The Abbott government has abolished the Climate Commission, which had been established to provide public information on the effects of and potential solutions to global warming.
Environment Minister Greg Hunt rang chief climate commissioner Tim Flannery at 10am on Thursday to tell him the body had been shut down.
Plans to shut down the Climate Commission, along with a range of other climate-change related institutions and the carbon price, had been foreshadowed by the Coalition before the 2013 election.
Speaking in Melbourne, Professor Flannery, who has been Australia’s chief climate commissioner since February 2011, said Mr Hunt had been very gracious in their conversation and had thanked him and the other climate commissioners for their work.
Professor Flannery said Mr Hunt did not indicate to him why the Coalition had abolished the commission. He said a formal letter from the government was on its way.
He said the commission in its work had stayed out of politics and stuck to the facts.
“As a result we have developed a reputation as a reliable, apolitical source of facts on all aspects on climate change,” Professor Flannery said.
“I believe Australians have a right to know, a right to authoritative, independent and accurate information on climate change.
“We have just seen one of the earliest ever starts to the bushfire season in Sydney following the hottest 12 months on record. Last summer was the hottest on record, breaking over 120 heat records across Australia.
“As global action on climate change deepens, propaganda aimed at misinforming the public about climate change, and so blunting any action, increases.”
Since its creation two years ago, the commission has produced 27 public reports on topics including the effect of climate change in Australia, global action being taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the potential of renewable energy. It has also held public forums across the country.
Professor Flannery said it was increasingly difficult for other institutions – such as the CSIRO and universities – to carry out the same role as the commission because of the breadth of information dealt with and that they may be constrained politically.
He said the commission’s activities were to cost about $5 million over four years.
“I am extremely proud of what we did. I would have been happy to have continued on but the government has made a decision so that is the way it is,” he said.
In a statement Mr Hunt confirmed that he had dissolved the commission.
“As part of the Coalition’s plans to streamline government processes and avoid duplication of services, the commission’s function to provide independent advice and analysis on climate change will be continued by the Department of the Environment,” he said.
“I would like to recognise the efforts of the Climate Commission in providing information on climate change to the Australian public and thank all the commissioners for their work.
“This decision will save the budget $580,000 in 2013-14 and an annual funding of up to $1.6 million in future years.”
A spokeswoman for Mr Hunt said he had also approved a brief to begin drafting a bill to repeal the separate Climate Change Authority as part of the Coalition’s broader efforts to remove the carbon price.
She said the government would hold more discussions with the authority in coming weeks.
While the Climate Commission could be abolished by the minister at any time, the authority can only be shut down by an act of Parliament.
The authority was created to advise the government on emissions-reduction targets and caps and to detail international efforts to combat climate change. It was due to release a draft of a report on targets and caps next month.
A Climate Change Authority spokeswoman said it believed the government intended to abolish the agency through the repeal of legislation, but it did not have any further information at this time.
Greens leader Christine Milne said issuing instructions to close the authority was irresponsible in the face of dangerous climate change.
“The Climate Change Authority was set up to de-politicise the process of setting greenhouse emission reduction targets. Everyone knows that a 5 per cent emission reduction target is woefully inadequate,” Senator Milne said.
“Shutting down the Climate Change Authority, ahead of its first report on fair and science based emission reduction targets for Australia, is cowardly and an attack on current and future generations.”
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