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The fallout from the new government’s budget is still being seen in Australia, but it is already obvious that climate change is a loser when it comes to funding. Prime Minister Tony Abbott has long been skeptical of global warming and the science behind it, but with his new-found legislative power it seems as though he is looking at making that viewpoint into law. According to critics, there is no longer even the pretence of working towards limiting the effects of climate change as the government works to protect the interests of fossil fuel producers and businesses. Whether or not there is a real connection between big business interest and the new budget, Abbott and his cabinet have taken the axe to climate change research and are poised to fundamentally damage all scientific research in Australia in the process.
The budgetary facts are inescapably grim for researchers and scientists based in renewable energies and research. The funding for all government programs related to climate change is set to shrink at an alarming rate, going from $5.75 billion this year to a scant $500 million in the next four years. Additionally, the Emissions Reduction Fund which is meant to help lower greenhouse gas emissions in Australia is going to be reduced to only $1.14 billion. This was devastating news after Environment Minister Greg Hunt had gone on record promising to provide $2.55 billion to fund the program. Nevertheless, it is not only climate change programs that are feeling the pinch of the Abbott budget. The Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), Australia’s national science agency, will have $111 million worth of funding slashed over the next four years, which will affect an uncertain number of programs and a loss of tenth of the CSIRO workforce.
The outlook is bleak from the standpoint of scientists and researchers in Australia, many of whom will probably leave the country in order to find work elsewhere. This represents a loss of a skilled workforce for a country that is already seeing a six percent unemployment rate. Despite harping on the jobless rate, the Abbott government has not provided a solution to getting more people working. Cuts to climate change programs and scientific research are only the tip of the unemployment iceberg. Under this budget, unemployment rates are set to rise to 6.25 percent by June next year. This is worrying news for the hundreds of thousands of Australians currently out of work or who are facing the prospect of unemployment in the wake of the new budget plan.
But it is not only highly educated scientists who may lose their employment after climate change research was axed by the government that is currently running things in Australia. There are thousands of jobs connected to renewable resources that will also be lost due to funding cuts. Thousands of jobs exist in rural areas where renewable energy sources like wind and solar power have a great presence. Wind mills and solar energy outposts have to be built in rural areas that have enough space to accommodate them. People who own the land these are built on also see an income from the renting of their property to the operators of this machinery, an income they will most likely lose should funding be cut so drastically. It looks as though funding for climate change programs is not just an issue of ideology, but a problem of real-world economics.
Some have claimed that the cuts are completely ideologically driven and have nothing to do with principles of budget balance or good governance. Greens party leader Christine Milne called out the prime minister’s oppositional stance to climate change science. She referred to the government’s repeated claims to support emissions reduction and called the budget a repudiation of that, a dropping of the curtain on their real designs on the issue. She went a step further, calling the budget an attempt to “shore up the vested interests of coal-fired generators and the old order of Australia.” Her comment points to the role of the mining industry, which provides six percent of the country’s economy.
There is some good news for climate change funding and the scientific research community that is facing down the barrel of the Abbott government’s budget. Until the budget passes the senate, there will be no changes to funding and organization of the sector. For now, climate change research is safe from getting axed and if the senate does not allow the budget to go through, the jobs that could be lost will still exist in Australia’s renewable energy sector.
Opinion by Lydia Bradbury