Rush to cli­mate science

Cli­mate change aware­ness has brought a boom in jobs for sci­en­tists and re­lated spe­cial­ists, writes

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - News -

EN years ago, sci­en­tists spe­cial­is­ing in cli­mate change counted them­selves lucky to find a job. Now em­ploy­ers are beat­ing paths to their doors. From the fed­eral Gov­ern­ment down, Aus­tralia’s cor­po­ra­tions and in­sti­tu­tions, pub­lic and private, are fall­ing over them­selves to ap­point peo­ple with the knowl­edge and skills to ad­vise on what is be­com­ing a cen­tral pub­lic pol­icy de­bate.

In­deed, one of Kevin Rudd’s first de­ci­sions on be­com­ing prime min­is­ter was to ap­point a Min­is­ter for Cli­mate Change. Matthew Eng­land, joint head of the Univer­sity of NSW’s Cli­mate Change Re­search Cen­tre, views that as an ac­knowl­edge­ment of the se­ri­ous­ness of the is­sue.

‘‘ When cli­mate change was taken out of the fed­eral en­vi­ron­ment port­fo­lio and given to Penny Wong as a sep­a­rate min­istry, peo­ple saw it as a de­mo­tion for (en­vi­ron­ment min­is­ter) Peter Gar­rett, that he couldn’t han­dle it,’’ pro­fes­sor Eng­land said. ‘‘ But I saw it as a recog­ni­tion that cli­mate change is not just lim­ited to the en­vi­ron­ment — it cuts across into eco­nomics, in­fra­struc­ture and a whole range of things. It was a true recog­ni­tion of its im­por­tance.’’

The Cli­mate Change Re­search Cen­tre is a per­fect ex­am­ple of the re­sources be­ing poured into un­der­stand­ing cli­mate change Aus­trali­aw­ide. It opened last year and now has a staff of 35 in­volved in ex­am­in­ing the bio­phys­i­cal side of cli­mate change — such as how cli­mate sys­tems are chang­ing and tem­per­a­tures ris­ing, and how the cli­mate re­sponds to green­house gases.

Staff num­bers at the cen­tre could dou­ble over the next cou­ple of years — and there are at least an­other 60 peo­ple from a broad range of dis­ci­plines across the univer­sity also in­volved in cli­mate change re­search.

Yet even this is not enough ac­cord­ing to cen­tre co-di­rec­tor Andy Pit­man.

‘‘ I think the scale of the chal­lenge has mush­roomed and I think that’s why univer­sity re­search groups are form­ing at an un­prece­dented rate to ad­dress it,’’ pro­fes­sor Pit­man said. ‘‘ To put it in per­spec­tive, even a cen­tre the size of ours at UNSW can’t cover all of the ar­eas in which we need ex­per­tise.’’

De­mand for cli­mate change cour­ses is strong among un­der­grad­u­ates, and Eng­land be­lieves univer­si­ties have been strug­gling to keep pace.

‘‘ We’re un­der-re­sourced in the sense that we’re not grad­u­at­ing enough peo­ple with the right skills to fill all th­ese grow­ing ar­eas,’’ he says. ‘‘ To be fair, the de­mand has sprung up rel­a­tively quickly and I think the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem has got a cou­ple of years of hard work ahead to get the cour­ses up and run­ning to de­liver the right grad­u­ates.’’

Those grad­u­at­ing are find­ing their skills in high de­mand. Eng­land says grad­u­ates with PhDs spe­cial­is­ing in cli­mate change science are earn­ing around $65,000 to $70,000. And those with more than five years’ ex­pe­ri­ence can earn sig­nif­i­cantly more.

The As­so­ci­a­tion of Pro­fes­sional En­gi­neers, Sci­en­tists and Man­agers Aus­tralia chief ex­ec­u­tive John Vines says, ‘‘ In the late 90s there was a rea­son­able level of un­em­ploy­ment among en­vi­ron­men­tal sci­en­tists, and that means that there are fewer peo­ple from that age co­hort in in­dus­try, be­cause they just went into other oc­cu­pa­tions.

‘‘ It means that for com­pa­nies look­ing for ex­pe­ri­enced en­vi­ron­men­tal sci­en­tists and en­vir- onmen­tal en­gi­neers, par­tic­u­larly those with a good knowl­edge of cli­mate change, they can be hard to find, and that’s re­ally push­ing up salaries.

