Sustainable decisions: researching Australia’s future
CSIRO is spearheading a new national scientific capability to inform on Australia’s shift to a prosperous, sustainable, lower carbon, climate adapted future.
Integrated Carbon Pathways will draw upon CSIRO’s scientific resources to respond to climate change and promote sustainability in the context of economic growth, population pressures, and increasing resource scarcity.
Existing tools and approaches offer only partial perspectives – providing depth in some areas, but failing to integrate across issues, and to connect economic, social and biophysical dimensions.
In this podcast, the Director of CSIRO’s Energy Transformed Flagship Dr Alex Wonhas explains the role of Integrated Carbon Pathways and how the choices we make today will shape our nation for decades to come.
Interviewer: G’day and welcome to CSIROpod, I’m Glen Paul. Australia faces an unprecedented transition of its economy, society and environment. We’ll have to respond to climate change and promote sustainability in the context of economic growth, population pressures and increasing resource scarcity. The choices we make today will shape the nation for decades to come. The problem is, the existing tools and approaches offer only partial perspectives providing depth in some areas while failing to integrate other issues. In an effort to try and bring it all together CSIRO has formed a new scientific group called the Australian Integrated Sustainability and Carbon Assessment Service or AISCAS. With the aim of providing information on Australia’s rapid transition to a prosperous, sustainable, lower carbon climate adapted future. The Director of CSIROs Energy Transform Flagship, Dr Alex Wonhas, is involved in the formation of the new service and joins me on line.
Alex, what exactly is the Australian Integrated Sustainability and Carbon Assessment Service and where has the idea come from?
Dr Wonhas: Well, it’s a really exciting project of, what I would say, national importance to create a much needed new capability for Australia. Where it’s coming from is our understanding that looking at specific areas like energy, land use and water in isolation will not be sufficient to really shape our transition to a lower carbon climate adapted future. And that’s why we in CSIRO have decided to bring all our research together to really create an integrated perspective and pathways for Australia’s future.
Interviewer: So, this is a CSIRO initiative, but are we working totally alone on this?
Dr Wonhas: Oh no, absolutely not. I think, that’s a challenge that is going well beyond what we can do alone as an organisation. So, we are really seeing ourselves as a catalyst for the whole innovation system to define those pathways. So, for example, we are working with other institutions such as Monash University, who’s providing some of the economic modelling to achieve this.
Interviewer: And obviously CSIRO has a lot of resources it can draw upon for this new service. What will it be bringing to it?
Dr Wonhas: I think, CSIRO will bring the overall integration because CSIRO has an advantage by being a truly multidisciplinary organisation. We have obviously a deep understanding of some of the domains, such as the energy sector, land use and water domain. But we also recognise our limitations in this and we’ll work closely together with other agencies and other research body to fill the gaps where we don’t have sufficient knowledge to do everything ourselves.
Interviewer: OK. So, what are the long term sustainability priorities likely to be and how do they fit in with the country’s economic aims?
Dr Wonhas: Well, I think the long term sustainability challenges are pretty well understood, it’s around reducing our overall carbon emissions from the whole economic system. It’s getting to live with probably a lower amount of water on this continent. It is providing for a rapidly growing population and we need to do all of that in the most likely scenario of a changing climate, which actually affects how much water is available and how much land might be available for say, food production or other uses of land.
Interviewer: Yeah, and from what I’ve read there’s certainly been plenty of research conducted into these various areas, but what about interaction, what about when you join the dots so speak?
Dr Wonhas: Well, it’s quite difficult in the first instance to actually understand for instance how the energy sector and isolation, or our land and agricultural factor in isolation will have to deal with the challenges of a changing climate, and the challenges of say a growing population. And I think that’s probably what we have done over the last decade. We are now at a point where I think we understand all of these reasonably well and now we are coming to the point where we need to understand how all of these different sectors interact. And the way we use our land is a great example for these interactions, because you can use land for obviously food production, but you can use land also for biosequestration, or you can use land for bioenergy production but there are trade-offs involved. So, for instance if you plant a big carbon forest that has implications on water runoff, and then that water than might not be available further downstream for say, agricultural production or industrial use. Furthermore, if you rely on the land for biosequestration under a certain carbon price, you need to take into account how food prices evolve in the future and might then compete with the use of land for carbon abatement. So, our aim is really to get an internally consistent picture of these interactions so that we get a robust picture of the different pathways we can take to a lower carbon, climate adapted and prosperous future.
Interviewer: OK. So, who will the service be reporting to with these findings?
Dr Wonhas: I think, our primary customer, at least initially, will be various decision makers in Government and also industry who have a keen interest on how Australia could look in 20, 30 or 50-years’ time.
Interviewer: Right and when will we see some sort of strategy emerging from it all?
Dr Wonhas: It’s obviously a very ambitious project and it can’t be done in a day. So, what we are planning to do this year is providing our first demonstration of this capability that really puts Australia in the global economic and environmental context. That then has a much more detailed understanding of the different land use options that we have in this continent and that then also integrates that with a detailed understanding of our energy sector. So, that’s the year one output, I think. Then over a timeframe of probably four years we will refine this understanding and make it much more tangible.
Interviewer: And who’s funding this service?
Dr Wonhas: Well, at the moment it’s internally funded through CSIRO, but we have had discussion with both the Government and industry in terms of it providing more long term funding for this initiative.
Interviewer: Righto. Now, look I haven’t been able to find any reference to AISCAS on the web anywhere, that’s how new the service is. Is there somewhere people can go to find out more about it?
Dr Wonhas: Well, that’s actually a good question. Since this initiative is very much in its infancy we have prepared a lot of internal documentation, but I think your suggestion is probably a good one to maybe put some of the documentation on the web so that people can look at it.
Interviewer: OK, well we’d better get something up on CSIRO.au about it. Thanks very much for talking to me today about AISCAS Project, Alex, it sounds like a great initiative and hopefully it will deliver some answers into the future.
Dr Wonhas: It’s a great pleasure, Glen. Thank you.
Interviewer: Doctor Alex Wonhas, Director of CSIROs Energy Transformer Flagship, for more information go to www.csiro.au.