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Federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage
The Hon Dr David Kemp, MP

7 March 2002

Science, Technology and Sustainability

Address to the Ian Clunies Ross National Science and Technology Award Presentation Dinner
Melbourne, 7 March 2002

When Hugh Morgan asked me to speak at this important occasion - the Clunies Ross National Science and Technology Awards - I was truly delighted.

An evening such as this is an opportunity to honour some of those who have been most successful in converting science and technology into demonstrably successful enterprises of value to Australia. It reminds us that when science and technology become the basis for successful enterprises, Australians can benefit in many different ways.

The lifetime achievement award just presented to Professor Frank Fenner - Australia's most distinguished living microbiologist - reminds us of the huge impact that scientific research can have on human lives.

Sir Ian Clunies Ross knew that, and loved science for it. As Chairman of the CSIRO he was a principal national leader in bringing the findings of science and technology to bear in the development of Australia's primary and secondary industries, especially in areas such as land usage and livestock parasites. It was during his time as Chairman that the myxomatosis virus campaign finally brought the rabbit pest under some greater control.

Yet if we were to ask what motivated a man such as Ian Clunies Ross, it was not really the balance sheet and the bottom line. If it had been, I am sure that my parents would not have derived such great pleasure from his company and revered him as they did. For Ian Clunies Ross, his wife Janet, and their family were next door neighbours of ours in the period just before his death. I recall him coming across to our place in 1959 to watch a television series on Montgomery of Alamein - a fact recorded in the published extracts of his diary, and which doubtless reflected his interest in leadership and the history of the war.

Undoubtedly the qualities that appealed to my parents were those that appealed to so many others - his charm and humility, his breadth of interests and his enthusiasm and passion for good causes and human values. My mother and Janet Clunies Ross formed a warm relationship that lasted many years. His son Anthony wrote that his father "was a romantic, and his enthusiasm for science a romantic enthusiasm. What fascinated him was the romance of quest and achievement, the wonder of having the world unravelled and seeing the systems that make it up, and the satisfaction of doing new things with it that have never been done before".

I mention these comments because on occasions such as this it behoves us to remember that, while we rightly emphasise the economic, social, environmental and other benefits of science and technology, the motivation for scientific effort is frequently the romance of discovery and the excitement of developing ideas into new applications.

And the thing about romantics is often that they imagine themselves achieving the impossible. And as a consequence, they sometimes do it! I suspect that there are many more romantics in this room tonight than you might think. The logic of science may be inexorable but the motivation to pursue it is something else, and it is that motivation which can make some one such as Ian Clunies Ross the great communicator that he was.

One of the objectives of the Ian Clunies Ross Memorial Foundation is the better communication of the results of science.

That capacity to communicate the results of science and the opportunities of technology is hugely important as we seek to achieve the goal of sustainability for our communities and our industries.

Achieving sustainability requires nothing less than a cultural change. The change required is not in our enterprise or capacity for innovation, nor in our pursuit of a better life for all our citizens. It is rather, a change in understanding of the importance of the environment, with its complex biological and natural systems, to the ultimate success of our endeavours.

By way of example, one of the largest and most complex tasks facing Australia at the present time is the rescue operation now being mounted for the Murray-Darling Basin. Productivity in this vital area - the nation's foodbowl - is being dramatically eroded by salinity - a problem which arises from the long-term damage to ecological systems and from the degradation of river water quality from unsustainable farming methods.

This is not an academic problem. The deserts of the Middle East were once the biblical lands of milk and honey.

The National Action Plan to restore the health of the rivers and the soil relies not only on resources from Federal and State governments ($1.4 billion has been allocated) but also, and crucially, on the plans and actions of regional and local communities, and of farmers themselves. Building the understanding and capacity of local leaders and communities to establish, for example, a salinity outcome for their catchments as a basis for sustainability, will be essential to success. Generating a preparedness to accept the changes in practices which will secure sustainability will take leadership of a high order.

The Prime Minister has established a Sustainable Environment Committee of Cabinet to ensure that there is a whole-of-government approach to sustainability.

Sustainability is something we can all agree on in theory - and acceptance of the concept is now very widespread in our communities and in most of our industries. In practice, achieving the condition of sustainability is - as they say - something else, and here communication and leadership are vital.

Sustainability has not only local, regional and national expressions but a global dimension as well. If securing the sustainability of the Murray-Darling Basin is a huge challenge, how much more so is achieving sustainability in the global systems that affect us all.

