Australia’s re-elected conservative government has announced a U-turn in its 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.
“It’s a new government and we’re laying out a direction that climate science matters,” new Science Minister Greg Hunt told Australian radio on Thursday.
Scientists and climate change advocates cautiously welcomed the news, but remained concerned about the commitment to fight climate change, which could threaten Australia’s food security and its ability to feed Asia’s growing, affluent middle class.
Severe cuts to the Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) climate change division were announced in February as a result of budget cuts imposed by the previous climate change sceptic prime minister, Tony Abbott.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who toppled Abbott in a party-room coup in late 2015 and who has championed action against climate change, was elected in July.
Hunt said the new policy would see 15 new climate science jobs and research investment worth A$37 million ($28.08 million) over 10 years, but scientists and advocates remained concerned about the CSIRO. “We hope this is the start of more positive leadership from the Turnbull government on the critical threat of climate change,” Greenpeace Australia Pacific’s senior climate and energy campaigner Nikola Casule said in a statement.
“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.”
Australia is one of the world’s largest exporters of coal and iron ore and one of its biggest carbon emitters on a per capita basis thanks to its reliance on coal-fired power plants.
Canberra pledged to cut emissions by 26-28 percent of 2005 levels by 2030 ahead of the Paris climate talks late last year but questions have been raised about its commitment to fulfilling that pledge. ($1 = 1.3179 Australian dollars)