Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Climate Institute launches report on renewable energy


The Sydney based Climate Institute has launched an important report, Renewable energy investment opportunities and abatement in Australia, preparation of which was commissioned by the Institute and Westpac. The report was prepared by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

In his preface to the report, Climate Institute CEO John Connor says:

Global low-carbon investments and industries are growing rapidly and Australia’s innovative and forward thinking businesses are tapping into these opportunities.

The Climate Institute and its Climate Partner companies have come together because we share a resolve that Australia shouldn’t be left behind in the journey that other economies and companies are undertaking towards the expected multi – trillion dollar markets already emerging in clean energy and pollution reduction.

As a model for future individual and collective Climate Partner initiatives, Westpac and The Climate Institute commissioned Bloomberg New Energy Finance to assess global trends in clean energy investment, the recent and future outlook for Australia and the implications of this for Australia’s pollution reduction targets.

Globally, 2010 is expected to see record new investment in renewable energy. This is expected to occur on the back of increasing levels of asset investment in China and as more of the USD184 billion in global clean energy stimulus money starts flowing into the sector in the USA and similarly in other major economies.

In Australia, despite having world class renewable energy resources, investment in renewable energy has historically been subdued and Australia still contributes a very small fraction of total global investment in clean energy – reaching 2.4% of total investment in Asia and 0.8% of the global total in 2009.

Investors need certainty around climate policy and a long, loud and legal framework for a price on climate pollution so Australian business can take full benefit of opportunities in a global low-carbon economy. Assuming the Renewable Energy Target (RET) passes the Parliament, Australian investors will potentially have access to a $20 billion opportunity in clean energy.

The RET has the potential to deliver emission reductions of around 120 million tonnes over ten years to 2020, beginning the transformation of the energy sector in Australia. In the process previous research commissioned by The Climate Institute shows that thousands of new jobs would be created.

The Bloomberg New Energy Finance report also sends a warning though that a sectoral approach will not put Australia on track to meet current international commitments to reduce emissions. Without policies across the economy that ensure that companies and individuals take responsibility for the pollution they cause, many low cost pollution reduction measures will not get investment backing.

Australia will not be competitive in the emerging global low-carbon economy and will fail to meet our national commitments to reduce emissions without a carbon price to drive medium and long term investments in clean technologies and climate solutions. Policies to limit climate pollution and put a price on carbon are inevitable.

That is why partnerships between business and the community such as the one established by the Climate Institute are so vital in identifying key barriers to be overcome, and the solutions required, to achieve long term emission reductions and positive competitive outcomes for Australia.

The full report may be downloaded from here.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

International Conference on Sustaining Natural Capital


The Preliminary Program has been released for an international conference on Sustaining Natural Capital and Ecosystem Services, to be held at Salzau Castle, near Kiel, from 8-10 June, with pre- and post -workshop events at Kiel University (see here).

Australia 21 Scholar Simone Maynard, a Ph.D. candidate at the Australian National University, will be delivering two presentations on Tuesday 8 June – one on the development of an ecosystem services framework for Southeast Queensland, and one based on Australia 21’s paper Towards a National Ecosystem Services Strategy for Australia.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

CSIRO Report on megatrends


The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) recently published a report highly relevant to Australia’s future, entitled Our Future World: An analysis of global trends, shocks and scenarios.

This report describes the outcomes from a CSIRO global foresight project. It presents five megatrends and eight megashocks (global risks) that will redefine how the world’s people live.

Megatrends
A megatrend is a collection of trends, patterns of economic, social or environmental activity that will change the way people live and the science and technology products they demand.
The five interrelated megatrends identified in the report are:

More from less. This relates to the world’s depleting natural resources and increasing demand for those resources through economic and population growth. Coming decades will see a focus on resource use efficiency. 

A personal touch. Growth of the services sector of western economies is being followed by a second wave of innovation aimed at tailoring and targeting services. 

Divergent demographics. The populations of OECD countries are ageing and experiencing lifestyle and diet related health problems. At the same time there are high fertility rates and problems of not enough food for millions in poor countries.

On the move. People are changing jobs and careers more often, moving house more often, commuting further to work and travelling around the world more often. 

i World. Everything in the natural world will have a digital counterpart. Computing power and memory storage are improving rapidly. Many more devices are getting connected to the internet.

Megashocks

A global risk, or 'megashock', is a significant and sudden event, the timing and magnitude of which are very hard to predict.  The report identified eight megashocks relevant to Australian science:

-  asset price collapse
-  slowing Chinese economy
-  oil and gas price spikes
-  extreme climate change related weather
-  pandemic
-  biodiversity loss
-  terrorism
-  nanotechnology risks.

Report and Feedback

The report may be downloaded from the CSIRO website here.  CSIRO states that it welcomes comment and input from experts and stakeholders in this work in progress. Contact details are given on the project webpage cited above.

Monday, May 10, 2010

ANU to establish $111.7m public policy precinct


On Saturday 8 May the Prime Minister announced that the Commonwealth would commit $111.7 million to enable The Australian National University (ANU) to play a lead role in boosting Australia’s expertise through enhanced teaching and research in public policy.

The key elements of the funding package for a new public policy precinct are

-  An Australian National Institute for Public Policy - established to highlight under one banner the public policy expertise available through ANU and its various specialist centres, including the recently announced Australian Centre on China in the World and the National Security College, and the Australia and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG)

-  $14 million to bolster public policy expertise at ANU, through enhancing capacity in The Crawford School of Economics and Government and establishing the H. C. Coombs Policy Forum, which will inform future policy development

-  $7 million to support Sir Roland Wilson Foundation scholarships for public servants to study at ANU

-  $17.3 million for National Security College operations

-  A new $19.8 million building to house jointly the new National Security College and the enhanced presence of ANZSOG in the precinct

-  The recently announced $53.1 million Australian Centre on China in the World (including a building)

-  $0.5m to scope the need and nature of additional accommodation for officials and students in Canberra for courses.

Welcoming the package, ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Chubb said the ‘precinct’ would be a place where public servants and others working on policy for the nation could engage with leading researchers and educators from a wide range of disciplines.

Ross Buckley on the Greek financial crisis


The whole world could come acropolis
An edited version of this opinion piece by Australia 21 Fellow Ross Buckley appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald, 10 May 2010

The global media has focussed on how Greek profligacy and deception have caused the current financial market troubles. Greece has been spending with abandon, and the Greeks have admitted they manipulated their deficit to gain entry to the Eurozone in 2001, and have since disguised their debt levels using the creative ‘financial engineering’ of Goldman Sachs.

But this is only half the story. 

The seeds of Greece’s, Portugal’s and Spain’s problems were all planted along with the birth of the Euro. Furthermore, their problems have been exacerbated by the access to abundant, cheap credit afforded by the Euro.

From the outset, everyone knew a common currency for economies as disparate as those in Europe was going to be a huge challenge. So all Euro nations made binding commitments to keep their budget deficits below 3% of GDP, and their total debt below 60% of GDP. The idea was that fiscal prudence would carry the day.

The first problem arose in implementing these commitments. Today 14  of the 16 Eurozone countries have debt levels above 60% of their GDP and from 2002 to 2004 even France and Germany breached the deficit rules, a dangerous precedent.

But the bigger problem is the one nobody mentions – the relative competitiveness of economies. Greece introduced the modern drachma in 1954 with a value of 30 to the US dollar. Slowly but steadily the drachma’s value fell, so that by the late 1990s it took 400 drachma to buy a US dollar. This long slow devaluation allowed Greece to remain competitive.

Adopting the Euro ended the long-term trend of southern European currencies slowly devaluing against northern currencies, primarily because the Southern economies were less competitive.   

A report of the European Commission this January estimated the real effective exchange rates for Greece, Spain and Portugal were overvalued by well over 10%. Given devaluation is not an option, wages and prices have to fall by well over 10% for these economies to regain their competitiveness – and that will be an extremely painful process.

In short, if Greece, Portugal and Spain had their own currencies, market forces would mean they were worth much less than the Euro. And the converse applies: if Germany had its own currency, it would be worth much more than the Euro. Germany runs massive trade wurpluses partly because its undervalued currency makes its exports highly competitive. The US rages against China for undervaluing the Renminbi. Yet the Euro is undervalued for Germany, which profits from this precisely as does China. 

So there is some real justice in Germany having to fund the largest share of the Greek bailout. Furthermore, the Euro 110 billion ($157 billion) bailout is essentially of Europe’s banks. It will replace loans currently owed to European banks with loans owed to the IMF and European countries. Germany’s banks are the largest creditors to Greece so Germany will really just be rescuing its banks with its taxpayer funds. None of this helps Greece.
And the really bad news is that the bailout is highly unlikely to work, for it is the wrong medicine.

A bailout is medicine for a liquidity crisis. Yet careful study of the figures suggests Greece’s crisis goes deeper than liquidity, to solvency. The severe austerity measures that accompany the bailout will shrink the economy, reduce the tax base and make servicing Greece’s debt much more difficult. As Greece is highly unlikely to be able to service its debt ongoingly; the bailout is only postponing, and worsening, the inevitable. Credit markets are now anticipating this outcome, as yields of over 18% on two-year Greek government bonds indicate.

What Greece needs is a major devaluation and a debt restructuring involving the cancellation of a sizable proportion of its debt. A devaluation is not possible without breaking apart the Eurozone. A restructuring and partial debt cancellation would require political courage and decisiveness Europe never displays. The only other likely option is default, and the question merely when it occurs.  

Unless Spain and Portugal act with rare alacrity to reduce their wage rates and other costs in absolute terms (which is generally a political and social impossibility) Greece’s problems will probably flow on to Spain and Portugal, and the disaster that currently afflicts a nation which produces only 3% of the Eurozone’s GDP will spread to two countries which together produce 20% of its GDP.

As this contagion spreads, expect global capital markets to seize up, as they did post-Lehman’s collapse. European and American banks are only in business today because governments acted decisively in late 2008 to bail them out with taxpayer funds. But how are sovereign balance sheets to be stretched to fund more bailouts, especially if EU nations now bailout Greece?

Unpalatable as it is, the IMF and Europe now need to attach generous restructuring terms to the bailout, so that creditors write off perhaps one-half of their loans and Greece will be able to service its debts. This will be bitter medicine. However, any other course of action will likely turn Greece’s problems into a global crisis worse than the last one.  

Ross Buckley
Professor of International Finance Law
University of New South Wales

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

2010 Fenner Conference on the Environment



You are invited to register for the  
 2010 Australian Academy of Science Fenner Conference on the Environment 
 "Healthy Climate, Planet and People"    
which will explore the co-benefits for health flowing from action on climate change -- a positive story.


Where: The Shine Dome, Acton ACT

When: 23-24 June 2010 

Keynote speakers, including Professor Sir Andy Haines, Head, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Professor Kirk Smith, University of California Berkeley, and many more, will address the health impacts of key climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies - in particular alternate approaches to human mobility (shifts to walking, cycling and mass transit), diet (shift to greater proportion of vegetable matter in the diet), housing (materials, solar orientation, ventilation) and energy generation. Such strategies will increase physical activity levels and improve nutrition and air quality, whilst reducing greenhouse gas emissions (both carbon dioxide and methane). The economic implications, including for social equity, will also be discussed.

Stefano de Pieri will be guest speaker at the conference dinner - catered by the award-winning chef, Janet Jeffs - which will be held in the Members Dining Room at Old Parliament House.

Further information can be found on the conference website 
http://nceph.anu.edu.au/Fenner2010/index.php  or contact Fenner2010@anu.edu.au

Places are strictly limited - there are less than 100 seats remaining. To ensure that you have a seat at this exciting conference make sure you register early!  Once you register online, you will be emailed a payment form, which you are urged to return as soon as possible to guarantee your place.
Thanks to generous sponsorship registration fees for this two-day conference are very reasonable.

Full registration: $300 (+GST)
Students: $100(+GST)
Conference Dinner: $50 (incl GST)

Please feel free to draw this to the attention of your colleagues.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Transdisciplinary synthesis


Richard Eckersley

The following commentary by Australia 21 foundation director Richard Eckersley provides a valuable insight into Australia 21’s raison d’ĂȘtre and its approach to complex multidisciplinary problems.

It is taken from:

Eckersley, R. 2007. Culture. In Galea, S. (ed). Macrosocial Determinants of Population Health, Springer, New York, pp. 193-209.

Transdisciplinary synthesis

There is growing scientific recognition of the importance of multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research (with each term representing an increasing level of disciplinary fusion) (Rosenfield, 1992, Bammer, 2005). Transdisciplinary research is fundamentally about synthesis. While empirical research seeks to improve understanding of the world through the creation of new knowledge, synthesis creates new understanding by combining and integrating existing knowledge from across a range of fields, disciplines and sciences (Eckersley, 2005).

Despite its potential, synthesis remains underused in science. Costanza (2003) calls for a dissolving of the barriers between traditional disciplines. A 'consilient transdisciplinary science' will emerge from a 'rebalancing of analysis and synthesis', he writes, a balance that is missing from most current university research and education. Bammer (2005), in setting out the case for establishing a new specialization of integration and implementation sciences, says recent advances in this area are not yet embedded in mainstream academic activity. 'At best, they have led to issue-focused, cross-disciplinary research centers. At worst, individual researchers are isolated at the margins of their departments.'

The value of synthesis goes beyond reviewing, summarizing and multidisciplinary research per se. Transdisciplinary investigation aims to develop new common conceptual frameworks, creating a new level of coherence (Higginbotham, Albrecht & Connor, 2001, cited in Bammer, 2005). There are two general ways for doing this: having an individual synthesize findings from many disciplines to provide a comprehensive explanation of a complex issue, or creating a team whose members work together on this task.

Synthesis raises several important conceptual issues (Eckersley, 2005; Bammer, 2005): it strives for coherence in the overall picture rather than precision in the detail; it dispenses with expectations of scientific certainty and exactness, including with respect to cause and effect - everything is provisional, and relationships are often reciprocal; and it challenges Occam's Razor, as noted at the beginning of the chapter.*

As already discussed, disciplines draw on different conceptual frameworks and approaches, which yield different evidence and interpretations. Much remains to be done to integrate and reconcile these perspectives. In doing this, synthesis yields several intellectual and policy benefits: it adds value to existing specialized knowledge; reduces disciplinary biases; transcends (at least potentially) interdisciplinary tensions; improves researchers' knowledge outside their specialization; generates new research questions; is especially useful in examining complex systems; and enhances the application of knowledge. Concerning application, synthesis improves the fit between research and policy; strengthens the links between research and advocacy; is particularly appropriate for addressing the increasing scale, magnitude, complexity and interconnectedness of human problems; and suits the complex, diffuse processes of social change.

In dissolving disciplinary boundaries, synthesis exposes the 'false consensus' that can develop within disciplines, which then defines, and limits, the research questions asked. Examples include, as already noted, epidemiology's focus on socio-economic inequality, and anthropology's on 'small-scale' cultural effects. But such gains are not easily won. The cultures of scientific disciplines are like the cultures of societies: so ingrained that they appear to be the natural and right way to look at the world. For example, in a recent transdisciplinary project on young people's potential and wellbeing (Eckersley, Wierenga & Wyn, 2006), the authors could not agree on key issues, and even had trouble agreeing on how to disagree. Rather than disguising or blunting these differences with careful wording, they have highlighted them as a significant outcome of the project.