The debate about global warming illustrates how complex such issues can be. The new Climate Action Partnership with the United States - agreed on my visit to Washington last week - emphasises three imperatives

The Howard Government has pledged to work towards meeting its commitments under the Kyoto Protocol. Australia is also firmly of the belief that only a global response will yield effective results. And any successful approach must seek to minimise the costs and maximise the incentives for technological change.

One of the weaknesses of Kyoto in what is known as the first commitment period up to 2012 is the absence from the arrangements of the United States and developing countries, whose contributions of greenhouse gases during the next decade will be greater than those from developed countries. Even the Europeans accept that there will be no second commitment period without the participation of the major developing countries, and without the US no approach can be genuinely global. All of us understand that technology will be crucial to meeting climate objectives in a way that is consistent with legitimate expectations about living standards around the world.

It was in this context that we saw in President Bush's statement an opportunity for Australia to engage with the United States. The statement puts technology front and centre in efforts to reduce the American impact on global warming. The Bush approach also recognises that developing countries will have aspirations for economic growth and that companies that take early action at home or abroad to reduce their emissions should have the opportunity to have those reductions officially reflected in a register.

Whatever Australia decides to do on ratification - and we have not made any decision on that as yet - it is clear that there will be a period when there will be two approaches operating - the Kyoto system and the US policy model. This could bring with it costs and risks of investment distortions for international companies - including our own - and for jobs if it is not handled very carefully. And it is equally important that the existence of two approaches should not get in the way of good work on science and technology.

So in our agreement with US on a Climate Action Partnership we have put as a high priority work on internationally harmonised carbon accounting systems. These will be very important for companies that operate internationally, in Kyoto and non-Kyoto countries, and that will seek recognition for greenhouse gas abatement actions that they have undertaken, wherever they have taken them.

We have to work hard to make sure that accounting rules put in place in the next few years in Kyoto and non-Kyoto countries do not make it harder to achieve a genuinely global approach in the longer run.

Australia has already done some world leading work on carbon accounting through the Greenhouse Office, and the Americans indicated their interest in this work as they begin developing standardised and transparent registration for their enterprises.

Again, it is important that work on the fundamental issues of the underlying climate science and the technology to deal with climate change is accelerated, not slowed in the years ahead. We aim, under the Partnership, to pursue opportunities for our scientists and enterprises to engage with American counterparts on these key issues.

We did not enter into our Climate Action Partnership with the United States as an alternative to the Kyoto protocol. It will be an important part of our overall greenhouse efforts whether the Kyoto Protocol comes into force or not. We will not be rushed into a decision on ratification. That decision will require careful consideration of the full range of environmental, economic and social implications of the Protocol.

By embracing the principles of sustainable development Australia has the chance to benefit from the increased wealth generated by a growing environment industry. Outcomes will be provided by a better managed and protected environment. This is not only inherently valuable, but is vital to guarantee our long-term success as a major commodity exporter. The Environment Industry Action Agenda for which my portfolio is responsible is based on these understandings.

The size of the annual global environmental market is estimated at around $A 1000 billion, and growing. The Australian domestic market is $8.6 billion with a predicted growth of 3 per cent per year. The Australian environment industry exports goods and services that are estimated at $300 million.

Impediments to the growth of this industry are similar to other industries:

Similarly the government has a facilitating role to play by addressing these issues in a systematic manner.

But there are some very positive signs. Domestic and international demand for "green industries" is high. More Australian businesses and environmental industry customers are adopting a triple bottom line approach and voluntarily taking action to improve their performance - the environment as a business externality is being progressively internalised.

At a recent forum on research setting priorities, Australian scientists nominated the environment and sustainability issues as the top future research priorities. Clearly, there is a strong concern and a need and desire for knowledge.

An OECD study indicates that only half of the environmental technology the world will need in 2015 has been invented. In 40 years time there will be many well-to-do industries that do not exist today.

Can we meet the demand for environmental products and services?

I feel very confident that we can. This confidence is based on two factors. The first is the extraordinary adaptability of our free societies, our economic systems and our democratic governments. Within our societies problem solving has been brought to a high level and there is a vast reservoir of energy to do what it takes to advance human values.

The second is the capacities of our best scientists and entrepreneurs, and the fact that "the romance of quest and achievement", to recall Anthony Clunies Ross' words about his father, is as strong a motivation today as it has ever been. The personal qualities of tonight's award recipients: entrepreneurship, leadership, commitment, vision, and perhaps most importantly an ability to communicate and to champion ideas are and will continue to be absolutely critical.

In my view these are potent reasons for believing that we will meet the challenge of sustainability.

I welcome your contribution, both past and future to the development of a sustainable Australia and a sustainable world.

Thank you.

Commonwealth of Australia