Once the darling of Australia’s conservative government, controversial climate contrarian Bjørn Lomborg has lost his Down Under caché—and cash. Yesterday, education minister Simon Birmingham, told a Senate committee that the government had withdrawn its offer of $3 million toward establishing an Australian version of Lomborg’s Copenhagen Consensus Center.
The government of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who in 2009 dismissed climate change as “absolute crap,” had been keen to support an Australian Consensus Centre (ACC) that would conduct policy research on overseas aid, Australian prosperity, agriculture, and regional issues. Malcolm Turnbull replaced Abbott as leader of the Liberal Party on 15 September. Long in favor of action on climate change, Turnbull is gradually shifting the government’s course. Birmingham, appointed 19 September, told the committee that his predecessor, Christopher Pyne, had decided before the reshuffle that the “proposal was unlikely to enjoy success and that the funds could be better utilized elsewhere.”
A spokesman for Lomborg told The Australian newspaper that it was “disappointing that a significant global research effort attracting top economists to look at development priorities will no longer be associated with Australia.”
The ACC proposal had a bumpy ride from the beginning. The University of Western Australia (UWA) in Perth announced plans to host it last April. The revelation that the government would contribute funding to start the center and cover a third of its operating expenses triggered outrage from the scientific and academic communities. In the wake of the uproar, UWA Vice Chancellor Paul Johnson announced on 8 May with “great regret and disappointment” that he would cancel the center’s contract and return the money to the government. The Abbott government vowed to find another host institution; Flinders University, in Adelaide, was developing a proposal with Lomborg. The news about the loss of funding was “disappointing” to Colin Stirling, Flinders’ vice-chancellor said in a statement. “Universities should be places for contesting controversial issues without fear or favour,” he said.
Although government money is off the table, Birmingham noted that if any university wished to work with Lomborg, “they should of course feel absolutely free to do so.”