CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
I would like to begin by acknowledging the Gadigal people of the Eora nation as the Traditional Owners of the land that we’re meeting on today here in Sydney.
I pay my respect to their Elders past and present, and I recognise their continuing connection and custodianship of the lands, seas, and waters throughout Australia.
This is especially important today, as we talk about the well-overdue solutions and actions that will go part of the way to being better custodians of our environment.
Two years ago I announced our national missions program at the National Press Club in Canberra.
Missions are large scale, impact-focused scientific and collaborative research initiatives that bring together government, industry and the wider research sector to solve seemingly impossible problems.
Missions are aimed at making significant breakthroughs with a tangible end deliverable – just like startups, but they deliver solutions at scale from science through a wide network of partners.
In the two years since announcing the missions program, we have launched five missions with a combined investment of $276 million from CSIRO and our partners – and growing.
Those missions are already making progress towards growing Australia’s hydrogen industry, improving our resilience to drought, strengthening our agrifood exports against fraud, growing opportunities in future protein sources, and ending plastic waste.
Towards Net Zero Mission
This morning, your national science agency, CSIRO, launched mission number six: a $90 million mission for Australia called Towards Net Zero.
This mission goes to the heart of a challenge described in CSIRO’s 2019 report, the Australian National Outlook.
The ANO made it clear just how hard achieving net zero will be when it modelled how much our future energy needs will increase in order to drive up our GDP.
That means there is a significant gap between the emissions we are trying to reduce today and the emissions we will have to reduce by 2060.
To achieve this goal, some emissions lend themselves to existing solutions like electricity from renewable sources.
But other emissions sources will need a big push to reduce not only today’s emissions, but the increased emissions they will create under a more energy-intensive future.
That’s why CSIRO’s Towards Net Zero Mission aims to assist Australia’s hardest to abate sectors to reduce their emissions by 50 per cent by 2035.
Together with our partners, our Towards Net Zero Mission will help Australia’s agriculture, steel and associated metals, and aviation not just to achieve net zero, but in fact to flourish in a net zero future – a seemingly impossible challenge, but that’s what science is for.
While some of the technologies to support the transition may exist, many are currently too expensive or haven’t yet been tested at scale.
Even when these technologies are affordable and proven, the implementation in hard to abate industries is still complex.
Abating emissions in steel-making is not just a question of decarbonising the process of melting the iron ore, we also have to abate emissions across a long and disconnected supply chain, from mining the iron ore through to shipping and manufacturing processes.
We also have to replicate the unique chemical properties of coal at high temperature.
Likewise in agriculture, decarbonisation starts with fertiliser on crops or methane emissions from livestock, through to machinery to harvest, transport of produce and manufacturing of products before they reach supermarket shelves across the nation.
The Towards Net Zero Mission will also support these industries to reach net zero by introducing ‘negative-emissions technologies’ to offset their remaining emissions.
But again, implementation of offsets on a scale to match emissions coming from these sectors will need both investment and innovation.
So the technological challenge of both decarbonisation and offsets is enormous .
But missions aren’t just about technological challenges – if they were, we’d all stay in our labs and we would never have developed national agricultural research stations or placed our researchers on farms, and inside steel-making or aerospace companies.
For solutions to be meaningful, they must be co-developed with the people who will use them to make the real-world difference we need.
This mission will not just be working with the hard to abate industries, but also in partnership with their communities across Australia to understand the impacts and opportunities arising from new technologies and ways of doing business.
These regions have seen job losses over the years as hard to abate sectors have been impacted by a range of factors, from droughts and floods to international competitors to dwindling finite resources.
They don’t need another challenge, like decarbonisation – they need an opportunity.
That’s why our mission is focused on co-development not just of technological solutions to specific problems, but to innovative opportunities for reinvention.
We want to give them an opportunity to create innovative new industries that reinvent and reinvigorate these regions like they so rightly deserve.
So today I want to tell you about three parts of the Towards Net Zero mission that are co-developing these opportunities to revitalise the communities that support our hard to abate industries.
The first part comes from work with the Queensland Government to map out a low-emissions future for agriculture.
The second part comes from work with the Climate Change Authority and Clean Energy Regulator on Australia’s negative emissions potential.
And the third part comes from work with the regional communities that will be most impacted by the net zero transition.
Low Emissions Pathways for Queensland Agrifood
The first part of our mission responds to the challenge that agriculture accounts for half of all emissions from the hard to abate sectors.
In Queensland, for example, three quarters of agricultural emissions come from livestock, and following a long way behind, other emissions sources include manure management and fertiliser, each contributing around 11 per cent of emissions respectively.
