ANU pays tribute to Emeritus Professor Will Steffen

Photo: ANU
31 January 2023

The Australian National University (ANU) is mourning the loss of one of Australia's most influential and respected climate scientists, Emeritus Professor Will Steffen. 

Professor Steffen was an internationally-esteemed expert in global change research, serving as Executive Director of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) and a contributor to five Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment reports. 

He will leave behind a lasting legacy at ANU, as the former Director of the ANU Fenner School of Environment and Society, and the Inaugural Director of the ANU Climate Institute. 

Professor Saul Cunnigham, Director of the Fenner School of Environment and Society, paid tribute to Professor Steffen.  

Professor Will Steffen was a hugely important and influential scientist in the area of Earth Systems Science and leading thinker on sustainability at planetary scale.

"While his impact was international and extended over a long career, the University's Fenner School of Environment and Society owes him a special debt because he was our inaugural director, appointed when the School was created in 2007." 

Dr Joelle Gergis, Senior Lecturer in Climate Science at the Fenner School, commented on the impact Professor Steffen made at ANU. 

"Will was a visionary; a brilliant scientist and gifted communicator who was so generous with his time. He was so supportive of people like me coming through the ranks. He leaves an extraordinary legacy as one of the greats of our time. It is such a loss for our community." 

Professor Steffen also made substantial contributions to science policy, serving as a climate adviser to the Australian Government Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, the Australian Government's Climate Commission, and the Climate Council. His research spanned a broad range within Earth System 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 was tireless in educating the public, engaging with policy and supporting fellow researchers.   

Director of the Institute for Climate, Energy and Disaster Solutions (ICEDS) Professor Mark Howden also honoured Professor Steffen's remarkable intellect and passion for climate science.  

"Through his early roles in the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) Global Change and Terrestrial Ecosystems program and subsequently, Will made significant contributions to research and communication about the earth as a system and how humans are affecting the state and function of this system. " Professor Howden said.  

"Will was instrumental in alerting the Australian public to the challenges of climate change and the need for strong and rapid emission-reductions, particularly through his work with the Climate Council." 

Professor Frank Jotzo, Head of Energy at ICEDS, remembers Professor Steffen as a highly esteemed colleague. Professor Jotzo worked with Professor Steffen at the ANU Climate Change Institute and described him as "a great thinker on climate change". 

"I owe him much. I will remember him as a gentle, positive human being who made a difference in how the world understands climate change." 

Professor Steffen will be remembered by colleagues as a brilliant scientist and gifted science communicator who made a difference on one of the biggest issues the world is facing.   

The University's thoughts are with his family, friends and all those who worked with him during his time at ANU. 

Vale Professor Will Steffen. 

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This article was first published by ANU Media