Last week, Australia’s new prime minister Tony Abbott eliminated the country’s Climate Commission, the independent but government-funded panel of experts that studied the effects climate change is having on the country. But the Australian people aren’t standing for that.
Just a few days after the commission was cut, it’s being reborn as the Climate Council, a privately-funded body with the same leader — professor and conservationist Tim Flannery — and commissioners. Flannery told the Guardian that after the Abbott government’s announcement to end the Climate Commission was made, he and the other commissioners were “deluged” by emails and calls from Australians who didn’t want to see the commission’s work end and were pledging their financial support to help keep it going.
“The people who contacted us feel very strongly that they don’t want to be left in the dark over climate change,” Flannery told the Guardian. “We’ve had hundreds of people get in touch from, I must say, across the political spectrum, from hardcore libertarians to the deepest greenies. You would be astonished to know who is supporting us.”
The council will be funded by donations from the public — a strategy of reaching out to ordinary Australians Flannery calls “Obama-style.” Since around midnight in Australia on Sept. 24, there have been about 1,000 donations, with the first being $15 from “James of NSW.” The former climate commissioners won’t be paid for their work — a significant commitment given Flannery’s previous salary of $180,000. Flannery wouldn’t disclose who else would be backing the new council, but he did make clear that the council wouldn’t be swayed by the interests of corporate backers.
“It will be in our constitution that we will not accept money from anybody that tries to tie us or influence us in any way,” Flannery said. “Our independence is our credibility, so we will be very clear on that.”
Since its creation in 2011, the Climate Commission published 27 reports, including The Angry Summer, which outlined the record-breaking heat, bush fires and flooding Australia experienced during the summer of 2012-2013, and The Critical Decade, which made clear that if swift action wasn’t taken on climate change, Australia’s extreme weather would only get worse. Now, the Climate Council’s first work will be aimed at summarizing and simplifying the results of the IPCC’s upcoming climate report.
Unfortunately, though the Climate Commission’s work will go on in its new form as the Climate Council, Prime Minister Tony Abbott is still set on rolling back the progress Australia has made so far in studying and alleviating climate change. He’s promised to get rid of the country’s carbon tax and also wants to cut the country’s Clean Energy Finance Corporation and Climate Change Authority, an independent group that provides advice to the government on the carbon emissions reductions targets.