Environment

Major conferences to 'expose' CSIRO climate cutbacks as scientists fear for jobs

The CSIRO's plans to dismantle most of its climate monitoring and modelling capability will be in the international spotlight at a series of conferences in coming months that had been intended to showcase Australia's world-leading research, senior scientists say.

What goes up: Deploying weather balloons from CSIRO's RV Investigator.
What goes up: Deploying weather balloons from CSIRO's RV Investigator.  Photo: Stewart Wilde

Hobart, home to many of the 110 of the 140 CSIRO scientists in the two main Oceans & Atmosphere programs facing the axe, will play host to two major gatherings in March and May. 

So far, six CSIRO researchers are understood to have submitted papers to the International Partnerships in Ice Core Sciences (IPICS) conference in March. Many other researchers are likely to attend an event which will include discussing Australia's role in extracting and analysing the world's oldest ice. 

The changes under way in Antarctica are of interest to many nations.
The changes under way in Antarctica are of interest to many nations. Photo: US Coast Guard

CSIRO's profile may be even higher at The Ocean in a High CO² World conference in May to examine the effects of ocean acidification as seas absorb excess greenhouse gases. The CSIRO is one of two "gold" sponsors. 

John Church, a world-leading CSIRO researcher in sea-level rise whose team is among those understood to be facing the chop, said visiting scientists will question the logic and impact of jettisoning so many Australian climate researchers.

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"It certainly exposes the CSIRO actions to the scrutiny of the international community," Dr Church said. "[The cuts] mean meeting our international obligations will become more difficult and in the future, impossible."

CSIRO declined to say whether Larry Marshall, the chief executive who announced the plan to cut 350 jobs across the organisation earlier this month, will attend the events or whether CSIRO will retain its "gold" sponsorship.

Fairfax Media understands staff made redundant will be given as long as 12 weeks to leave. "They could be on the way out but still giving their speeches," one senior researcher said. "It certainly doesn't look good."

A CSIRO spokesman said business units were "working with relevant areas across the organisation" to identify the cuts, noting the eventual plan is to restore the 350 jobs.

"This is the first stages of the process and it is expected that when complete staff levels across CSIRO will be at the same or above what they are now," the spokesman said.

The two main climate units will be among those topped up but even then numbers will only be half current levels, executives told Senate estimates last week.

It certainly exposes the CSIRO actions to the scrutiny of the international community

John Church

Dutch, Adelaide events

The roll-call of potentially axed CSIRO researchers may also be on display at other conferences, including the global Adaptation Futures 2016 event in May in the Netherlands, which eight researchers are currently scheduled to attend.

Dr Marshall has said the organisation will divert resources away from detection and modelling of future climate change to efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions – so-called mitigation – and adaptation. 

But job losses could also affect those operations, another senior CSIRO source told Fairfax Media.

These cuts may also be on show at the Climate Adaptation 2016 conference planned for Adelaide in July. 

"There's a lot of rhetoric about adaptation and mitigation being supported," the scientist said. "It will be interesting to see how many people and their programs are retained."