SYDNEY (Reuters) - The former head of Australia’s respected Climate Commission, which was disbanded by conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott in 2013, on Thursday challenged the government to explain its recent decision to fund a controversial new research institute.
Abbott axed the publicly funded Climate Commission, which was established to provide information on the effects of climate change and ways to combat it, on his first day in office.
Environment Minister Greg Hunt said at the time that ending the program would save the cash-strapped government A$1.6 million ($1.24 million).
But last week Education Minister Christopher Pyne raised eyebrows by announcing a plan to spend A$4 million over four years on Danish academic Bjorn Lomborg’s new institute at the University of Western Australia.
Lomborg, who accepts the consensus around man-made climate change but argues against government intervention to halt it, is a controversial figure in the scientific community.
The former chair of the Climate Commission, Tim Flannery, questioned how the government could find that money even as the country’s finances have worsened with the global downturn in commodities prices.
“We, as the Climate Commission, were abolished by the federal government with their very first act in coming to power. And the reason that was given to the Australian public and to ourselves was that they lacked the funding,” he told Reuters.
“Now, 18 months later or so, magically the funding’s been found to bring someone from Denmark to Australia to set up a center. The Australian public are owed an explanation.”
A spokesman for Minister Pyne did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Australia last year scrapped its carbon tax and plans for emissions trading, a major victory for former climate skeptic Abbott that left uncertainty about how the country would meet its carbon reduction goals.
Australia is one of the world’s biggest carbon emitters on a per capita basis and Abbott notably clashed with world leaders over climate change during the G20 leaders’ summit it hosted last year.
The controversy has sparked calls for Pyne’s resignation and added fuel to criticism of the government’s push to slash funding to universities and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.
“The money has been found despite the government’s plans to cut university funding by billions of dollars, including funding for higher degree research students,” National Tertiary Education Union president Jeannie Rea told The Sydney Morning Herald.
(This version of the story removes ‘climate’ reference in first paragraph as institute to cover other topics also)
Reporting by Matt Siegel; Editing by Nick Macfie