Written by Environmental Manager editor Deborah Nesbitt
CSIRO staff representatives will meet with management today (February 9) after chief executive Larry Marshall’s unexpected Feb 4 revelation about 350 jobs would be axed this year, predominantly in environment and climate science divisions.
The news “blindsided” CSIRO employees who were now angry at the lack of consultation, a CSIRO staff association representative told EM. The association had filed a formal dispute notice alleging Marshall’s announcement breached consultation requirements in CSIRO enterprise agreements, he said.
EM understands CSIRO’s oceans and atmosphere (O&A) and land and water (L&W) divisions would be most affected along with social science research programs. O&A gathers data on greenhouse gases, aerosols and air pollutants to assist international climate and earth system modelling and produces world-leading research. L&W researchers tackle human impacts on Australia’s ecosystems and biodiversity, pollution mitigation and research to back sustainable cities.
The staff assoc rep said members were “deeply shocked at these retrograde plans, which would all but abandon areas of research where the CSIRO has the strongest track record and a global reputation … How can Australia mitigate and adapt to the challenges of climate change without the CSIRO scientists doing the research?”
Marshall said on Feb 4 the move reflected the need for CSIRO to “re-invent itself (pivot) in order to navigate a new and uncertain future”. “We can’t do everything. Along with the growth plans, we’ll be exiting some areas, especially where we can see others in the innovation system are working, or there is limited take-up from partners.”
Renowned University of NSW climate scientist Professor Matthew England said the move would “decimate ocean and climate sciences in Aust”.
Aust Academy of Science president Professor Andrew Holmes called on the Federal Government “to quickly make alternative arrangements to continue a comprehensive national program of climate research. Without a nationally co-ordinated effort, our diminished research capacity will mean Aust lacks the local knowledge necessary to adapt to a changing climate”.
Cuts continue ‘politicisation of science’
Amid the public outcry, Marshall (above) sought to defend his announcement yesterday. In a statement he said O&A could expect to lose about 65 of its 450 employees. “[A]s painful as any redundancy is, for the majority of the 5,200 CSIRO employees there will be no change … and we will also recruit new people with new skills.”
But one insider told EM the move “was continuing the erosion of our science capability and politicisation of science”. The reality was falling govt funding indicated it saw environmental science as “against the interests of big coal”. Marshall’s rationale was weak, the source claimed. By focusing on scientific “innovations” Marshall was echoing a govt agenda in an effort to pursue new funds.
Fed funding cuts and a perceived general lack of support within CSIRO for climate adaptation and science leadership meant employees were “seeing the writing on the wall” and looking to work elsewhere, the source said.
Australia’s 25-year-old flagship climate change science program was axed by the Abbott govt in a $110m cut to CSIRO in 2014-15 budget.
CSIRO managers would be asked to provide the exact numbers of redundancies and divisions affected at the meeting today. “We won’t be shy about making the details public,” the staff rep said.
CSIRO Nobel Prize winner moves on
Forest carbon and climate change adaptation expert, Nobel Prize winner Dr Mark Howden quit his post as a CSIRO chief research scientist last Friday (Feb 5). Howden was a CSIRO’s climate adaptation flagship leader until it was scrapped last year.
Howden to lead ANU climate institute
In 2007 Howden (above) shared the Nobel Prize with Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 4th assessment report authors. In 2015, he was appointed IPCC working group 2 vice chair charged with producing a chapter on climate impacts and adaptation for its 6th report.
Howden will lead Australian National University’s Climate Change Institute full-time after taking on the job part-time last year.
(This story first ran in Environmental Manager Issue 1035, 9 February 2016)
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Environmental Manager covers: environmental law, including changes to federal and state environmental legislation; environmental prosecutions and fines; environmental management systems and compliance; sustainability and waste management tactics for the Australian workplace, case studies of the best and worst industry practice, and global environmental trends and initiatives.
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