Will Steffen: Climate change pioneer and researcher has died

Professor Will Steffen, an American-Australian researcher and community leader, who has been described as among the most influential climate scientists, has died on the 29 January, 2023.

Born in 1947, he was a highly influential figure in the world of climate science, having contributed as an author and reviewer to five Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports, was a councillor on the Climate Council of Australia and was the Executive Director of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme until 2004.

“I have no words to express my deep sadness for the loss of Will Steffen who passed away last night,” Dr Josep (Pep) Canadell, the Executive Director Global Carbon Project wrote on Twitter.

“He had been one of the most influential individuals in global change science programs.”

The Federal Minister for Climate Change and Energy, Chris Bowen, said: “Very few people around the world could claim to have done more to tackle climate change than Professor Will Steffen.

“He was a first class scientist and a world class communicator. Around the world and in Australia, many are mourning the loss of a valued and loved colleague. Vale.”

“We’ve lost a truly leading thinker on climate change, someone who made a difference in how the world understands it. And a gentle, positive human being,” said ANU environmental economist Professor Frank Jotzo.

“I worked with Will when he was founding director of the ANU Climate Change Institute, and owe him much.”

Steffen was also a prolific research scientist and has published papers for decades warning of climate change’s consequences.

In 2018 a team of scientists led by Steffen published a paper suggesting that the world could be approaching a “planetary threshold” which, if passed, would make Earth “inhospitable to current human societies”.

Another study led by Steffen in 2015 found that the changes of the last 60 years were unprecedented in the previous 10,000 years.

In 2020 he also was one of 423 scientists who signed a statement saying that Australia cannot be ‘resilient’ to bushfires, floods and other natural disasters made worse by climate change without cutting emissions.

“We, the undersigned climate, weather and fire scientists, call on our country’s leaders and policymakers to develop science-informed policies to combat human-caused climate change,” they wrote. 

“To be successful, these policies must urgently reduce Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions and lead to constructive engagement and agreements with other world leaders for coordinated global climate action.”

Editors note: Professor Steffen was a long time contributor to Cosmos Science, and assisted many of our reporters with content, ideas, fact checking and interviews. The team here passes on condolences to his family and friends. Ian Mannix

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