Screenshot showing the list of signatories on the open letter to the government Australia decrying the devastating cuts to the Australian CSIRO's Oceans and Atmosphere research program. More than 2800 climate scientists signed the letter of protest. Graphic: Paul J. Durack and Anna Pirani

RE: Australia’s Climate Research Is Far From Done 

Dear Representatives of the Australian public and appointees to the CSIRO Board,
The recent announcement of devastating cuts to the Australian CSIRO’s Oceans and Atmosphere research program has alarmed the global climate research community1. The decision to decimate a vibrant and worldleading research program shows a lack of insight, and a misunderstanding of the importance of the depth and significance of Australian contributions to global and regional climate research. The capacity of Australia to assess future risks and plan for climate change adaptation crucially depends on maintaining and augmenting this research capacity. 

Warming is unequivocal and it is extremely likely that most of it is human-caused2. Key uncertainties remain in our understanding of the climate system and how global changes will impact locally. Asserting that the questions of climate science have been fully answered is incorrect and misleading. Instead a concerted, urgent and laserfocused effort is required by the international climate research community as a whole, to fully understand and prepare for pervasive climate change impacts3. CSIRO’s climate research is a major player in this global effort, and Australia must recognize that addressing the many unanswered and complex climate science questions is of ultimate importance. Indeed, advancing climate knowledge is directly tied to Australia’s continued prosperity in the coming decades. Australia’s economy, water and energy security, built infrastructure, agriculture, and Australians’ health and well-being are highly climate sensitive, with these relationships and interactions rapidly evolving with ongoing and accelerating climate variability and change. 

Australia is a canary in the climate change coal mine, spanning a large range of different climate zones, from the northern tropics to the cool temperate south. Large and persistent decreases in south-western and south-eastern

Australian rainfall has occurred4 alongside persistent warming over the last four decades. The past year, 2015 was fifth warmest year on record for Australia5, and the warmest on record globally6 - climate change is truly underway.

CSIRO is widely recognized as one of the leading climate measurement centres in the world. It has been heavily involved in weather and atmospheric research since 1946, and commenced monitoring global CO2 in 1971. CSIRO further advanced global climate science with the establishment of the Cape Grim monitoring station in 1976, one of three premier CO2 baseline stations of the Global Atmosphere Watch (GAW). CSIRO plays a leading role in the global Argo and GO-SHIP ocean observing programs, particularly important in terms of coverage of the Southern Hemisphere. These measurements underpin global climate research and play a critical and irreplaceable role in the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS). The CSIRO Hobart and Melbourne laboratories, on the doorstep of the Southern Ocean, are a primary research portal for many nations embarking on Southern Hemisphere ocean and atmosphere research.

In 1966, CSIRO began research into the numerical simulation of the Southern Hemisphere climate. Since this time, CSIRO has considerably expanded its capabilities in global atmosphere, ocean, land surface and ocean biogeochemical modelling, and is now widely recognized as a world-leading modelling centre. The Southern Hemisphere will be left with no sustainable, world-class climate modelling capability if the CSIRO cuts are realised. Without CSIRO’s involvement in both climate measurement and modelling, a significant portion of the Southern Hemisphere oceans and atmosphere will go unmonitored. Understanding how current and future climate changes are realised in this region will be seriously compromised. Hence, the capacity of Australia to assess future risks and plan for climate change adaptation crucially depend on maintaining and augmenting the existing research capability.

The December 2015 climate agreement in Paris signalled global recognition of the need for meaningful progress in addressing global climate change, and in limiting global warming to 2.0°C above pre-industrial temperatures. Wisely, the continued strengthening of climate science is explicitly recognized in the text of the Paris accord (Article 7.7.c):

(c) Strengthening scientific knowledge on climate, including research, systematic observation of the climate system and early warning systems, in a manner that informs climate services and supports decision-making;

The Paris Agreement also calls on nations to assist developing countries by providing advice for adaptation (Article 7.7.d), a role that CSIRO and Australia have already begun in their investments in the Pacific Climate Change Science Program (PCCSP).

(d) Assisting developing country Parties in identifying effective adaptation practices, adaptation needs, priorities, support provided and received for adaptation actions and efforts, and challenges and gaps, in a manner consistent with encouraging good practices;

CSIRO’s decision to slash climate research will severely curtail Australia's capacity to deliver on these key promises of the Paris Agreement. Australia needs to draw on state-of-the-art science to reach the best decisions on appropriate carbon reduction targets, and on effective adaptation and mitigation strategies. The Paris agreement will require independent verification tools to help policymakers evaluate progress with Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs)7. Such tools are fundamentally built of sustained comprehensive observations, advances in understanding of carbon sources and sinks and development of modelling tools.

