Over the weekend the world sadly lost a remarkable and generous human, in climate scientist Professor Will Steffen. Tributes about Will’s intellect, passion and courage have flowed since news of his passing spread.
These tributes have discussed his impressive body of research, his skill as a scientist, his ability to communicate the most complex of sciences and systems to a vast array of audiences. They’ve also discussed his humanity, his generosity and his friendship.
We wish to add to those tributes our particular admiration for Professor Steffen as an expert witness in climate litigation. Many people will not be aware of the significant role Professor Steffen played in advancing climate law in Australia. For us, Will was an independent expert we briefed many times on behalf of our clients to explain to the courts the impacts of climate change, the complex earth systems which drive the change and the existence of ‘tipping points’ within those systems which might have dire consequences for humanity and the world on which we rely.
It is telling that in each instance, the opposing side to the litigation chose not to put on a contrary expert on climate science. That is, not one miner, nor government department, nor billionaire could find an expert that thought they could best the evidence of Professor Steffen. That is telling in and of itself. However, for those of us fortunate enough to witness Professor Steffen giving evidence, his brilliance was in communicating climate science to the bench (and any other people fortunate enough to be in court at the time) in a clear and compelling way. His evidence was powerful without any resort to sensationalism and he had a knack for hitting a question in cross examination right back over the bowler’s head.
Many of the most outstanding outcomes from a climate litigation perspective have been underpinned by the independent evidence provided to courts by Professor Steffen, cases like Rocky Hill, Sharma and most recently Youth Verdict/Bimblebox Alliance – Galilee Coal Project case. Will’s testimony about the application of the Carbon Budget has underpinned some of the most crucial jurisprudential development in the climate space. In just December last year the Land Court accepted Professor Steffen’s latest Earth System science that for the first time placed the Court’s decision in the conceptual climate model, which we believe was significant factor in the Court’s decision that Clive Palmer’s coal mine should be refused on climate grounds.
Will was a giant of intellect, passion and generosity of spirit. He leaves behind an incredible legacy of progress and inspiration. For all of that we at the EDO express our immense gratitude.
For those of us lucky enough to know Will, his passing is heartbreaking and we send our deepest love and condolences to his family and friends.
Our colleagues at the Climate Council have created an avenue for those wishing to send their well-wishes to his family – you can access that here: Vale Will Steffen | Climate Council