CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
I would like to begin by acknowledging the Traditional Custodians of the land I am on here in Canberra, the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, and pay my respect to their Elders past and present.
I would also like to acknowledge the Indigenous leaders here in the room today.
I thank them for caring for the Country we are on now, and for sharing their knowledge, wisdom and culture.
Welcome to our business leaders building Australia’s future industries.
Welcome to our university leaders ensuring our children have the right knowledge, skills and capability we’ll need.
Welcome to our government leaders steering the ship.
And hello to everyone watching at home.
It’s fitting we’re having this conversation with such a diverse group, because it impacts us all, and we all have a role to play in shaping the future of our nation.
You know me as the Chief Executive of Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO.
What you may not know about me is that I love to surf.
Growing up on Sydney’s Northern Beaches there was something I needed to learn, and that’s how to read the beach. How to understand the rips and dumpers and be safe in the water.
I learned this the hard way when I was 10, when I nearly drowned in a rip. Thankfully a surfer brought me back to shore, and inspired me to learn lifesaving – a tradition I’ve passed on to my two children.
Australian beaches are beautiful, but they hide an uncomfortable truth – they can be deadly to those who can’t read the surf, or don’t heed the warning signs.
But a beach looks completely different if you can see the rip. It gives you choices.
You might decide to use the rip to ride out past the breakers and get in position to catch some waves.
You might decide to avoid the rip altogether and swim in a different place.
Or you may decide to simply enjoy the safety of the sand.
Megatrends are the same.
Just like the rip, if you can’t see the megatrends, they can be devastating.
On the other hand, if you can see them, understand them, and harness them, they can power you into the future.
Today, all of Australia is standing on a beach.
We are looking out at a sea of possibilities that could enhance and protect our natural environment, improve our health, and boost the performance of our industries.
But in that sea, there are dangerous rips and currents.
To create the future we all want, we need to navigate them successfully.
That’s what I’m here to talk to you about.
Today CSIRO releases a once-in-decade report on the seismic shifts that will change the way we all live over the next 20 years.
You will hear about seven global megatrends that are going to impact each one of us, and about what we need to do to prepare.
Megatrends give a name to the uncomfortable truths and massive opportunities that will shape our future.
But they also give us the power to create a version of that future where we prosper – if we act.
We are living in a world full of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity – and there’s much more yet to come.
Our future depends on our ability to understand the waves of disruption coming at us, face uncomfortable truths, and respond together at scale.
As a nation we haven’t always done this well.
We’ve spent 50 years understanding climate change, but we haven’t invested in the large scale, transformative change we now so desperately need to limit its impact.
This failure to act is an uncomfortable and costly truth.
But uncomfortable truths also show us where the most powerful innovation can be found – if we act.
Analysing megatrends – formed using thousands of data points collected over decades – is how we read the rip. How we respond is up to all of us.
But unlike the beach scenario, there is no safety in staying on the sand.
The water is rising to meet us.
Adapting to a Changing Climate
That’s why the first megatrend is Adapting to a Changing Climate.
Now and into the future, the increasing frequency and cost of natural disasters is likely to overlap with multiple concurrent climate hazards, compounding the overall risk to people, communities, and industries.
Climate change began as an environmental emergency. Then it became an economic emergency.
It’s now a human health emergency.
In Australia, heat related deaths are expected to grow by more than 60 per cent by 2050, with Perth forecast to be worst hit.
In 2020, there were 673 heat-related deaths in Perth. That’s forecast to be at least 1,400 lives lost every year by 2050.
But the term ‘emergency’ doesn’t quite capture it.
It suggests that if we act quickly to fix the problem, it will be over.
The uncomfortable truth is we’ve missed our opportunity to limit dangerous climate change in this century.
We will need to wait until the beginning of next century to see the benefit of emissions reductions, so we must adapt to a changing climate while we wait for our mitigation efforts to work.
We need to adapt our healthcare system, critical infrastructure, settlement patterns and disaster preparedness.
After the Black Summer fires of 2019, CSIRO led a review of Climate and Disaster Resilience with the Australasian Fire Authorities Council, the Bureau of Meteorology, and a raft of others.
We’re already applying the recommendations of that report, including implementing a collaborative and national approach, using technologies like Artificial Intelligence to get ahead of bushfires, and working with Indigenous leaders to learn from traditional burning.
This collaborative approach is also how we are delivering a national program of Missions to address Australia’s greatest challenges, including building resilience to drought; preparing Australia’s enterprises for climate shocks; and protecting of our precious water resources.
But there’s much more we must do.
Leaner, Cleaner and Greener
A key element of that response is contained in our second megatrend – ‘Leaner, Cleaner and Greener’.
Australia has ridden the wave of fossil fuels for 30 years, but it’s time to catch the next wave – renewables – which will account for 80 per cent of the growth in global electricity demand by 2030.
Australia has the highest wind and solar capacity per capita of any developed nation; a wealth of critical minerals needed for low emissions technologies; and a skilled workforce.
