Zali Steggall speaks in honour of Will Steffen

29 March 2023

Yesterday, Australians from around the country gathered in Canberra to honour a giant of Australian science. Professor Will Steffen sadly passed away in January. He was one of the country's and the world's most respected climate scientists. He co-authored the paper on the Anthropocene with Paul Crutzen, which earnt Dr Crutzen a Nobel Prize. Professor Steffen was an internationally esteemed expert in global change research, serving as executive director of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program. He was a contributor to five Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment reports. This work, for all our benefit and the benefit of future generations, came at great personal risk to him and his family. They received death threats from those who rejected the IPCC reports.

His colleague Dr Joelle Gergis, senior lecturer of climate science at the Australian National University, said Will was a visionary, a brilliant scientist and gifted communicator 'who was so generous with his time.' Professor Steffen made substantial contributions to science policy in Australia, serving as a climate advisor to various departments and agencies under successive governments, particularly under Prime Minister Gillard. His research spanned a broad range within earth systems science, with an emphasis on sustainability and climate change. He was instrumental in pioneering and communicating the influential concepts of the planetary boundaries, the great acceleration and the Anthropocene.

Professor Steffen's life work is a reminder of the importance of science and scientists to our society. I thank the Speaker for the opportunity to honour this great Australian scientist, a leader in his field and a brilliant communicator on the biggest challenge of our time.