Chief Executive Dr Larry Marshall writes about the new Australian National Outlook report and what opportunities are on the horizon.

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Australia has had a prosperous past. As a nation, we've enjoyed nearly three decades of uninterrupted economic growth.

Through science and technology, CSIRO has helped to bolster a broad notion of prosperity. We've lead improvements in health. We've created entirely new industries and new jobs. We've helped look after our lands and waters. And we've supported a thriving economy.

But the world is rapidly changing.

We live in an increasingly global world. Social, environmental and technological changes surround us. And even the most stalwart and steady industries are in a state of flux. There's no guarantee that our economic growth will continue; in fact, our science tells us if we don't focus on five key shifts, growth is unlikely.

So what will Australia look like in 2060?

It's this question that drove our creation of the Australian National Outlook 2019.

We launched this future-facing report yesterday in Sydney, in front of an audience of thinkers and industry leaders. The report is online, and I really encourage you to read it and consider: what would your ideal Australia look like in 2060?

The National Outlook aims to guide all decision-makers – business, universities and other research institutions, community groups, and government – in developing actions today that will shape a strong and prosperous future for all Australians. It's not the answer, its not the action plan, but it is the foundation of an ongoing commitment to make a better Australia – it's the beginning, I think, of a get real moment that takes us beyond pettiness of politics and drives us towards a brighter tomorrow.

So what's on the horizon?

The National Outlook is a bold undertaking.

We draw on the latest scientific data to create wide-ranging scenarios about our nation's future.

At its core, the National Outlook uses science to navigate Australia on a path to prosperity, and court a new way of thinking and leadership needed across all levels of business, government and non-government if we are to achieve this.

How did we do it?

We collated, modelled and analysed data from our experts, but more than just the science, we reached out to community and more than 50 leaders from organisations from across industry, non-profit and university sectors, including NAB, Shell, Australian Red Cross, Monash University and Lend Lease.

The National Outlook represents two years of sophisticated integrated modelling by CSIRO and provides insights based on the highest quality data. It is the culmination of nine workshops, innumerable meetings, tele-conferences and at times frank and robust debate. This is a good thing, and you would expect nothing less with an undertaking as ambitious, broad and deep in scope. So what did all of this analysis and discussion lead to?

Australia is at a crossroads: which way should we walk or even run?

It's true. Australia is at a crossroads. We have two choices: to stride towards a more positive future outlook filled with growth, or do nothing, and slide into a slow decline.

There are big drivers for taking action: the research in the National Outlook says it's possible to achieve higher GDP per capital group — as much as 36 per cent — while ensuring growth is inclusive and environmentally sustainable. In a global context, strong co-operation on climate change and trade can deliver a better outcome for Australia without significantly impacting our economic growth. Before, this may have been thought impossible.

For most people, the answer would be obvious: the Outlook Vision describes a far more attractive future for our country, and for our children's future. But if we are to embrace a positive outlook, then we must make changes to critical elements of Australia.

Slow decline:

  • GDP grows at 2.1 per cent annually
  • real wages are 40 per cent higher in 2060 than today
  • cities sprawl with little change in density
  • average urban vehicle kilometres traveled per capita falls by less than 25 per cent
  • net emissions decreases to 476 MtCO2e by 2060 (-11 per cent on 2016 levels)
  • 61 per cent increase in total energy use by 2060 (on 2016 levels) with only a modest improvement in energy productivity
  • returns to landholders increase by around $18 billion between 2016 and 2060
  • households spend 38 per cent less on electricity as a percentage of income
  • minimal environmental plantings to 2060

Outlook vision:

  • GDP grows at 2.75 - 2.8 per cent annually
  • real wages are 90 per cent higher in 2060 than today
  • average density of major cities increases 60-88 per cent
  • average urban vehicle kilometres traveled per capita reduced by 33-45 per cent with greater update of mass transit
  • Australia reaches net-zero emissions by 2050 under a cooperative global context, with the potential for net-negative emissions by 2060
  • 6-28 per cent increase in total energy use by 2060 (on 2016 levels) with more than a doubling of energy productivity per unit of GDP
  • returns to landholders increase by $42-84 billion between 2016 and 2060
  • households spend up to 64 per cent less on electricity as a percentage of income
  • 11-20 Mha of environmental plantings in 2060 under a cooperative global context (12–24 per cent of intensive agricultural land)

What shifts do we need to make, to create a positive future?

As the saying goes, "If you do nothing, nothing happens, if you do something, something happens"; if the something is guided by the best science and the best people, its likely that something remarkable happens. And so, the National Outlook has identified the five key shifts that will be needed if we're to move towards the 'positive outlook' scenario:

  1. Industry shift: Invest in new innovative industries to attract more investment and get better skilled in new technologies
  2. Urban shift: A smarter mix of housing, use of public transport and a dramatic reduction in car use
  3. Energy shift: Pursue low emission technologies for affordable, reliable, exportable energy
  4. Land shift: Invest in food and fibre industries and build resilience to climate change
  5. Culture shift: restore the trust in institutions, companies and politics

None of these shifts are new. But the National Outlook is novel in that it has integrated them to identify pathways for the future.

So how can we navigate to the best path when the future appears so uncertain? In many ways, we've been here before. And often science has provided the answers. For over 100 years, the CSIRO has been solving Australia's greatest challenges through science and technology.

Some of these examples may be familiar to you: we created Wi-Fi and ultrasound, we managed rabbit plague with myxomatosis and, if you still carry actual money, we created plastic bank notes!

Some of our other creations may not be as well known but they're equally impressive:

  • ­We've reduced carbon emissions from livestock (10 per cent of Australia's total emissions) by creating FutureFeed, a feed supplement that increases production and virtually eliminates methane emissions.
  • ­TransiratiONal is an environmentally-friendly, sprayable biodegradable polymer membrane product that helps farmers produce more on the same land area, using less water, nutrients and agrochemicals.
  • By combining artificial intelligence, machine learning and cloud-based geospatial technology we have addressed a number of challenges. Working with rural technology start-up Digital Agriculture Services (DAS) the Rural Intelligence Platform is the first-ever software to comprehensively assess and monitor rural land anywhere in Australia.
  • ­With our biodiversity under increasing pressure we're looking to identify risks to threatened and endangered species and to the sustainable management of fisheries through fish DNA.
  • ­And we've developed a metal membrane to extract pure hydrogen from ammonia, paving the way for a new Australian renewable hydrogen export industry using renewable liquid fuel.

As a nation, we've already made great strides to overcome the challenges that we face, the challenges that put Australia at a disadvantage. And we can do more. The ANO can help guide the way.

The Australian National Outlook team

As the dust settles on yesterday's launch in Sydney, I'd like to acknowledge the people behind the National Outlook(s). First, the team of scientists and subject experts from CSIRO; especially James Deverell and the CSIRO Futures team; the National Australia Bank as a key partner who recognised from the beginning the immense potential of this project; the Australian National Outlook Steering Committee; and lastly, all of our partners for the dedication, contribution and unique insight that they brought to this initiative.

When your grandchildren ask what you did in your life, I'm sure the ANO experience will be high on the list, and even more importantly they'll be living the benefits – it's the greatest thanks I could wish for all of us.

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