Page 254 - Week 01 - Thursday, 9 February 2023

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Reduction) (10.02): I rise today to express my condolences for the sad passing of Emeritus Professor Will Steffen, a brilliant and world-renowned climate scientist and a Canberran who gave so much to our community. Professor Steffen was an incredible force in global climate science, as well as being a genuinely lovely person and an active member of our local community. He will be sadly missed by me and by many. I would like to offer my sincere condolences to Professor Steffen’s wife, Carrie, and daughter, Sonja, who are here in the chamber today, as well as to his friends and colleagues who are joining us. My thoughts are with you at this difficult time, and I am pleased that you can be here with us today.

Professor Steffen had an impressive career by any standard. He was an internationally renowned climate scientist with a long track record in global climate change research, as well as being a respected academic at the ANU and a strong advocate for action on climate change. Originally from the United States, he moved to Canberra in 1977 to do postdoctoral research at the Australian National University. Over the following years his career included a decade at the CSIRO; heading up the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program in Sweden; serving as Director of the ANU Fenner School of Environment and Society; being science adviser to the Australian government Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency; and serving as inaugural Director of the ANU Climate Change Institute.

Professor Steffen played an important role in climate change science, policy, and the intersection between these, for three decades. He was Chair of the Antarctic Science Advisory Committee and the author of numerous publications on climate science, including contributing to five Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessments and special reports between 2000 and 2018.

In addition to being a world-leading researcher, Professor Steffen was a tireless advocate for action to cut emissions and prepare for the unavoidable impacts of climate change. He was a trusted voice on climate science, and his patience in explaining, again and again, how climate change is affecting our planet and what we need to do to solve the issue was an inspiration to many. His considered and measured words helped to cut through the noise on the issue and encourage broader understanding and action on climate change.

Professor Steffen was a member of the independent Climate Commission that was established by the Gillard Labor government in 2011 to advise on climate issues. He was the principal author of the commission’s first report, The critical decade, which was an important contribution in the climate debate in Australia, clearly laying out the need for urgent action.

When the commission was disbanded in 2013 by the newly elected Abbott Liberal government, Professor Steffen and fellow commissioners worked together to crowd-fund an alternative voice for climate science, and the Climate Council of Australia was launched less than a week later, after a crowd-funding campaign raised over $1 million. Professor Steffen served as a climate councillor with the Climate Council for many years, and he showed great courage and conviction in continuing to call for urgent action on climate change throughout the difficult years of the conservative, climate-denialist governments of the time. His words and his work gave hope to so many people.

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