Science Policy and Diplomacy Newsletter—Issue 5 March 2021

Science Policy and Diplomacy Newsletter Issue 5 March 2021

The Science Policy and Diplomacy Newsletter of the Australian Academy of Science highlights important science policy discussion and events in Australia and around the globe. We report on the involvement of science in national and international policy and diplomacy, and the Academy’s contributions to these discussions.

This first edition of 2021 features Academy achievements made in late 2019 through 2020 as they align with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). People, Planet and Prosperity provide a framework for measuring progress of the SDGs and are the broad categories under which we highlight our initiatives.  

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Foreword from the Chief Executive

Welcome to the first Science Policy and Diplomacy Newsletter of 2021. We face 2021 with renewed optimism as COVID-19 vaccines are being rolled out across the globe, testament to the extraordinary resolve, hard work and commitment of the research sector worldwide.  It is science at its best: united, collaborative, and impervious to communication, collaboration, resource and access barriers.

This newsletter will highlight the Academy’s achievements throughout 2020, reflecting on our accomplishments as they align with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The 17 SDGs form the basis of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which seeks a global shift to a sustainable and resilient path that promotes prosperity and is free of poverty. 

The Academy holds these goals in high regard and much of our work is focused on creating a sustainable and equitable world. This newsletter will highlight progress we have made towards the 2030 Agenda, through initiatives like STEM Women, the Rapid Research Information Forum, the Early- and Mid-Career Researcher Forum, Taxonomy Australia and Future Earth Australia.  

Whilst 2020 was a year of disrupted progress towards achieving the SDGs, it was also a year that called attention to the importance of addressing inequalities. The science community and the world more broadly can use the opportunity that disruption to business-as-usual provides to accelerate progress towards an inclusive, sustainable and resilient 2030. 

Anna-Maria Arabia
Chief Executive
Australian Academy of Science


GOAL 3: Good health and well-being

Rapid Research Information Forum (RRIF)

Throughout 2020 the Academy strengthened Australia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic in leading the operation of the RRIF. Convened by the Chief Scientist of Australia, the RRIF provided a space for collaborating and rapidly sharing research to address continually emerging questions about Australia’s COVID-19 response.

Science communication

Along with discussion among experts, community awareness about the science and impacts of COVID-19 was a priority for the Academy. Up-to-date information continues to be presented in videos and articles across the Academy website and on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to promote public understanding and wellbeing.

After the bushfires: Addressing the health impacts

Bushfire impacts on health

The Academy summarised the impacts of the 2019–20 Black Summer bushfires on mental and physical health, finding significant knowledge gaps about the short-, medium- and long-term health effects. The expert brief called on the scientific community to address these gaps to facilitate the development of evidence-based health advice and support to reduce future illnesses and deaths.

GOAL 4: Quality education

School programs modified

2020 saw the Academy adapt and customise its school education programs to support emergency remote teaching under COVID-19 travel restrictions. National agencies, state and territory education departments and teachers were consulted as modifications were made to ensure new resources were suitable and practical. These efforts went a long way towards ensuring all children in Australia were able to access free, equitable and quality education amidst a global crisis.

EMCR Forum submissions

The Academy’s Early- and Mid-Career Researcher Forum made two submissions in August and September regarding the Job-ready Graduates Package in support of improvements and investments into the higher education and research system in Australia. The submissions provided representation of EMCRs in education policy development as well as support for affordable and quality tertiary education access for all Australians.

Learning outcomes for online vs in-class education RRIF report

Learning outcomes for online versus in-class education

The Academy produced a RRIF report, led by the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia, on the differential learning outcomes for online versus classroom education. Key findings included that remote learning arrangements could, if implemented for an extended period, result in poorer educational outcomes for almost half of school students in Australia, but that combining remote and classroom education in a blended learning format could be as effective as face-to-face learning for many students.

GOAL 5: Gender equity

Catalysing Gender Equity 2020

February saw the Academy host Catalysing Gender Equity 2020 in one of the last in-person events of the year. In collaboration with Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE), the event involved workshops, poster galleries and networking opportunities to highlight key outcomes and actions of the Women in STEM Decadal Plan, released in 2019.

Women in STEM Decadal Plan

Since the Women in STEM Decadal Plan was released in 2019, 29 organisations have formally pledged their commitment to the plan’s vision. The Academy analysed the gender equity actions taken by these 29 Champions in One Year In: Women in STEM Decadal Plan Champions, released in August 2020. The report demonstrated the importance of publishing actions in maintaining and building momentum in STEM gender equity as well as in identifying areas that require more focus.

STEM Women: one year of impacts and learnings

STEM Women, an online directory of women in Australia working in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), released a report in August discussing the impacts and successes of its first year in action as well as areas for future development. The STEM Women directory is proving to be a powerful tool in promoting gender equity in STEM and facilitating connections among women in STEM. The Academy is working on further improving the reach and impact of STEM Women by actively investigating new partnerships.   

The impact of COVID-19 on women in the STEM workforce

This RRIF report, responding to a request from the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, found that the pandemic is disproportionately impeding women’s STEM careers more than men’s, primarily due to the enduring disparity in caring responsibilities and domestic workloads. It highlighted demonstrated benefits of having a diverse STEM workforce and called on STEM employers to critically consider, and to reduce the gender impacts of, their decisions. Science & Technology Australia and the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering collaboratively led the report.

National Water Reform 2020: Issues Paper

GOAL 6: Clean water and sanitation

National Water Reform 2020: Issues Paper

The Academy made a submission to the Productivity Commission in September addressing the need for a 10-year strategy for national water reform. The submission recommended that Australian Governments commit to a national water initiative, with responsibility to be held by an independent statutory authority. It emphasised the value of Indigenous Knowledges and the need for a holistic approach to water planning, security and management.

GOAL 8: Decent work and economic growth

Top 4 disruptions to work

Impacts of Covid-19 for EMCRs

The EMCR Forum conducted a survey in May and found that pandemic restrictions were negatively affecting EMCR mental health, productivity, research capacity, job security and career prospects. The forum provided a series of recommendations for employers, government and EMCRs themselves to promote safe, secure and productive working environments throughout the ongoing pandemic.

Online opportunities

To support EMCRs and keep them connected during the pandemic, the EMCR Forum held a series of webinars and virtual catch-ups throughout 2020. This enabled EMCRs to debrief about the challenges, stresses, insights and lessons learned from transitioning to working from home and researching in a COVID-19 world.

GOAL 10: Reduced inequality

Progress towards reconciliation

Following the release of the Academy’s Reconciliation Action Plan in 2019, the Academy made significant progress towards the four broad goals of relationships, respect, opportunities, and governance and tracking progress. Achievements include producing an Acknowledgement of Country guide, offering the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Scientist Travelling Research Award, and collating a database of relationships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and individuals and the Academy.


During NAIDOC Week 2020, the Academy hosted two online events featuring First Peoples of Australia on the topic of the science of a continuous culture. Indigenous specialists in land, water, fire, the sky and stars discussed how they apply and embed traditional knowledge in their scientific research and how this informs and improves global knowledge and management of the natural world. The events were well received, with panellists and participants drawing attention to the importance of cultural and institutional change in accepting and seeking indigenous science knowledge.



GOAL 11: Sustainable cities and communities

Future Earth Australia

In December 2019, Academy program Future Earth Australia released its Sustainable cities and regions: 10-year strategy to enable urban systems transformation, which highlighted opportunities for Australian cities to become more liveable, sustainable, socially equitable and economically efficient. A significant component of the strategy is to integrate the SDGs into a framework for urban sustainability transition. Future Earth Australia then held Beyond SDG 11: A focus on urban transformations. This event enabled participants to engage with other researchers, form relationships and work on future collaborations that will facilitate sustainable societal transformations.

The Shine Dome

Sustainable Shine Dome renovations

The Academy is working towards a net-zero emissions Shine Dome for its heritage-listed building in Canberra. In collaboration with the University of Canberra, the Academy is developing a sustainability plan for the Shine Dome that will ensure emissions reductions and progressive energy usage while maintaining and managing the landmark’s national heritage values.

GOAL 12: Responsible consumption and production

The Future of Food

Future Earth Australia held The Future of Food: Connecting the UN SDGs in December 2019, bringing together a select group of Early-Career Research Practitioners (ECRPs) to participate in presentations and professional development workshops. The program highlighted the connection that food production and availability have to major environmental, social and economic challenges currently faced by the world.

Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act Review

GOAL 13: Climate action

Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act Review

The Academy made a submission to the independent review of the EPBC Act 1999, expressing concerns that the Act insufficiently addresses the declines in Australia’s environment and biodiversity. Six short papers were presented in the submission and numerous reforms were recommended to ensure the EPBC Act remains a strong regulatory framework. The final report has now been publicly released.

Future Earth Australia: Securing Australia’s Future

In July, leaders from across industries, communities and sectors gathered for a roundtable/forum/symposium? on Securing Australia’s Future: Reimagining Climate Adaptation. The meetings examined how Australia has adapted to climate change and what opportunities and pathways lie ahead. Participants emphasised the value in engaging with local communities and prioritising their social adaptation needs in addition to focusing on climate science. A synthesis of these roundtable discussions was released in November.

World Environment Day Statement

On 3 June, the Academy signed an international statement calling on governments to pursue a sustainable COVID-19 recovery. The consensus statement represents the view of the Academy and 17 other Commonwealth academies that the world continues to face an increasingly severe environmental emergency and that action on climate change and biodiversity loss should be at the forefront of economic recovery from the pandemic. 

National Science Week

During 2020 National Science Week in August, the Academy hosted two webinars exploring how science can help us manage bushfires and improve the health of our oceans. Panellists discussed a range of topics including climate change and biodiversity loss, emphasising that individual actions, working together to understand and manage these issues and harnessing available new technologies are all part of the solution.


GOAL 14: Life below water


Ocean and Coastal Sustainability Outcome Paper

March saw Future Earth Australia hold a multidisciplinary symposium to gain preliminary input into its proposed 10-year strategy on oceans and coastal systems transformation. The proposed strategy will present clear actions for Australia to achieve healthy and resilient oceans and coasts.

GOAL 15: Life on land

Bushfire evidence briefs

The Academy published a series of evidence briefs in response to the Black Summer bushfires of 2019–20. The first addressed the impacts of bushfires on soil condition and demonstrated the necessity of healthy soil in native vegetation recovery, agricultural productivity and ecosystem services. The second evidence brief emphasised the importance of monitoring wildlife recovery. With 37 ecological communities already classified as ‘threatened nationally’ severely affected by the fires and current monitoring programs generally considered inadequate, the brief strongly recommended substantial reinvestment in terrestrial biodiversity monitoring.

Taxonomy Australia, giving a name to action on sustainability

During the year, Taxonomy Australia organised the taxonomy and biosystematics sector to take action during the heightened public awareness of biodiversity loss—on the solid premise that if we don’t discover the remaining 70 per cent of species in Australia, we won’t know what we have lost to climate change, fire and other natural disasters. Taxonomy Australia delivered:

Submission to the Inquiry into the problem of feral and domestic cats in Australia

The Academy’s submission recommended improved legislation to consistently recognise cats as an environmental threat, an improved threat abatement plan, more research into controlling cats and better communication with pet owners and the community about keeping cats contained.

Academy Fellows say it’s time to establish an independent biodiversity agency

Biodiversity BOM

In an evidence brief to the Australian Government, the Academy called for the establishment of an independent biodiversity agency or ‘Biodiversity BOM.’ Given current monitoring and management of biodiversity and data are inadequate, the Academy recommended setting up an agency with the power to enforce national environmental data standards to analyse, observe, forecast and warn on Australia’s biodiversity state and trends.


GOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the goals

Science for Australians

Launched in 2020, the Science for Australians initiative is designed to illustrate the benefits of science to the public and policy makers. Features explore diverse topics and authors are asked to identify how their topic supports the SDGs, with many identifying Goal 17 as central to responding to the key issues identified. The main message throughout the Science for Australian policy series will be to demonstrate how science can, and does, benefit all Australians.

Submission to the Inquiry into strengthening Australia’s relationships with countries in the Pacific region

The Academy’s submission emphasised the importance and potential role of science diplomacy in addressing climate change, natural disasters, sustainability, resource management and improving health and wellbeing of communities in the Pacific.

Position statement on science collaboration in the pandemic

The Academy released a position statement in October in support of international science collaboration and the level of good will that has been demonstrated throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The statement highlighted how valuable these interactions are in promoting harmonious international relations and building partnerships to advance science and improve human and environmental wellbeing.

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