Tributes flow for giant of Australian climate science”
Climate science professor Will Steffen, who has died aged 76, was remembered as a leader in his field, communicator and mentor, whose work paved the way for many of today’s climate policies.
Steffen, who had advanced pancreatic cancer, died on Sunday. During his career he wore many hats, including Professor Emeritus at the Australian National University’s Fenner School of Environment and Society. He was also a former executive director of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, the first director of the ANU Climate Change Institute and a scientific advisor to the Australian Government.
ANU Professor Will Steffen was remembered as a leading climate scientist. Credit: Alex Ellinghausen
The American-born scientist was also an author, contributed to five Intergovernmental Panels on Climate Change Assessments and special reports between 2000 and 2018, and was a board member at the Climate Council. But to many he was also a friend and mentor. Professor Tim Flannery, a former climate commissioner and lead councilor at the Climate Council, said he was saddened by the loss of Steffen.
“He was the most intelligent, kindest, gentlest person,” Flannery said. “He was a good friend and so loyal. He was so badly needed now, he was active until he couldn’t anymore.”
CSIRO climate scientist Pep Canadell said one of the things that made Steffen so impressive was his knowledge of complex sciences and the ability to articulate them to those around him, including policy makers, students and other researchers and scientists.
“He was basically a driving force for thousands of networks worldwide, helping them move in directions that were new to everyone in the 1990s,” Canadell said. “He marked the way for today. His work was his life. He gave everything he had. He worked so hard, he was always available and always ready to contribute.”
Professor Frank Jotzo, director of the Center for Climate Economics and Policy at the ANU, said he was relatively early in his academic career when he crossed paths with Steffen. “He was a great influence for me in my professional life, as a mentor and as a shining example of how to strive for a positive impact in society on the basis of scientific insight.”
Australian journalist and author Marian Wilkinson said Steffen was essential in sharing his knowledge about climate change, especially in the days of climate denial in Australia.
“He was able to speak out where other scientific voices were nervous to come forward, both because [in] the Howard years they were pretty much ignored and attacked and that the opposition was very, very strong against climate science and the media was frankly sometimes hysterical about the issue,” she said.