But it’s easy to forget that, although agriculture is one of our hardest to abate industries, it’s also one of Australia’s most innovative.
CSIRO has always backed Australian agriculture with research and development – it’s where CSIRO started almost 100 years ago.
Our farmers and our agricultural industries have demonstrated time and again their ability to be at the cutting edge of technology and invention.
For example, a disease outbreak of rust could cost the Australian grain industry up to $1.4 billion over a decade, but CSIRO has now developed wheat breeding protocols that can bolster resilience against rust.
Or consider drought – though Sydney-siders may be longing for a bit of drought at the moment.
When droughts return – and they will return, longer and harsher than before – CSIRO’s research has helped wheat yields in WA remain steady over the past 30 years in the face of shifting climates that should have dramatically reduced their productivity.
Our ability to breed unique strains of crops designed with the specific characteristics we want means we can design crops to absorb more carbon, or to produce more oil, or to be feedstocks for sustainable fuels. Crops like this unique canola that produces omega 3 fish oil, sustainably.
Our farmers have also been some of Australia’s strongest adopters of digital technologies to inform their decision-making, harnessing tools like CSIRO’s Graincast and YieldProphet to optimise yield and profitability despite climate change.
This mission will continue to supply the innovation they need to flourish in a low emissions future.
Our Towards Net Zero mission has gone straight to the source of our hard to abate emissions: Australia’s home of beef cattle – Queensland.
Queensland is Australia’s largest beef producer, with 75 per cent of Queensland’s emissions coming from cattle digesting their food.
Working with the Queensland Government, our Towards Net Zero Mission developed the Low Emissions Pathways for Queensland Agrifood report.
The report sets out a roadmap of emission reduction options for Queensland’s $23 billion agribusiness and food sector, providing sustainable food for an increasing world population while using low emissions technologies that make Australia’s fresh produce more unique, more valued and more sought after by a new generation of global consumers.
Importantly, this report was informed by the ideas, insights and experiences of 145 participants and organisations representing key agricultural sectors, critical supply chain functions, farmer and industry groups, and regional organisations.
This report focused on the needs, interests and priorities of the communities who will need to adopt the technology the mission is creating.
The report looked at four possible areas to reduce emissions in agriculture.
It found about 0.15 megatonnes of carbon dioxide per year could be saved through energy efficiency measures on farms; and about 1.2 megatonnes per year could be saved through cropping measures, like fertiliser improvements.
But the numbers really leapt up when we looked at the third option, tackling cattle emissions, with abatement of up to 8 megatonnes per year being possible.
This would require new technologies to be used, some of which are yet to be developed, but others have just started production this year, like FutureFeed.
FutureFeed is a seaweed supplement for livestock feed that dramatically lowers cattle’s methane emissions.
This amazing Australian invention is now being exported to cattle feedlots around the world, supported by Australian businesses like Woolworths, GrainCorp, and Harvest Road.
Innovations like FutureFeed are the reason one of the report’s recommendations includes developing an innovation accelerator to fast-track research breakthroughs into industry solutions.
FutureFeed is a graduate of CSIRO’s innovation accelerator, ON, which takes researchers with novel ideas through an intensive customer-focus program to develop an investment-ready product pitch.
Through ON, we saw just a small slice of Australia’s cutting-edge agricultural research, which has the potential to create new industries from the solutions we need to move us towards net zero.
While the report found cattle emissions could be abated by up to 8 megatonnes, the standout was the fourth option: a whopping 19 megatonnes per year that could be abated through negative emissions, like soil and vegetation management, as well as other methods I’ll discuss in a moment.
Queensland’s agricultural emissions in 2020 were 19.9 megatonnes, so we could effectively abate this entire industry’s emissions through these two activities – livestock feed supplements and increased offsets.
One of the ways we can offset emissions is through carbon sequestration, that is, technologies that take carbon out of the atmosphere.
That’s why the second part of the Towards Net Zero Mission is working with the Climate Change Authority and Clean Energy Regulator on a first-ever stocktake of Australia’s actual carbon sequestration potential.
This report will tell us just how much Australia could reduce its emissions if we invest in these technologies.
CSIRO has over two decades of experience in carbon capture utilisation and storage research, which bring depth of expertise and partnerships to the report.
The report will also consider where Australia has unique advantages to accelerate development of these technologies.
Australia could create new industries from biochar – a charcoal-like substance made by heating plant material without oxygen.
Biochar can be made by recycling food waste or green waste, and it can be used to improve soil quality or to manufacture composite materials.
This creates a full-circle for the carbon dioxide – from being released into the atmosphere through emissions to being captured and stored again in new products.