We can become a global superpower in clean energy industries, but the uncomfortable truth is there’s something standing in the way – our innovation problem.
We haven’t invested in the innovation needed to capture this opportunity and transform our economy beyond fossil fuels.
But that is starting to change.
Through CSIRO, Australia has invented a liquid renewable fuel to tackle our most difficult emissions, and through our Hydrogen Industry Mission, we’re backing it to create a $50 billion per year opportunity in hydrogen for domestic use and export.
We’re also working with our partners on Missions to accelerate towards net zero; end plastic waste; turn our raw minerals into high value products for low emissions technologies; and evolve our agricultural sector to produce more food, more sustainably, from more sources.
But there’s much more we must do.
Escalating Health Imperative
A changing climate affects our health, which is why the third megatrend is the Escalating Health Imperative.
There is a strong correlation between infectious disease and global environmental change. This means we are moving into a world of greater pandemic risk, not lower.
Growing resistance to antibiotics is another significant threat to human health, already responsible for 1.27 million deaths a year worldwide.
And more than 11 million Australians suffer from chronic illness. That’s nearly half our population, and rising.
The uncomfortable truth is that we need a greater focus on preventive and precision health, and new approaches to infectious disease and superbugs that consider the interlinked health of people, animals, and our environment.
CSIRO faced this uncomfortable truth in 2016 by preparing for ‘Disease X’, which turned out to be COVID-19 in 2019.
Now we’re collaborating on Missions to increase Australia’s resilience to infectious disease and combat antimicrobial resistance.
Australian scientists at the University of Queensland, The Doherty Institute, James Cook University and many others are leading work in this area, supported by our world-class facility, the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness in Geelong.
But there’s much more we must do.
Diving into Digital + Increasingly Autonomous
The fourth and fifth megatrends are linked, but importantly quite different. They are ‘Diving into Digital’ and ‘Increasingly Autonomous’ Artificial Intelligence.
The next wave of digital innovation is expected to generate $10–15 trillion globally, but Australia is lagging other advanced economies in capturing that value.
Digital technologies and Artificial Intelligence will consume many of the jobs we have today, and just to keep pace with technological change, Australia will need 6.5 million more digital workers by 2025.
The uncomfortable truth is that we have focused on the threat to existing jobs, instead of seizing future opportunities, particularly for our regions, where teleworking, online services, and future industries can be transformative.
Artificial Intelligence is already helping us to solve challenges like accelerating vaccine development, predicting drought, and stabilising our energy grid – and in time will transform every field of science and industry.
Whether we come out on the winning or losing side of this disruption will be decided by what we do next, but I’m optimistic.
CSIRO’s Innovation Fund – Australia’s first venture capital fund founded within government – is now managing more than half a billion dollars in mostly private funds to invest in start-ups from science from right across Australia’s innovation sector.
Overall, CSIRO has helped to create more than 250 companies and thousands of new jobs from our science and the science of Australian universities.
My hope is that this trend will see our children using digital technology to build a better world, from new jobs grown right here in Australia.
But again, there’s much more we must do.
The world our children live in will look very different to today’s – not just environmentally, but politically too. That’s why our sixth megatrend is Geopolitical Shifts.
We are feeling the effects of disrupted patterns of global trade, growing geopolitical tensions, and war, following decades of growth fuelled by globalisation.
The uncomfortable truth is that it took a global pandemic to realise we had lost critical sovereign capability, as we grew reliant on exporting raw resources and importing skills and technology.
Australia’s world-class science attracts international students to our universities and strengthens our international partnerships.
It is the common language that transcends political boundaries and brings us together to solve shared challenges, from climate change to pandemics.
This is also the basis of CSIRO’s National Missions, which are becoming international as we collaborate around the world on challenges that know no borders.
But there’s much more we must do.
Unlocking the Human Dimension
The seventh and final megatrend – ‘Unlocking the Human Dimension’ – is perhaps the most important, because it holds the key to responding to the other six.
Trust in institutions has been falling for over a decade.
In Australia, COVID-19 saw trust in scientists spike, but the uncomfortable truth is it took a pandemic for the nation to look to science for solutions.
Trust in science led Australia’s response to COVID-19, and we can build on that trust now to put science at the centre of leading a united response to the challenges ahead.
As I’ve said repeatedly, there’s much more we must do – but science can show us the way.
These seven waves of disruption are bearing down on Australia. The question is whether we are brave enough to catch them.
Catching a wave is all about seeing it coming and getting into position before it breaks on top of you.
Innovation is the same.
When was the last time Australia caught a really big wave?
30 years of uninterrupted growth hasn’t motivated us to innovate and find new waves of prosperity to lead. We’ve fallen behind while others are racing ahead.
While investment in research and development around the world has been going up, Australia’s investment has been going down over decades.
We have a world class research sector capable of incredible innovation, but we remain well below the OECD average on invention when it comes to commercialising that research.
Both WiFi and the efficient solar cell that’s used around the world were invented right here in Australia. WiFi by CSIRO, and the solar cell by the University of New South Wales.
