Professor Will Steffen was a brilliant scientist, gifted communicator, and brave climate warrior. He was also kind and generous to a fault.
Visit Will Steffen’s memorial page here.
He was a world-renowned scientist and one of the most influential thinkers of our time. He pushed boundaries and built on our knowledge by advancing concepts such as the Anthropocene, planetary boundaries and tipping points. He was a contributing author and reviewer on five IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) assessments and special reports, and many other critical scientific publications. He was a leader of major international science programs, a highly-respected colleague and also a mentor to many around the world.
In Australia, Will had an equally profound impact on science and public policy. He knew that he needed to take the science out of the lab and ensure that the general public and policymakers understood it. His clear, powerful communications on extreme weather and science have been critical to changing the national conversation; using his expertise to make the case for urgent climate action over and over to the media, to politicians and board rooms. He also used his knowledge to great effect as an expert witness in a number of court cases that challenged the expansion and development of fossil fuel projects.
He was sought after by many policy advisory groups to governments, including the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee in 2010, served as the Science Adviser to the Australian Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, and was Chair of the Antarctic Science Advisory Committee.
He was a deeply proud Canberran, and passionate about the climate example the city could set for Australia and the world. He was a founding member of the ACT Climate Change Council and helped to transform the city into a leader on climate action.
Will is part of the very fabric of the Climate Council. He co-founded the organisation in 2013 after the Abbott Government abolished the Climate Commission. He has served as a Councillor for 10 years, as well as a stint as a Board member. Will authored, reviewed and publicly launched numerous publications that clearly explained to the public the risks and dangers of climate change. Through these reports, he re-wrote the language on how to speak powerfully and clearly on the influence of climate change on extreme weather events. He was critical to elevating climate on the national agenda and ensuring that it is now treated with much greater urgency. He was determined to arm us all with the information we need to ensure we not only survive, but thrive.
We were privileged to work alongside him, as he fearlessly carried the beacon of climate science light during some dark, political times. This was challenging work, but Will never shied away from a necessary fight. No matter how uncomfortable or confronting, Will was always willing to speak the truth about the scale and urgency of the climate crisis. In doing so, he would also infuse us with hope. He was optimistic about humanity’s capacity to tackle the climate crisis and build a better world.
Anyone lucky enough to meet Will was always struck by how kind, caring and generous he was – both with his time and his knowledge. He championed others, always seeking to encourage others into the limelight and recognise their contributions.
Will has made an indelible contribution to ensuring that the world understands the severity of the climate crisis and our capacity to tackle it. The groundbreaking scientific contributions he made will continue to shape our understanding of the climate crisis for many years to come. His crisp, clear communication and innate ability to translate complexity for a general audience will continue to be the benchmark for effective science communications. His work in public policy will continue to ripple through Canberra and Australia. The work he has done to build the Climate Council will resonate with us each and every day as we continue to build on his legacy.
His dedication, courage, passion, guidance and conviction will stay with us as we continue his work. He will live on in all of us as we use his science and his words to keep making the case for more urgent climate action to safeguard all that is precious to us.
His passing leaves us with heavy hearts and a profound sense of loss. We offer our deepest, heartfelt condolences to his family, including his wife and daughter, fellow colleagues, friends and everyone who came to know and love him.
His legacy is profound and will long be remembered.
Vale Will Steffen.
Download the booklet of messages sent to Will Steffen here