Climate science workforce needs to grow by 77 positions over the next four years, according to report prompted by CSIRO redundancies
August 2, 2017 — Australia has a critical shortage of climate scientists, leaving it at serious risk of not delivering essential climate and weather services to groups like farmers, coastal communities and international organisations, a report has found.
The report into the nation’s climate science capability by the Australian Academy of Science found the climate science workforce needed to grow by 77 full-time positions over the next four years, with 27 of those positions urgently required.
Those figures take into account all the climate scientists at the CSIRO, the new CSIRO climate science centre to be established in Hobart, as well as those at the Bureau of Meteorology, universities and other institutions. But it didn’t consider extra resources that might be needed in the study of climate change mitigation or adaptation.
The Australian Academy of Science’s investigation was prompted by the CSIRO announcement in 2016 that the research agency was going to sack about 100 climate scientists – a number later reduced to about 40.
The report found the areas most in need of investment were general climate modelling, climate observations and climate services, which help industry and the community access information produced by scientists.
Infrastructure required for climate services was also at risk, the report found. The supercomputing resources at the National Computational Infrastructure were essential for using Australia’s climate models, but also applying other climate models to the region.
“Right now that isn’t secure. It’s not funded in an ongoing sense,” said report contributor Julie Arblaster from Monash University.
“At the moment there isn’t any funding available to host that data at the National Computational Infrastructure in Canberra. That is something that is still a difficulty for climate science and needs to be considered going forward.”
Scientia professor in the school of mathematics and statistics at the University of New South Wales, Trevor McDougall, who led the investigation, said the report was being considered by the new national climate science advisory committee, which reports to the federal government and is taking some recommendations to ministers.
The report said Australia had more to lose than other developed nations by not making adequate investments, since it was effected by factors that are unique to the southern hemisphere and more exposed to the impacts of climate change.
McDougall said a striking example of a lack of regional capability was the level of understanding about what will happen with rainfall over the Murray-Darling basin, where about 40% of Australia’s agricultural output originates.
“We currently do not know whether rainfall evaporation is going to increase or decrease over that basin and has obviously large implications for sourcing our food and for the profitability of companies in that region,” McDougall said.
“Each business needs to know the impact for them at the scale of, say, the local city council or the council scale in the bush. We aren’t there yet and we’ll never get there if we don’t invest in the climate science to do that. And it’s not going to happen – that kind of detailed regional specific understanding and prediction won’t happen if we leave it to other countries to do climate science for us.”