Environment

Australia to be 'isolated' from global research after CSIRO climate cuts: WMO

International criticism of the CSIRO's planned deep cuts to its climate monitoring programs has intensified with the World Meteorological Organisation blasting the move as a "backward" step that would see Australia isolated.

Staff were told last week the  CSIRO planned to cut about 100 full-time researchers from the Ocean and Atmosphere division alone. The key units - Earth System Assessment and Ocean and Climate Dynamics - have 151 staff including doctoral researchers but about 135 full-time positions, insiders say.

Most of CSIRO's climate programs face the axe.
Most of CSIRO's climate programs face the axe. Photo: CSIRO

Larry Marshall, the CSIRO's chief executive, on Monday sought to allay concerns about the cuts, saying the overall division - which also includes coastal management, engineering and technology and marine resources and industries - would lose 65 of its 420 staff.

The World Climate Research Programme, a unit of the WMO, said the "substantial reductions" in climate researchers had "sent shockwaves into the international climate research community".

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Industry Minister Christopher Pyne visited CSIRO in December to launch their ...
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Industry Minister Christopher Pyne visited CSIRO in December to launch their innovation policy,with CEO Larry Marshall in the background. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

"These cuts will sever vital linkages with Australian colleagues and to essential Southern Hemisphere data sources, linkages that connect Australia to the UK, the USA, New Zealand, Japan, China and beyond," the WCRP said in a statement.

"Australia will find itself isolated from the community of nations and researchers devoting serious attention to climate change."

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Fairfax Media sought comment from the CSIRO.

David Carlson, director of the WCRP, told Fairfax Media specific areas of "probable damage" from the CSIRO cuts include sea-level monitoring, El Nino research and ocean modelling. 

Climate scientists were accustomed to seeing "small erosion" of research when a particular proposal didn't get funding but "nothing like this in my experience", Dr Carlson said.

The comment from the WMO follow comments from Peter Stott, who heads the climate observation and attribution team at Britain's Met Office, who said the proposed cuts were causing concern within the UK weather organisation.

Met Office chief scientist Professor Julia Slingo emailed colleagues over the weekend to say they should support CSIRO scientists.

The Met Office's data forms the basis for Australia's key climate models.

The WCRP said it found particularly "worrisome" Dr Marshall's comments in an email to staff on Thursday that: "Our climate models are among the best in the world and our measurements honed those models to prove global climate change. That question has been answered, and the new question is what do we do about it, and how can we find solutions for the climate we will be living with?"

The program rejected the comments, and listed a number of questions of importance to Australia:

  • Does Australia, poised among Southern Ocean storms, Indian Ocean monsoons and Pacific Ocean El Ninos and cyclones, know its water future?
  • Does it know, on regional and seasonal scales, its projected drought and heat wave vulnerability?
  • Does it know the role of climate on evolution and transmission of human and plant diseases, on marine ecosystems and fisheries, and in driving global consumption and migration patterns?
  • Does it have, uniquely among nations, knowledge and skill to make climate-smart investment, infrastructure and policy decisions over the next 10 and 20 years?
  • Does CSIRO know how actions or inactions around the planet will determine the climate Australians will live with?
  • Does CSIRO recognise that complex models and reliable observations - the basic materials of climate research - do not just "start up"?

With Tom Arup