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2015: Hottest year on record
An international report confirming that 2015 was the world's hottest year should act as a wakeup call, warns Australia's Climate Council. Courtesy ABC News 24.
Australia will break a commitment made at the Paris climate summit less than two months ago if CSIRO goes ahead with its plan to axe its research programs, one of the agency's leading scientists has warned.
John Church, a globally recognised expert on sea level rise and one of CSIRO's most decorated researchers, said organisation chief Larry Marshall had misled the public by claiming there was now less need for climate research because the problem had been "proven".
It came as US scientist James Hansen, sometimes described as the father of climate change awareness, suggested the decision to cut the jobs was wrong.
Dr Marshall announced via email on Thursday that 350 jobs would go over two years as the organisation moved away from observing and modelling climate change to working on solutions to the problem.
Details of the cuts have not been finalised, but it is understood research at one of the world's three major atmospheric greenhouse gas recording stations at Cape Grim, in Tasmania's north-west, is under threat. It is the only station of its type in the southern hemisphere.
The future of programs run by the $120 million RV Investigator research ship, launched amid fanfare in late 2014, are unclear.
CSIRO staff were forthright in their unhappiness at the cuts at briefings at midday on Friday, describing it as a flawed strategy.
About 100 jobs are planned to go from units dedicated to research in areas including greenhouse gas levels, sea level rise, ocean temperatures, ocean acidification and assessing what is required to keep global warming to two degrees. The jobs would be replaced by new positions in other areas.
Dr Church, who has worked at CSIRO since 1978 and expects to lose his job, said the cuts would make it difficult for Australia to uphold its part of the Paris deal, which agreed there should be greater investment in climate research, including improved observations and early warning systems.
He said the work of CSIRO was considered particularly important because of Australia's role as the major developed country in the southern hemisphere, with a focus on Antarctica and the Pacific.
"There is need for climate science – there are clauses in the Paris agreement that say that. There is a clear need for ongoing sustained and enhanced observations. The science community is actually struggling to address these issues already and so further cuts mean it will be very difficult."
"That's at variance with what the chief executive has been saying, that climate science is done. That's clearly not the case – it's inaccurate, misleading information."
He said there was a need to "reinvigorate and refocus" climate research. If CSIRO was to abandon it, this may have to be through a new body.
"There's been talk for decades of a climate change research institute - maybe now is the time for an institute in which the principal body would be the Bureau of Meteorology, with support from universities."
Dozens of scientists issued statements in response to Dr Marshall's announcement. Many were incensed by the former venture capitalist's suggestion that climate change science was a narrow field that had been "proven" to be a problem, and therefore no longer needed to be a focus.
Dr Church said it was true climate change was proven, but more detail was needed if the world was going to adapt.
"To talk about it being a narrow science is completely inaccurate – it's a very broad area. It would be great if CSIRO could invest in mitigation. I don't see any signs it is doing that significantly."
James Hansen, a former NASA scientist known for his testimony to US Congress in 1988 that arguably put concern about climate change on the map, said he was stunned by the announcement.
"Holy shit! That is unbelievable," he said. "Is a conservative denier government in power?
"This seems to be a clear-cut case of shooting the messenger with the bad news. However, the messenger is needed to figure out what to do about the problem."
It is understood that the fate of the Cape Grim station, which is jointly operated with the Bureau of Meteorology, and about 20 scientist positions is not yet decided, but is on the list of possible cuts.
Cape Grim is among the top sites in the world for monitoring trends in greenhouse gases because purified air reaches the Tasmanian coast having blown 20,000 kilometres across the oceans. The CSIRO has been planning celebrations to mark its 40th birthday in April.
A CSIRO spokesman denied it would be closed.
Scientists at the Friday briefing were told they would be notified by early March whether they had been sacked.
It was expected about 110 of some 135 people employed in a unit dedicated to oceans and atmosphere research would lose their jobs. Most jobs lost would be in Tasmania.
"The mood is very bad and depressed," one scientist who requested anonymity said. "People were questioning the logic of the cuts."
Scientists asked whether Dr Marshall had sought board approval for the move, but did not receive a clear answer.
Among the programs to go are the natural resource management unit, which last year released projections of climate change impacts for Australia out to 2050.
Stefan Rahmstorf, from Germany's Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact Research and a visiting professorial fellow at the University of New South Wales, said Cape Grim had a unique location and was a "critical node in the global network of monitoring stations".
"It provides essential data that allows us to understand the patterns of how greenhouse gases and pollutants spread in the atmosphere."
He said the planned culling of most of CSIRO's climate research positions would be viewed as "an act of anti-science vandalism" in Germany.
"Closing down climate research capacity at a time of rapid global warming is not just short-sighted, it borders on the insane," he said. "A country that amputates its ability to analyse and understand climate change in its own region will simply harm itself – it is basically setting out to adapt to a changing climate blindfolded."
Axel Timmermann, professor of oceanography at Hawaii University, said CSIRO had been a leader in el Nino and climate change research for two decades.