Tim Flannery

10 February 2011 –The federal government today launched its promised Climate Commission, appointing leading scientist and climate change activist Tim Flannery as its chief commissioner.

It has given the commission wide power to comment on climate matters, but not on policy. Nor will it be able to provide policy advice.

“The commission will not comment on policy matters nor provide policy advice or recommendations,”  Climate Change Minister Greg Combet said.

It will, however, be free to commission expert advice and publish reports.

Australian Greens Deputy Leader, Senator Christine Milne, said: ”The Climate Commission has an important job to do in the coming months and years. Professor Flannery is a strong communicator and, while we have disagreed with him on occasions in the past, we wish him well in this position.”

Mr Combet said the commission’s purpose was to “inform Australia’s approach to addressing climate change and help build the consensus required to move to a competitive, low pollution Australian economy.”

Its tasks will be to:

  • Explain the science of climate change and the impacts on Australia.
  • Report on the progress of international action dealing with climate change.
  • Explain the purpose and operation of a carbon price and how it may interact with the Australian economy and communities.

The commission’s duties will include to hold a series of public outreach events to explain:

  • the science of climate change and issues raised by climate scientists
  • the magnitude of the challenge to address climate change
  • the role of a carbon price in effectively tackling climate change
  • what contribution other policy mechanisms are making
  • how a carbon price works and its interaction with the economy and the community
  • the opportunities for Australian firms and communities in moving to a low carbon future

Mr  Combet said the Climate Commission had been established by the Gillard Government to provide an authoritative, independent source of information for all Australians.

“It will provide expert advice on climate change science and impacts, and international action. It will help build the consensus required to move to a clean energy future,” Mr Combet said.

It would have a “public outreach role, to help build greater understanding and consensus about reducing Australia’s carbon pollution”.

Other members of the Climate Commission are Professor Will Steffen, Professor Lesley Hughes, Dr Susannah Eliott,  Gerry Hueston and Roger Beale. Their backgrounds are from climate change science, science communications, business, public policy and economics.

The commission would be supported by a science advisory panel, with leading scientists offering further expert advice on the science of climate change and its impacts.

Mr Combet said the commission was an election commitment announced in July 2010 and has been funded with a budget of $5.6 million over four years.

It is understood that the decision on members of the committee was made by the Minister, not the Committee. Following are details of the committee and the Science Advisory Panel.

Biographies – Climate Commission
Professor Tim Flannery, Chief Commissioner
Professor Tim Flannery is one of Australia’s leading writers on climate change. An internationally acclaimed scientist, explorer and conservationist, Professor Flannery was named Australian of the Year in 2007.
Professor Flannery has held various academic positions including Professor at the University of Adelaide, director of the South Australian Museum in Adelaide, Principal Research Scientist at the Australian Museum and Visiting Chair in Australian Studies at Harvard University in the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology.
A well known presenter on ABC Radio, NPR and the BBC for more than a decade, he has also written and presented several series on the Documentary Channel including The Future Eaters (1998), Wild Australasia (2003), Islands in the Sky (1992) and Bushfire (1997). His books include Here on Earth (2010) and The Weather Makers (2005).

Professor Will Steffen
Professor Will Steffen is a climate science expert and researcher, and the Executive Director of the ANU Climate Change Institute at the Australian National University, Canberra.  He is on the panel of experts supporting the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee and has also served as the Science Adviser to the Australian Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency.
From 1998 to 2004, Professor Steffen served as Executive Director of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, an international network of scientists studying global environmental change based in Stockholm, Sweden. His research interests span a broad range within the fields of climate change and Earth System science, with an emphasis on sustainability, climate change and the Earth System. He is the author of numerous publications on climate science.

Dr Susannah Eliott
Dr Susannah Eliott is a science communication expert and the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Science Media Centre, an independent not-for-profit organisation that works with the news media to inject evidence-based science into public discourse. She is also the current Chair of the Expert Working Group on Science and the Media, an initiative of the Inspiring Australia program.
Dr Eliott’s previous roles include the Director of Communications for the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme in Stockholm and managing the Centre for Science Communication at the University of Technology (UTS).

Mr Gerry Hueston
Mr Gerry Hueston is a prominent businessman who recently retired as President of BP Australasia, after a career with BP spanning 34 years in a variety of management and senior executive roles in New Zealand, Australia, Europe and the United Kingdom.
Mr Hueston’s other previous roles include Chairman of the Business Council Sustainable Growth Taskforce, Chairman and Board Member of the Australian Institute of Petroleum, Board Member of the Business Council of Australia, and Member of the Chairman’s Panel of the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.

Mr Roger Beale
Mr Roger Beale is an economist and public policy expert, and currently the Executive Director of Economics and Policy at Pricewaterhouse Coopers. He is a former Secretary of the Department of Environment and Heritage, and was a lead author for the UN’s Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report.
Mr Beale was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 1995 in recognition of his contribution to economic reform and was awarded the Centenary Medal for leadership of the environment portfolio in 2001. In 2006 he was promoted to Officer of the Order of Australia in recognition of his contribution to the development of national environment policy.

Professor Lesley Hughes
Professor Lesley Hughes is the Head of the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University and an expert on the impacts of climate change on species and ecosystems. She is the Australian Representative on the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity Ad Hoc Technical Expert Group on Biodiversity and Climate Change, and Co-convenor of the Terrestrial Biodiversity Adaptation Research Network.
Professor Hughes was also a lead author for the UN’s IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, and a member of the Expert Advisory Group on Climate Change and Biodiversity for the Australian Greenhouse Office and the Department of Climate Change. Her research has been published extensively in peer-reviewed journals.

Science Advisory Panel

  • Professor Matt England, University of New South Wales, expertise in global-scale ocean circulation and its influence on regional climate.
  • Professor David Karoly, University of Melbourne, expertise in climate variability and climate change, including interannual climate variations due to El Niño-Southern Oscillation and weather extremes.
  • Professor Andy Pitman, University of New South Wales, climate modeller with a major focus on land surface processes.
  • Professor Neville Smith, Bureau of Meteorology, expertise in ocean and climate prediction.
  • Professor Tony McMichael, Australian National University, expertise in impacts of climate change on environmental conditions and human health.
  • Dr Helen Cleugh, CSIRO, expertise in the  dynamics of carbon, water and energy cycles in Australian ecosystems and the effects on climate variability and change – especially the vulnerability of land-based carbon sinks.
  • Dr Lisa Alexander, University of New South Wales, expertise in changes in the frequency and/or severity of extreme climate events.
  • Professor Brendan Mackey, Australian National University, expertise in forests and climate.

editorial@thefifthestate.com.au