Older caucasian man smiling at the camera, wearing a blue shirt, with a bookcase full of books on the wall behind him.
Steffen leaves behind a legacy of advocacy, research, and a commitment to finding solutions to the pressing issue of climate change. Image: Martin Hedberg

Respected climate scientist Will Steffen, Climate Commissioner and co-director of the Canberra Urban and Regional Futures initiative, passed away on Tuesday morning, 31 January, at the age of 76. 

He was executive director of the Australian National University Climate Change Institute and one of the founding Climate Councillors of the Climate Council. 

Steffen earned his BSc in Industrial Chemistry from the University of Missouri in 1970 and later received an MSc and a PhD in Environmental Science from the University of Florida in 1972 and 1975, respectively. 

Throughout his career, he was widely published on climate science and made significant contributions to the understanding of Earth system science, including climate change adaptation in land systems, and incorporation of human processes in Earth System modelling and analysis. 

He was an advocate for the concept of the Anthropocene, which he described in scientific journal Nature in 2009 as the current era “in which human actions have become the main driver of global environmental change”. 

Alongside Swedish sustainability and water resources scientist Johan Rockström, he was instrumental in initiating the international debate on planetary boundaries and the concept of a “safe operating space for humanity”.

Steffen held several positions of influence including being the executive director of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme from 1998 to 2004, science advisor to the Australian Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, a member of the Prime Minister’s Science, Engineering and Innovation Council, chair of the Antarctic Science Advisory Committee, co-director of the Canberra Urban and Regional Futures, an expert adviser to the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee, and a member of the advisory board of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. 

He was also an honorary professor at the Copenhagen University‘s department of geography and geology, served on the Science Advisory Committee of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Climate Centre in Korea, and was a visiting researcher at the Stockholm Resilience Centre.

In 2011, Steffen was the principal author of a government climate report titled “The Critical Decade” in which he called for a tax to be placed on carbon. 

After the abolition of the Australian Climate Commission in 2013, Steffen was a founding member of the independent non-profit organisation the Climate Council. He was also an author of the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2018.

Steffen’s contributions to the scientific community and his advocacy for the environment will not be forgotten. He leaves behind a legacy of advocacy, research, and a commitment to finding solutions to the pressing issue of climate change.

His legacy will live on through the countless individuals who have been inspired by his work.

YouTube video

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *