SYDNEY • Australia's re-elected conservative government has made an abrupt U-turn on climate change policy, reinstating climate science as the bedrock of its peak science body just months after slashing its funding and axing hundreds of jobs.
Scientists and climate change advocates cautiously welcomed the news, but are worried over the commitment to fight climate change, which could threaten Australia's food security and its ability to feed Asia's growing middle class.
"We're laying out a direction that climate science matters," new Science Minister Greg Hunt told Australian radio yesterday. Mr Hunt said the new policy would see 15 new climate science jobs and research investment worth A$37 million (S$37.9 million) over 10 years.
"It's something that both the Prime Minister and I have clear and strong views on and we have clearly but respectfully made that known to Csiro; they've embraced and endorsed the direction and so climate science will be a bedrock function for research of Csiro," he said, referring to the Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organisation, the national science agency.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has long been seen as a supporter of action on climate change, but his government oversaw severe cuts to Csiro, announced in February as a result of budget cuts imposed by then Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Slated to be axed were 275 roles. The cuts were slammed by environmental campaigners, while almost 3,000 international scientists signed an open letter calling the move alarming.
Mr Will Steffen, a climate scientist at Australian National University and member of the non-profit expert body Climate Council, welcomed the changes but warned they needed to be viewed critically in the light of the damage done.
"I do think it's a very positive announcement because it does show that there's been a mistake made in the initial sacking of all the Csiro climate scientists and the downgrading of climate science," he said. "But I'm not clear whether the 15 new positions that Minister Hunt announced are in addition to reinstating all of the earlier ones, or whether they only partially reinstate what has already been damaged."
Greenpeace welcomed Mr Hunt's announcement, adding that it hoped it was the "start of more positive leadership from the Turnbull government on the critical threat of climate change". "However, around 35 climate science jobs remain at risk, so restoring just 15 means the department is still under-resourced compared to earlier this year," Greenpeace Australia's senior climate and energy campaigner Nikola Casule said in a statement.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE