Professor Mark Howden, Director of the ANU Climate Change Institute, shares his 2017 highlights:
The scientific evidence that the climate is changing, and that humans are causing it, is mounting day by day. It’s very hard to escape the conclusion that our greenhouse gas emissions are causing a huge change in the functioning of the earth’s systems - and this is impacting humans, it’s impacting our environments and it’s impacting our economies. This is why it’s really important for ANU to engage in a very cross-disciplinary way to address these impacts and to help develop effective solutions.
The ANU Climate Change Institute has had some great wins this year, particularly in terms of engaging different audiences on climate change. Here are some of my highlights:
Building a community of climate change researchers across ANU
The purpose of the ANU Climate Change Institute is to facilitate and coordinate work on climate change across ANU, including work on both emissions reduction and adaptation. In 2017, our membership has increased by 60% from 156 to 250 researchers, demonstrating how much more the ANU community is engaging on climate issues.
One example is on negative emissions (which is ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and sucking the carbon dioxide out of the air). We’ve now got more than 90 people across ANU expressing interest in this topic and working together on projects like our Grand Challenge Proposal.
Engaging across the community
We’ve also had a fantastic year in terms of engaging with Canberra and the wider community more broadly. We’ve held a dozen great public events, including one with the Co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Working Group 1, Valérie Masson-Delmotte. We also hosted Adam Parris, a leader in climate adaptation from New York, who gave us an update of the science and politics of sea level rise and how they’re addressing it over there. Through these events we’ve engaged with more than 1500 people from the Canberra community, with great feedback.
Engaging with policy makers
We’ve had really strong engagement with the policy community, with half a dozen roundtable discussions on different topics. For example, Nick Bridge, UK Climate Change Envoy, gave an inspiring set of examples about what they’re doing there, taking climate change, both mitigation and adaption, really seriously and setting our minds alight as to what could be done here in Australia.
This engagement also stretches to interactions with politicians and there have been a whole range of those. We’re also starting to develop really great sets of project proposals with agencies such as Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research.
We’ve also had really good interactions with industry, who are increasingly important in terms of dealing with climate change. We’ve engaged strongly with groups such as the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (which has companies that produce the main part of Australia’s food and worth many billions of dollars in terms of trade) around what they can do about climate change.
What next for 2018?
Critically, the main priority is to get the ANU research and teaching community even more engaged on climate change issues. Continuing to build our membership base and interactions with people across ANU is vital, so that they increasingly bring climate change issues into their work.
We’re also working on developing an Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence application on climate adaptation. That’s really important as climate change accelerates and starts to have increasing impacts in Australia. We need to be an adapted society.
Another priority is to push forwards on the negative emissions agenda, that is actively reducing the greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) in the atmosphere. Clearly our current emissions reduction activities aren’t enough to meet the Paris Agreement goals of keeping temperature increases below 2oC and ideally below 1.5oC. We need to start developing cost effective ways of actively reducing GHGs in the atmosphere. So we’re working with the ANU Research School of Earth Sciences and many others to progress this agenda.
A fourth priority is to increase science and policy interactions - we’re already good at this at ANU, but we want to increase it on climate change. We know that’s actually quite a difficult topic at the moment within some circles, but it’s a really important one to progress nevertheless. So, we’ll be working hard to ensure that the science policy interface is much more effective than it currently is.
In 2018 we’re holding the first ANU Climate Update. This will bring together perspectives on what’s happening to our climate and how we’re responding. We’re running this not only in Canberra, but also in other cities such as Brisbane. We’ll be looking to expand this event over the years, so that we actually start to fill an existing communication gap: that is informing the public and the policy makers about key climate issues.
2018 will see the release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 1.5oC report. This is a synthesis of the science and knowledge that tells us about how we could achieve 1.5oC target, what it would cost, what we gain from that temperature target versus a higher one such as 2oC, 3oC and 4oC and how this interacts with the Sustainable Development Goals. This is really critical in terms of informing policy-making not just by governments, but also by industry, individuals and community groups. ANU is heavily involved in producing this report, and as an IPCC Vice-Chair, I have a key role.
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