Australia’s government has ordered its national science agency to re-prioritize basic climate research — six months after the organization unveiled controversial plans to slash jobs in the sector. But the intervention may have come too late to salvage damage already caused, researchers say.
The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) will — on government instructions — create 15 new climate-science jobs and receive an extra Aus$37 million (US$28 million) over the next 10 years, both for salaries and extra support in the sector, science minister Greg Hunt announced on 4 August.
“It’s a new government and we’re laying out a direction that climate science matters,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Hunt, a former environment minister who was put in charge of the industry, innovation and science ministry after July’s federal election, said that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull supported the move.
A spokesperson for Hunt’s ministry said that he was in the process of preparing a “new statement of expectations” for CSIRO, and that the net effect of the government’s intervention would be to bring the agency’s total number of climate scientists to 115, down from around 135 earlier in the year.
“In the context that this is a U-turn from previous cuts, this is good news,” says Wenju Cai, a climate modeller at CSIRO. But he points out that the government did not intervene when CSIRO’s chief executive, Larry Marshall, first announced plans to cut hundreds of climate-science jobs in February. At the time, the government distanced itself from CSIRO’s cuts, calling them an agency-level decision.
Climate job losses so far number around 35, after strong opposition from both researchers and the public. “If the directive came earlier we would not have …