Climate research at CSIRO will soon receive a significant funding boost, with senior executives revealing at Senate Estimates that the organisation expects to receive an additional $40-60 million as part of a new Australian Climate Service (ACS).
Meanwhile, CSIRO has announced that the organisation would cease participation in the Centre for Southern Hemisphere Oceans Research (CSHOR), which involves collaboration with Australian university researchers and scientists from China’s Qingdao National Marine Laboratory, when the inaugural five-year agreement expires in June 2022.
The establishment of the ACS – valued at $209 million and involving CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology, Australian Bureau of Statistics and Geoscience Australia – was announced prior to the federal budget as part of a larger announcement of measures focusing on disaster management and resilience.
Set to commence operations on 1 July 2021, the ACS will provide advice to Emergency Management Australia (EMA) and the National Recovery and Resilience Agency (NRAA) for a range of hazards including bushfires, flooding, tropical cyclones, earthquakes, tsunamis and severe weather events.
At the time of the announcement, CSIRO Chief Executive Larry Marshall said that the ACS would “enable us to prepare better, to support communities across the country, and get back to business faster. Solutions from science will build the resilience of Australia’s economy to natural hazards in the future.”
However, while the budget papers revealed funding for EMA and NRAA, specific detail on the funding for the ACS – and the expected share for CSIRO – remained absent.
In response to questions from Australian Greens Senator Janet Rice, Executive Director Peter Mayfield said CSIRO “expect(s) there to be substantive funding over the four-year period.”
“At this point in time, we’re working through the final things. ACS starts on 1 July this year, and we’ve done a lot of pre-planning work, as the four partners, and then we’ve got to do a final work-through with the stakeholders – EMA and the NRAA – just to firm up the program.”
Asked by Senator Rice to provide a “rough estimate” estimate of the extra funding that CSIRO will receive, Dr Mayfield said “as a range, somewhere between $40 million and $60 million over the four years” would account for the organisation’s windfall.
CSIRO executives were less forthcoming in response to questions on how the new funding would affect staffing.
“Is there an expectation that we will be able to employ extra climate scientists or environmental scientists, through the ACS extra funding?” asked Senator Rice.
“Until we’ve done the final project planning and activity, it’s hard to make a hard call on it. But it’s a good situation for us to be in, to work through this,” Dr Mayfield said.
Elsewhere, Climate Science Centre Research Director Jaci Brown called time on CSIRO’s involvement in the CSHOR in an email to staff.
“CSIRO has decided not to continue the Centre for Southern Hemisphere Ocean Research after its first five-year term ends in June 2022,” Dr Brown said.
The involvement of China’s Qingdao National Marine Laboratory in the CSHOR was thrown into the political spotlight following recent comments from Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) boss Mike Burgess.
“There’s a great deal of great research that needs to go on in regard to climate modelling, the impacts of humankind on the climate and how all of that works… Ocean temperatures do factor into climate,” Mr Burgess said.
“There’s a great bit of activity around ocean temperature modelling and how that is modelled and computed. That’s great for climate understanding and climate modelling. It’s also great if you’re a submariner.”
“It’s great research that needs to have application over there, but it might also be useful for other things. There’s a conversation that people with more expertise than I need to have about that,” he said.
In comments made to The Australian, CSIRO said the decision not to continue the partnership with Qingdao was “informed by science strategy and the need for CSIRO to balance its portfolio of research”.
CSIRO collaborated extensively with overseas partners “and has processes in place to evaluate these issues before research projects are agreed to.”
“CSIRO continues to be highly cognisant of issues regarding foreign interference and has strong security arrangements and systems in place to address the associated risks.”