‘‘ De­mand is the other fac­tor, as or­gan­i­sa­tions be­come more con­scious of their car­bon foot­print and as the in­fra­struc­ture and min­ing ar­eas be­come much more aware of the need to have an en­vi­ron­men­tally ap­pro­pri­ate out­come for their projects. In the last five years de­mand in the private sec­tor has been ac­cel­er­at­ing con­sid­er­ably.

‘‘ I think in the fu­ture grad­u­ates, when they make a de­ci­sion about whether to join that com­pany or not, will be look­ing at what sort of a car­bon foot­print an or­gan­i­sa­tion has ’’ he said.

‘‘ That will fac­tor into an em­ployer-of-choice com­po­nent, and so com­pa­nies will in­creas­ingly see the need to min­imise their car­bon foot­print and use that in pro­mo­tional ma­te­rial to em­pha­sise that they are a good com­pany to work for.’’

It’s al­ready hap­pen­ing at com­pa­nies such as Price­wa­ter­house­Coop­ers. PwC en­vi­ron­ment law di­rec­tor Sean Lucy says there is a tan­gi­ble ‘‘ buzz’’ around cli­mate change is­sues for grad­u­ates. ‘‘ All our grad­u­ates want to know about PwC’s com­mit­ment to be­com­ing car­bon neu­tral, they want to un­der­stand how they can re­spond to the is­sue pro­fes­sion­ally. It’s an im­por­tant part of how they rate us, and whether they want to work for us.’’

PwC’s cli­mate change ser­vices di­vi­sion has grown from 10 peo­ple two years ago to 40 to­day, and fur­ther growth is pro­jected. The di­vi­sion ad­vises busi­nesses on a range of cli­mate change con­sid­er­a­tions, in­clud­ing strat­egy de­vel­op­ments, reg­u­la­tory changes and emis­sions man­age­ment.

‘‘ In the last 18 months there’s been an in­cred­i­ble growth in the depth of our ca­pa­bil­ity and the range of busi­nesses who want to talk about this is­sue, from NGOs to fed­eral and state gov­ern­ments and from ASX200 com­pa­nies to start-up busi­nesses,’’ Lucy says. ‘‘ There wouldn’t be one level of the Aus­tralian econ­omy where we haven’t got some level of in­ter­est (in our cli­mate change ser­vices).’’

PwC en­vi­ron­ment law part­ner Andrew Petersen fore­casts on­go­ing growth. ‘‘ Over time we’re go­ing to see new spe­cial­i­sa­tions needed,’’ he says. ‘‘ They’re not cli­mate change ex­perts as such, but they’re ex­perts in the field of the eco­nomics of em­bed­ding a car­bon price into the value of your busi­ness, ex­perts on de­vel­op­ing car­bon re­duc­tion strate­gies, or monetis­ing car­bon re­duc­tion projects.

‘‘ You’re go­ing to see both an ex­pan­sion in terms of num­bers and types of ser­vice of­fer­ings out there that are re­lated to cli­mate change.’’

Cli­mate change has been on the agenda for many years at the CSIRO.

Chris Mitchell, re­search leader of cli­mate, weather and ocean pre­dic­tion, leads 250 peo­ple work­ing on cli­mate change-re­lated re­search in­clud­ing drought, se­vere weather fore­cast­ing and green­houses gases in the at­mos­phere.

‘‘ I don’t think it (cli­mate change) is flavour of the month — I see it as a strate­gic shift to­wards sus­tain­abil­ity,’’ he says. ‘‘ Ten to 15 years ago there were not many peo­ple who worked on en­vi­ron­men­tal mat­ters — out­side a very few peo­ple work­ing on the reg­u­la­tory en­vi­ron­ment.

‘‘ Now we have peo­ple work­ing on cor­po­rate sus­tain­abil­ity, on green­house gas man­age­ment plans, on a whole range of things.’’

Mitchell says cli­mate change sci­en­tists are now find­ing their skills in de­mand in the private sec­tor. ‘‘ Com­pa­nies are go­ing to need to un­der­stand what their car­bon risk is, what their green­house emis­sions foot­print is. We have car­bon trad­ing on the hori­zon. In the cor­po­rate world th­ese as­pects of cli­mate change are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly im­por­tant and un­less you’ve got the an­a­lyt­i­cal ca­pa­bil­ity, you’re just guess­ing.’’

Pic­ture: Sam Mooy

Time lag: Andy Pit­man says univer­si­ties are strug­gling to catch up with de­mand for en­vi­ron­men­tal cour­ses

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