister 'blindsided'.

It seems Abbott climate policies are alive and flourishing in a Turnbull government.


This week we've seen hundreds of scientists are rallying to support CSIRO scientists to show their overwhelming disappointment with the decision. One pointedly commented that the organisation runs the risk of turning from CSIRO to CIO – losing the science and research. Without them Australia's peak Science Agency is reduced to little more than an industry support organisation.

This June also marks the end of the Australian Climate Change Science Program, the Australian Government's largest and longest running climate change science program. This research is crucial to help us understand Australia's climate, what it will be like in the future, and how best to prepare for expected changes. It has been running for over 25 years.

The decision to dismantle climate science capacity will take decades to undo. Researches already feel the need to work overseas due to lack of stable jobs in research. We haven't got decades to waste when it comes to adapting to climate change. The longer we wait the higher the costs and efforts required.

These actions are taking Australia down a very dangerous climate path.

Australian climate scientists are internationally renowned as high performing. In particular we are one of the few nations focusing on climate science in the Southern Hemisphere – without this contribution global and regional understanding of climate will suffer.

The recent announcement has alarmed the global research community. They have rallied together to show their support with a statement signed by 200 scientists demonstrating that "the international climate research community strongly condemns the proposed cuts to Australian climate research".


Closer to home, Australia is one of the most vulnerable continents in regards to climate change. Climate science is one of the key ingredients in managing this vulnerability. The capacity of Australia to assess future risks and plan for climate change adaptation crucially depends on maintaining our research capability.

Regional climate change in particular is a field that requires far more research. Decision makers need to know what will happen in their backyards and their communities and in what timeframe. These questions are hard to answer with certainty – the detail of regional climate change is valuable information.

If we reduce the uncertainties around climate science now we can save enormous sums in investment. The work at CSIRO supports this climate adaptation work and the return on investment in climate science is hard to beat. Adaptation without data is guesswork. Very expensive guesswork as infrastructure is built which is not demonstrated to match changing circumstances.

A desalination plant built where there is no lack of rainfall is an expensive decision. One build in an area that will sustain long term drought is not. Climate science allows us to make better decisions that lead to better quality of life.

After unleashing a storm of protest and disquiet from the Prime Minister down, CSIRO Chief Executive Larry Marshall this week issued a clarifying statement. "We must focus our work on areas of the most benefit and sometimes this means making some tough choices, making changes and most importantly looking 20 years ahead to what Australia will need."

Climate science is one of the best ways we have of looking ahead to the changes in our community. Cutting the science will leave us heading forward blind.

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About the Author

Imogen Jubb is a communications advisor for the Climate Reality Project at the Australian Conservation Foundation. She was previously employed as the communications advisor to the Australian Climate Chance Science Program a joint initiative of the Australian government and CSIRO.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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