In a sign of changes for environment politics, Australia's Climate Institute is shutting because it's broke

Funding has dried up. Photo: Getty Images

The Climate Institute, an independent research organisation that works towards climate change solutions, has gone bust.

Philanthropic funding, which the group relied on, has dried up.

The institute’s chairman, Mark Wootton, said: “With the expiry of its original founding bequest, and despite ongoing support from a range of philanthropic and business entities, the Board has been unable to secure sufficient funding to continue the level and quality of work that is representative of TCI’s strong reputation.

“The Climate Institute has been a provider of pioneering research and a leading advocate for credible, practical climate policy throughout a tumultuous period in Australian public, investor and business decision-making.

“We are disappointed that some in government prefer to treat what should be a risk management issue as a proxy for political and ideological battles. They are increasingly isolated as the costs of inaction mount and the opportunities and benefits of action become ever clearer,” he said.

Its CEO John Connor, who has been with the organisation since February 2007, has resigned. He has been replaced in the interim by Olivia Kember, formerly head of policy.

Rupert Murdoch’s niece, Eve Kantor, and her husband, Wootton, had been backing the group since it was founded in 2005.

Their commitment was only intended to span five years, through a foundation set up from the estate of Kantor’s late brother. It was extended to 10 years when the first round lapsed, at which time there was brutal political debate over climate change.

Without the philanthropic support, the institute’s income suffered a 62% fall in revenue last financial year, according to The Age.

An embarrassing state of affairs

The outgoing CEO has been vocal about what he thinks of the current state of political work being done in the environmental sector, telling the Huffington Post that Australians have moved on from the issue.

“It is embarrassing that Australia is stuck in these trenches,” Connor told HuffPost.

“You have some in the hard right and I think some flailing politics strategists who are seeking to relive the red meat days of the carbon price scare campaigns of 2011 and 2012 before the price began, but also seeking to drive wedges there.”

In February, the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority gave its first major speech on climate change, criticising Australian companies for a lack of action on the issue.

“While climate risks have been broadly recognised, they have often been seen as a future problem or a non-financial problem,” APRA executive board member Geoff Summerhayes said.

“Many of these risks are foreseeable, material and actionable now.

“Climate risks also have potential system-wide implications that APRA and other regulators here and abroad are paying much closer attention to.”

And as the government and the Opposition continue to butt heads over renewable energy targets, it leads to the question: What now?

Business Insider spoke to Alvin Stone from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science about the institute’s demise, and asked if climate change had lost its need for advocacy in an environment where the science is increasingly accepted by the broader community.

“The acceptance [of climate change] is higher,” he said, “but the issue is not about the acceptance… the issue is about the policy and action.”

He said the Paris Agreement — a UN agreement to deal with climate change starting in the year 2020 — “put the nail in the coffin as far as anyone thinking they could ignore it (climate change).

But “we’re not doing a enough,” he said.

Photo: Joe Raedle/ Getty Images.

“[The Climate Institute] was the first group to engage with business — particularly with the insurance and banking sector. In many ways they are responsible for business moving ahead of politics in Australia,” he said.

“The other reason funding is lacking is because of the Climate Council. It serves a good role but by calling themselves the Climate Council, it’s close enough that they probably dragged away some of their potential funders. The Climate Council got $1 million straight off the bat.”

The Climate Council, formerly the Climate Commission, won more than $1 million in private backing after the incoming Coalition government cut its public funding in 2013.

“They are doing something very different” to that of the institute, he said.

“The council is still talking about the science and its impact, not about the action and engaging with business.

“The movement in climate change is in policy and business,” he said, adding that every country in the world is now aware of the science, but public policy action was still lagging.

“I really feel that [the institute] is going to be loss…. There is going to be a gap now in climate policy.”

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