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Will Steffen

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Will Steffen
Steffen in 2010
William Lee Steffen

(1947-06-25)25 June 1947
Died29 January 2023(2023-01-29) (aged 75)
Canberra, Australia
Alma mater
Known for
SpouseCarrie Steffen[1]
Scientific career
FieldsClimate science

William Lee Steffen (25 June 1947 – 29 January 2023)[2] was an American-born Australian chemist. He was the executive director of the Australian National University (ANU) Climate Change Institute and a member of the Australian Climate Commission until its dissolution in September 2013.[3] From 1998 to 2004, he was the executive director of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, a coordinating body of national environmental change organisations based in Stockholm.[4] Steffen was one of the founding climate councillors of the Climate Council, with whom he frequently co-authored reports, and spoke in the media on issues relating to climate change and renewable energy.[5]

Life and career[edit]

Will Steffen was born in Norfolk, Nebraska, on 25 June 1947.[2] Steffen completed a BSc in industrial chemistry from the University of Missouri in 1970. The University of Florida awarded him an MSc in education in 1972 and a PhD in chemistry in 1975.[6][7] He is widely published on climate science. His research interests ranged over climate change and Earth system science, with a focus on sustainability. He wrote on adapting land use to climate change, bringing human processes into the modelling and analysis of the Earth system, and the history of and future prospects for the relationship between the natural world and humans.[4] Steffen was also prominent advocating along with Paul Crutzen the concept of the Anthropocene,[8] and initiating along with Johan Rockström an international debate on planetary boundaries and the "safe operating space" for humanity and in 2018 on the possibility of uncontrolled climate evolution, which stirred considerable scientific debate (Hothouse Earth).[9][10]

Steffen served as science adviser to the Australian Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency.[4] He was a member of the advisory board of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology and worked with the Prime Minister's Science, Engineering and Innovation Council. He was also on an advisory panel in Colorado with the National Center for Atmospheric Research.[6]

Steffen was on the Science Advisory Committee of the APEC Climate Centre in Korea. He was honorary professor at the Copenhagen University's Department of Geography and Geology and visiting researcher at the Stockholm Resilience Centre.[6] He was the chair of the Federal Government's Antarctic Science Advisory Committee, and advised the Australian Government in further roles as scientific adviser to the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency and as expert adviser to the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee.[6] Steffen also sat on the Australian Climate Commission.[11]

In 2011, he was the principal author of a government climate report, The Critical Decade,[12] which advocated that a tax should be placed on carbon.[13][14][15]

The Australian Climate Commission was dissolved in 2013. Steffen reflected, "I think we were the first definitive action of the Abbott government. They got rid of us and you could probably measure it in hours rather than days."[16] Steffen, along with other dismissed commissioners such as professor Tim Flannery, professor Lesley Ann Hughes, and CEO Amanda McKenzie, launched a new independent organisation — the Climate Council — in Australia's largest crowdfunding, raising over $1 million in one week.[17] Steffen remained a climate councillor with the Climate Council.[18]

In 2018, he was an author of the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C published by the IPCC.[19]

Steffen died from pancreatic cancer in Canberra on 29 January 2023, at age 75.[20][1] He was married to Carrie for 51 years, and they had a daughter named Sonja.[1]

Some publications[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Readfearn, Graham (31 January 2023). "Will Steffen, 'courageous' climate scientist, dies in Canberra aged 75". The Guardian. Retrieved 31 January 2023.
  2. ^ a b "Expert Report" (PDF). NSW Independent Planning Commission. 14 November 2018. Archived from the original (PDF) on 20 March 2022. Retrieved 31 January 2023.
  3. ^ Arup, Tom (19 September 2013). "Abbott shuts down Climate Commission". Theage.com.au. Retrieved 24 September 2013.
  4. ^ a b c Professor Will Steffen ANU Climate Change Institute. Retrieved 11 July 2011.
  5. ^ "Will Steffen, Author".
  6. ^ a b c d Professor Will Steffen Australian Research Council.
  7. ^ Rockström, Johan; Richardson, Katherine (21 April 2023). "William Steffen (1947–2023)". Science. 380 (6642): 245–245. doi:10.1126/science.adh9882. ISSN 0036-8075.
  8. ^ Steffen W, Crutzen PJ and J. R. McNeill JR (2007) "The Anthropocene: are humans now overwhelming the great forces of Nature?" Ambio, 36:614–621.
  9. ^ Rockström, J.; Steffen, W.; Noone, K.; Persson, Å.; Chapin Fs, F. S.; Lambin, E. F.; Lenton, T. M.; Scheffer, M.; Folke, C.; Schellnhuber, H. J.; Nykvist, B. R.; De Wit, C. A.; Hughes, T.; Van Der Leeuw, S.; Rodhe, H.; Sörlin, S.; Snyder, P. K.; Costanza, R.; Svedin, U.; Falkenmark, M.; Karlberg, L.; Corell, R. W.; Fabry, V. J.; Hansen, J.; Walker, B.; Liverman, D.; Richardson, K.; Crutzen, P.; Foley, J. A. (2009). "A safe operating space for humanity". Nature. 461 (7263): 472–475. Bibcode:2009Natur.461..472R. doi:10.1038/461472a. PMID 19779433.
  10. ^ Rockström, Johan; Richardson, Katherine (21 April 2023). "William Steffen (1947–2023)". Science. 380 (6642): 245–245. doi:10.1126/science.adh9882. ISSN 0036-8075.
  11. ^ "About the Commission". Climate Commission. 2013. Retrieved 24 September 2013.
  12. ^ Climate Commission Secretariat (2013). The Critical Decade: Climate science, risks and responses (PDF-4.56 Mb). Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency. ISBN 978-1-921299-50-6. Retrieved 6 April 2015.
  13. ^ "We're bit players in a global drama" The Australian, 24 May 2011.
  14. ^ "Looking at the critical climate decade". Stock Journal, 27 May 2011.
  15. ^ CSIRO scientists cited on climate doomsday The Australian, 5 July 2011.
  16. ^ Wilkinson, Marian (28 August 2020). "'You bastards sacked me.' When the climate sceptics arrived". The Sydney Morning Herald.
  17. ^ "Climate Council nets $1m in donations". SBS.
  18. ^ "Will Steffen, Author".
  19. ^ IPCC 2018: Chapter 1: Framing and Context. Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C.
  20. ^ Jervis-Bardy, Dan (31 January 2023). "Climate scientist Will Steffen's death prompts outpouring of tributes". Canberra Times. Retrieved 31 January 2023.

External links[edit]