Australia can scale these technologies rapidly by harnessing our growing renewable energy for production, our abundant land resources for raw materials, and our vast geological storage capacity for carbon.
The third part of our Towards Net Zero mission is our partnership with communities impacted by this transition.
Our seemingly impossible challenge is to lower emissions across multiple sectors while growing our economy and protecting our communities at the same time.
A purposeful and planned transition to net zero emissions creates a wide range of positive and environmental and social benefits, including new industries and jobs suited to regional areas – that’s what this mission sets out to do.
Interventions in hard to abate sectors like agriculture are only successful because they have been co-developed with farmers running their businesses.
Similarly, we will only create meaningful opportunities for regional communities impacted by the challenges of transition if they are co-developed and owned by these communities.
Place and community is where net zero transition intersects with broader values and aspirations and supply chains.
That’s why CSIRO is working with organisations like the Regional Australia Institute to examine regional vulnerability to the national net zero transition and identify where investment can empower communities to seize new opportunities and minimise disruption.
CSIRO also recently contributed our predictive analytics and modelling to the Energy Transitions Initiative report, or ETI, looking into decarbonisation opportunities in regional Australia.
The ETI is convened by Climate Works and Climate Kic – two not-for-profit groups focused on understanding how the transition to net zero is being experienced, and how its impacts can be mitigated, across Australia.
These partnerships will be an essential ingredient in all our technology development, to ensure our solutions are designed for and with our Australian communities.
Our Towards Net Zero Mission is proud to be a delivery partner for the ETI, recognising the success of our regions is the key to national prosperity.
Opportunity from adversity
Our mission recognises the scale of the challenge across these hard to abate industries, and the scale of the impacts if we get it wrong.
But more importantly, and what I want to talk more about in the time I have left, is the scale of the opportunity when we get it right.
I said earlier that we often forget that these industries are among our most innovative.
That’s why I am optimistic that, with the right support and investment, transitioning these industries to net zero could be the source of Australia’s next science-driven economic pillars.
If any industry was able to pivot through uptake of technology, these innovation powerhouses are the ones to lead the way.
Many of today’s speakers are testament to that spirit.
On this morning’s first panel of the day, you heard from Jennifer Westcott from the BCA and Matt Halliday from Ampol, both partners of CSIRO.
CSIRO and the BCA released a report last year that found our most resilient companies through COVID-19 were the ones that invested in innovation, and it identified opportunities for us to grow our way out of the pandemic by investing in our unique national strengths.
The same applies to Net Zero: We can grow through this transition by investing in innovation that creates new value, new industries and new jobs.
Matt Halliday and Ampol co-invested with CSIRO and our Innovation Fund, run by Main Sequence, to create the startup company Endua, which is developing hydrogen-powered batteries to be a renewable energy source for regional and remote communities, like the remote towns that support our mining workforce.
Speaking of CSIRO’s venture arm, Main Sequence, I’m delighted to see that after lunch, you’ll be hearing from a panel discussing investment in the clean energy economy, including from Louise Davidson, CEO of the Australian Council of Superannuation.
Main Sequence is Australia’s first venture fund at scale focused on supporting Australian science-driven startups to secure investment from Australia’s sizeable superannuation sector.
Funds like Australia’s HostPlus have joined international investors like Singapore’s Temasek and Lockheed Martin in the US in investing in Main Sequence not just because ‘it’s the right thing to do’, but because they understand that science doesn’t just solve problems, it creates solutions that generate value and grow the market, creating economic value across the community.
Seeing Australia’s traditionally risk-averse super community beginning to invest in science gives me great hope for our innovation to really drive economic growth even as we take on significant challenges like decarbonisation in these hard to abate sectors.
These hard to abate industries are already some of the largest contributors to our economy, and Australian science can reinvent them to grow even bigger in a net zero world.
Supporting our hardest to abate industries to reduce emissions isn’t just about science and technology – it requires us to think and work differently. It is nothing short of a mission contributing to global climate action.
I was in Kyoto last week, joining global leaders to discuss the imperative for science-driven solutions to global challenges.
I was proud to represent CSIRO’s Toward Net Zero Mission, which is now part of the international initiative ‘Mission Innovation’.
JFK said more than 60 years ago, when announcing his Mission to go to the Moon, ‘We choose to do these things because they are hard.’
Today we don’t have a choice – this is a problem that we must solve at all costs.
It’s breathtaking to realise that the bold, ambitious vision to go to the Moon all those years ago pales in comparison to the collaborative effort it will take for us to protect our way of life here on Earth.
But in the same spirit, by joining together to achieve this mission, we can unlock incredible value in the process, and propel Australia’s economy forward into an exciting net zero future.