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Will Steffen Condolence

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Tuesday, 28 February 2023

Tags: Condolence

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Deputy Speaker, it is with great sadness and some disbelief that I rise to pay my respects and note the passing of one of Australia's greatest people and one of the world's greatest climate change scientists, Will Steffen, a remarkable and generous human being sadly died far too early in January. It is still hard to believe that Will's friendly, determined, beautiful face will not be seen at climate conferences, on the news, he will not be behind the statements issued by the Climate Council. He was a truly extraordinary man. He had a giant intellect matched by a super human passion and generosity of spirit.

I knew Will too briefly when I worked at the ANU. I met him when he became the first director of the ANU's Climate Change Institute from 2008 to 2012. He had come fresh from northern Europe, an Australian who came back as an earth system scientist with a gargantuan body of research. He became the science advisor to the Australian Government Department of Climate Change from 2004 to 2011. From 2011 to 2013 he was a commissioner on Gillard's Climate Commission. When Tony Abbott, under the Liberals, scrapped the Climate Commission in 2013 it was Will Steffen who was core to helping establish the Climate Council. He remained in a voluntary capacity as a climate counsellor until his death.

He was a brilliant climate scientist and a gifted communicator. He had a gentle and incredibly strong presence. He spent his career trying to wake us up to the planetary crisis that as an earth scientist he was all too aware of. He had an amazing knowledge of earth systems: the physics, the chemistry, the climate and the interrelationship. According to the head of the Global Carbon Project he was one of the most influential individuals in global climate change science programs. Many tributes have been made about Will Steffen and discussed his impressive body of research and his world-class ability to communicate the most complex of sciences to a vast array of audiences.

The Environmental Defenders Office paid tribute to Professor Steffen's incredible contributions to climate litigation as an expert witness and towards advancing climate law in Australia. He offered his enormous expertise to explain to courts the impact of climate change, the complex earth systems which drive the change and the existence of tipping points within those systems that can have dire consequences for humans and the world on which we rely.

The EDO noted that in every instance the opposing side to a litigation chose not to bring on a contrary climate science expert. Not one mining company, government department or billionaire could find anyone prepared to stand against the evidence of Professor Will Steffen. His capacity to communicate the dryness of climate science to the court in a clear and compelling way was powerful and persuasive. His evidence was critical in cases like Rocky Hill, the Sharma and youth verdict, and for the Bimblebox Alliance the Galilee coal project case.

As well as his climate abilities he was also funny, intelligent and determined for his whole life when he understood the gravity of the changes that were happening, dedicated to driving climate action and doing everything he could. He used his earth system science to build our knowledge and advance big concepts like the anthropocene, planetary boundaries and climate tipping points. He was the leader of major international science programs in Australia as well as overseas. He was highly respected for his work.

Professor Tim Flannery, the chief counsellor from the Climate Council, and Amanda Mackenzie, the CEO, paid him a special tribute from the council and noted that anyone who was lucky enough to meet Will was struck by his passion, his determination, his bravery and the genuine care he brought to working with him each and every day. Regardless of whether it was an interview in an outback radio station, a prime time TV exclusive or a conference at the United Nations, Will fearlessly carried the climate science beacon of light. Even in dark political times when he understood the deep peril that we are in, he always remained hopeful and worked tirelessly to make sure everyone, everywhere, had the best, the clearest and the most accurate information possible.

Will is no longer with us in person but he will continue to live with us all as we continue to use his science, his words and his spirit to make the case for more urgent climate action, to protect ourselves and all the species that we are responsible for.

On behalf of the Greens, I can commit to working every day with the determination and hope that he provided us. It was a great privilege to know Will Steffen. I count myself among the lucky ones. I give my deepest condolences to his family and friends and everyone who knew and were inspired by him.