The following example questions need to be addressed by ongoing Australian climate research. These further highlight that the climate change “question” is not yet resolved:

  • Will the El Niño variability that drives Australian droughts and floods become more frequent and more intense?
  • What should Australia expect, and how should Australia prepare for more extreme weather: heatwaves, bushfires, cyclones, floods and hail?
  • Will tropical diseases impact subtropical and temperate Australia as the tropics expand?
  • Will Australia’s bread basket, the Murray-Darling Basin, remain arable in coming decades, and able to maintain the agricultural productivity that underpins Australian life?
  • Where will Australia harvest its food from both land and sea as climate regimes shift?
  • Will the Southern Ocean continue to absorb the large proportion of the human-caused CO2 increases as the planet continues to warm?
  • Where and how much sea-level rise and extreme sea-level events should Australians expect and prepare for in their coastal communities and coastal infrastructure?
  • Will Australia’s Great Barrier Reef disappear due to the dual threats of ocean warming and ocean acidification? And what will be the impacts for the Australian economy?
  • Where and how should Australia invest the billions of current and future dollars in necessary climate change adaptation, and in effective and efficient climate change mitigation? 

Addressing these questions, and a multitude of others, requires climate research that focuses on Australia’s regional/local scales, while understanding their relation to global-scales. The resulting scientific information and understanding are of crucial importance to local, state, and national governments, engineers, urban planners, businesses and the Australian public. This research provides necessary information for policymakers to formulate evidence-based policies leading to a sustainable and prosperous future.

Australia's climate science is world class. Building this research capacity and expertise within CSIRO has taken decades. Long-term strategic investment in climate science is critical for monitoring, modelling, understanding and predicting future climate variations and trends. Measurements that underpin climate research are irreplaceable and invaluable. If observing and modelling capacity is lost, so too is Australia and the World’s ability to understand and prepare for climate change.

A vigorous and global scientific community is essential, with complementary expertise and resources housed in both government laboratories, academic institutions and private enterprise. In fact, such resources were largely what CSIRO has provided at its Hobart and Aspendale laboratories for decades. These laboratories have in turn offered critical long-term institutional memory and commitment needed to address the challenges of climate science, thus forming a solid partner with academic research and education throughout Australia.

We have articulated a need for Australian climate research to continue, indeed to accelerate. This climate research capacity is critical for Australia, Oceania, the Southern Hemisphere and the World. Without committing to the continued development of next generation climate monitoring and climate modelling, billions of public investment dollars for long term infrastructure will be based on guesswork rather than on strategic and informed science-driven policy. The societal benefits of climate science far outweigh the likely high costs of reacting to future climate change instead of strategically planning for it. If the CSIRO cuts proceed, and the existing capacity is not relocated, then Australia will not develop at its full capacity to assess the accelerating risks associated with climate change. We strongly recommend that Australia finds a mechanism to sustain and maintain its vibrant climate research community. If Australia does not host innovative, Aussie-generated climate domain knowledge, then Australian climate scientists will be compelled to seek opportunities elsewhere, a major loss for Australia. 

This open letter from the international climate community is viewed as the start of an extended and sustained conversation on the importance, role and value of climate science to the Australian and global community. It is a prompt response to CSIRO’s decision and a first step that we hope initiates a broader and more sustained dialogue that reaches across climate science, stakeholders, policy and the public.

This initiative has been coordinated by Paul J. Durack (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, USA) and Anna Pirani (ICTP, Italy) as a response to the announced CSIRO job cuts. The effort has received an overwhelming response from the international climate community.

Signatories are listed in the following pages. Over 2800 people have signed this letter from close to 60 countries. We note that all signatories are self-identified members of the climate community, signing as individuals rather than on behalf of their host institution. 

1 Carlson, 2016
2 Solomon et al., 2007; Stocker et al., 2013
3 Brasseur & Carlson, 2015
4 Bureau of Meteorology (AUS), 2016
5 Bureau of Meteorology (AUS), 2016
6 National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (USA), 2016
7 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change


An open letter to the Australian Government and CSIRO


  1. Dennis Mitchell said...

    Hope they change their minds!  


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