Up to 300 positions will be cut from the CSIRO with climate science areas expected to be most affected.
Australia’s peak science organisation, which invented wifi, gene shears and aerogard insect repellent, will be restructured with new research priorities.
Some areas would see an increase in staff numbers while others a fall, a CSIRO spokesman said.
The Oceans and Atmosphere unit, where work is done on climate science, will be one area to see cuts, according to some reports.
The scientific community was upset at the prospect of a loss of focus and expertise in climate science.
“I am stunned by reports that CSIRO management no longer thinks measuring and understanding climate change is important, innovative or impactful,” says Professor Penny Sackett, a former Australian Chief Scientist
“The big question now, which underlies all climate adaptation work, is ‘How is the climate changing?’ That answer will once again be determined by those scientists who gather climate data and model it. How can it be that our largest national research organisation chooses not to engage, indeed not to lead, the effort in finding the answer to that question?”
The Australian Academy of Science says the government needs to move quickly to ensure national research capability is not lost.
“We call on the government to quickly make alternative arrangements to continue a comprehensive national program of climate research,” says Professor Andrew Holmes, the academy’s president.
“Our climate and environmental scientists are some of the best in the world. We wouldn’t stop supporting our elite Olympic athletes just as they’re winning gold medals. Nor should we pull the rug out from under our elite scientists.”
Todd Lane, president of the Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society, says the move is terrible news for climate science in Australia and threatens our ability to predict future climate and the inherent risks.
“Research at CSIRO is at the core of our climate modelling and monitoring efforts, and is essential for better future climate projections. Climate science is not solved – out to the year 2030 most of the uncertainty in climate projections is due to uncertainty about the ways to represent some physical processes in climate models,” he says.
“We know that the risks associated with extreme weather and climate events increases disproportionately as the globe warms. Cutting funding in this area now doesn’t make any sense.”
Late last year the division was told to find $1.6 million in savings and close a $2.7 million gap on its external revenue target of $42.3 million, according to a memo from director Ken Lee.
It’s not known whether the cuts will be via voluntary redundancies. The CSIRO has 4832 full-time positions.
Last year, in prime minister Malcolm Turnbull’s innovation statement, the CSIRO got a $200 million Innovation fund to support co-investment in new spin-out/startup companies products and services.