*The 14th Century English philosopher (and heretic), William of Occam, stated in his famous razor that 'entities must not be unnecessarily multiplied'. Roughly translated, this means 'the simplest theory that fits the facts corresponds most closely to reality'. Occam's Razor has a wide application in science. However, when dealing with complex systems like human societies, comprising many entities that often interact in multiple, weak, diffuse and non-linear ways, we may have to 'multiply entities' beyond what seems at first to be necessary.

References

Bammer, G. (2005). Integration and implementation sciences: building a new specialization. Ecology and Society, 10 (2), 6-36.

Costanza, R. (2003). A vision of the future of science: Reintegrating the study of humans and the rest of nature. Futures, 35, 651-671.

Eckersley, R. (2005) Well & good: Morality, meaning and happiness. 2nd ed. Melbourne: Text Publishing.

Eckersley, R., Wierenga, A., & Wyn, J. (2006), Flashpoints and signposts: Pathways to success and wellbeing for Australia's young people. Canberra and Melbourne: Australia 21 Ltd, Australian Youth Research Centre, and VicHealth. http://www.australia21.org.au/pdf/HPreport.pdf

Rosenfield, P. (1992). The potential of transdisciplinary research for sustaining and extending linkages between the health and social sciences. Social Science & Medicine, 35, 1343-1357.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Richard Eckersley on indigenous wellbeing


On 15 March Australia 21 director Richard Eckersley gave a seminar, entitled “Indigenous wellbeing and the problems of Western benchmarks and contexts: 'closing the gap', but what gap and how?”, in a current series on Indigenous wellbeing at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. 

The Federal Government's report Closing the Gap notes that Indigenous Australians are at a marked disadvantage compared to non-indigenous Australians and the gap has not decreased over the past decade or more.

“Closing the Gap” is a great national challenge, but also a great national opportunity to achieve lasting change and ensure that future generations of Indigenous Australians have all the opportunities enjoyed by other Australians to live full, healthy lives and achieve their potential.'

Richard argues that the goal of “closing the gap” in indigenous health, education and employment may seem laudable from a practical, political standpoint, but at a more abstract, philosophical level, it misses important questions about the benchmarks used and the cultural contexts of health and wellbeing, including whether Australian society as a whole can learn from Indigenous cultural perspectives. Western nations like Australia don't perform as well as the dominant indicators of human development suggest; they are not the best of role models. This matters, especially when some commentators believe the consequence of “closing the gap”, whether intended or not, will be to have Indigenous Australians live like the rest of us.

The back cover of Karl-Erik Sveiby & Tex Skuthorpe's 2006 book Treading Lightly says it takes us on “a unique journey into traditional Aboriginal life and culture, and offers a powerful and original model for building sustainable organisations, communities and ecologies.” The blurb might seem to suggest the book is about the external features of sustainability, the outward manifestations of lifestyle. But it is really about the internalities, especially notions of the self and its relationships to others and to the environment.

The book is, in this sense, a parable or allegory for our times. The moral is not that we could or should adopt an indigenous lifestyle, but that we need to recognise that other, quite different, and even better, ways of making sense of the world and our lives are possible. And not only that: we need to examine our present situation at this most fundamental level if we are to have any chance of achieving a high, equitable and durable quality of life.

One important gap to close is that between the scale of our responses and the magnitude of the challenges, between policy relevance and response effectiveness. The transformation of our society requires transformation of the self and what we believe it to be. Indigenous spirituality and philosophy might help us do this (without suggesting that non-indigenous Australia could, or should, appropriate them or graft them on to Western modes of thinking and doing things).

Perhaps we cannot, or need not, confront head-on the orthodoxy of “closing the gap” in Indigenous health and wellbeing. But in this policy area, as in so many others, we need to look more closely at the wider social, economic and cultural context or framework within which policy is formulated. In his 2004 book Well & Good Richard says: “In ordinary times, it is perhaps normal for different planes of perception and understanding of the human condition to remain relatively separate and distinct, with little 'friction', or influence, occurring between them. In transitional epochs, when what it is to be human is undergoing profound evaluation and radical alteration, these planes of perception need to come together in a single, interwoven, public conversation. Ours is such a time.”

The seminars are available in PDF format here.