We had the dawn of two new industries in our hands, but as a country we lacked the market vision and courage to back ourselves.
Instead, that research was commercialised by the United States and China respectively, who now dominate those markets. They saw the wave coming and swam out to meet it.
We have a history in this country of not backing ourselves. We have a mortal fear of being wrong, and getting dumped.
But the alternative is like sitting on the sand while the water level rises to cover us, and eventually we get dumped anyway.
We need to change course, and we need to be brave enough to do some uncomfortable things.
But now we have the momentum to do it.
COVID-19 showed us what we can achieve when we combine the power of science with an urgent need, and a networked ecosystem of collaborators.
We need to do this again, and again, and again, until innovation is as natural to us as swimming.
The only way we’re going do this is by working together in a mission-like way to transform at a pace and scale that we have never come close to achieving before – but we can do it.
Over the last 10 years, we’ve reduced the amount of plastic waste on Australia’s beaches by almost a third.
The world’s first liquid hydrogen carrier sailed from Melbourne to Japan in January.
And this year, sales of FutureFeed began – a feed additive invented by Australian science that tackles the 15 per cent of global emissions from cattle.
But this time, Australian organisations including James Cook University, Woolworths, Meat and Livestock Australia, CSIRO and others have come together to take this innovation to the world.
This is Team Australia addressing our innovation problem, working together across the ecosystem in a mission directed way, creating a tide that lifts all boats, up and over the waves.
Imagine if every Australian researcher, every Australian business, and every Australian government department with the same challenge was part of the same team, working together on a mission.
We could obliterate our innovation problem. Then we could solve any challenge.
Our megatrends have shown us the future, and COVID-19 has shown us what we can achieve.
Now we need to be smart enough, brave enough, and collaborative enough to invent the kind of future we want.
Science is the key to this, but it can only create the future if we let it.
If we dream big and invest big, we can do the impossible.
Let’s dream big right now.
Imagine you’re standing on a beach, two decades into the future.
Our megatrends have played out, but humanity has responded with innovative solutions to survive and thrive.
What does that beach look like?
To start, it’s probably in a different location, further inland, back behind where the sand dunes were 20 years ago, and behind the foundations of the houses that used to be there.
The marine life has also changed, because of rising temperatures, ocean heatwaves and acidification. Many species no longer exist in this ecosystem.
But we are not without hope. Looking out to sea, there’s an offshore wind farm sending power to a hydrogen and desalination plant around the headland.
The plant takes salt water from the ocean, uses it to convert wind and solar into hydrogen, and stores some of it to stabilise the electricity grid.
The rest is converted into liquid renewable fuel and exported all over the world.
Australia is as energy rich as the oil nations once were, but it’s all renewable.
The fresh water that’s produced from the hydrogen plant is used for agriculture, like growing plant-based protein – now a multibillion-dollar industry for Australia that is helping to fill the global food gap.
Our electricity is sector is almost at net zero, running on a combination of solar that’s printed in Australia like paper; wind turbines with Australian rare earth magnets; and storage including batteries made here.
Hydrogen is ready to fill the gap when the sun doesn’t shine for a few days, or the wind doesn’t blow.
But it’s a windy day today, and as you take a deep breath you realise the air quality is better than what you grew up with, thanks in part to the electric vehicles that fill the car park behind you.
A lot of plastic waste used to wash up on this beach, but that’s changed. We now see the value in plastic, and we have no waste – everything is designed with an end point or a new use in mind.
Further around the headland is a port, shipping out refined rare earths and superconductors into high value global supply chains for low emissions technologies and electronics.
There’s also heavy industry around the port. It’s running on renewable electricity and hydrogen fuel, producing Australia’s pioneering green steel that’s now sought after by the world.
Suddenly the heads-up display in your glasses shows you’re on amber alert. It’s monitoring your health status – your blood pressure is higher than it should be. An appointment is made with your doctor, and you approve it.
It’s gotten hotter now, and the display tells you you’re reaching your maximum heat exposure. You need to cool down.
You decide to go for a swim, and after reading the surf, you confidently dive into the waves.
Australia has the inventions today to do everything I’ve just described.
We can create this future if we choose to.
It all depends on our ability to see the waves of disruption coming at us, face uncomfortable truths, and respond together.
We’re probably going to get dumped a few times, but there is no safety in staying on the sand – the race to an uncertain future isn’t one we want to lose.
We need to innovate and adapt, and we need to do it on a tremendous scale.
It is an enormous task. But so was dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
By working together, by backing ourselves and investing in Australian innovation, and by building on the trust in science that our pandemic response has grown, we can make the seemingly impossible, possible.
Science gives us the ability to ride the waves of change, instead of drowning in the rip.
But we have to act, and we have to do it together.
We are all standing on the beach, but we can’t stay here.
It’s time to wade into the ocean.
It’s time to swim out to meet our challenges.
It’s time to ride the wave that carries all Australians to a better future.