The Science Policy and Diplomacy Newsletter of the Australian Academy of Science highlights important science policy discussions 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.
In this first edition of the Science Policy and Diplomacy newsletter for 2022, we reflect on 2021 and share resources that look forward to the year ahead. This year looks sure to be a fascinating year for science policy and diplomacy as, among other things, the world continues to be challenged by climate change and the pandemic.
Throughout 2021, the Australian Academy of Science again sought to place science at the service of the nation and to make science available to everyone. This work is reflected in the Academy’s year in review.
2021 was a significant year for science policy and diplomacy, with the long-awaited UN climate change conference (COP26) held as Australia and the world experienced the Delta and Omicron waves of the COVID-19 pandemic.
At COP26 in Glasgow, world leaders convened with a singular goal – to drive deep and rapid decarbonisation to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. It was hoped that COP26 discussions would create a blueprint to meeting the 1.5 degrees limit. However, it was difficult for the Parties to come to agreements on difficult topics such as finance, loss and damage. At COP26 the Australian Government updated its nationally determined contribution to include a target of net zero emissions by 2050.
COP26 concluded with Parties agreeing to the Glasgow Climate Pact and completing the Paris Rulebook that will operationalise the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. The Pact succeeded in creating forums for further discussion in difficult topics that stalled COP26, such as the Glasgow Dialogue on loss and damage to convene from 2022 to 2024.
Attention in global climate and biodiversity diplomacy will now turn to the conclusion of talks around the pandemic-delayed COP15 for the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the next climate conference – COP27 – that will take place in Egypt in November 2022.
Australia’s economic, environmental and national security depends on space. Our national interest depends on the underpinning science that not only looks out on the universe, but looks back at Earth. Last year saw the acceleration of space activity with 1807 satellites launched in 12 months. It also saw the launch of humanity’s most accurate telescope yet: the James Webb Telescope, positioned 3000 km from the earth. Together with other emerging scientific infrastructure like the Square Kilometre Array, which is co-hosted in Western Australia, science is advancing human knowledge and expanding the frontiers of possible human activity.
Hence, it is appropriate that throughout 2021 the Academy’s National Committee for Space and Radio Science conducted extensive community consultation in developing Australia in Space: a decadal plan for Australian space science 2021-2030. The report presents a ten-year plan for Australian space science, with recommendations and strategies to advance national interests and priorities in space, grow the innovation economy, develop sovereign capabilities, and improve the lives of all Australians.
In September 2021, the Academy’s National Committee for Information and Communication Sciences released a policy primer, Australia’s Digital Future – a nation of users or leaders? The primer highlights how digital technologies play a fundamental role in Australians’ way of life.
Australia risks falling behind as a technologically driven nation unless we recognise emerging digital technology as a central and independent sector in its own right. This requires investing in research, innovation and workforce development to ensure expert leadership in this rapidly evolving sector.
This evolution of technology is coupled with the increase in the dependence of large data sets in research. In October 2021, the Academy published, Advancing data-intensive research in Australia, identifying opportunities to advance data-intensive research in Australia by aligning research policy, research infrastructure, skills and education, and recognising data science as a distinct scientific discipline.
In December 2021 the Academy led a roundtable with the Australian Academy of Law on World Heritage and climate change, produced an article on ‘long COVID’ and published the sixth annual Fellows’ Christmas Book and Podcast List.
Below are a collection of resources and news articles that will be continuing themes in 2022, from the Australian Government’s changes to Australian research funding to the importance of the free and responsible practice of science, and the challenges to mechanisms of science advice to politics.
Acting Minister for Education and Youth, the Hon Stuart Robert MP, has outlined reforms the Australian Research Council (ARC) will enact in 2022 to align the university research sector to support Australia’s economic objectives. Under the reforms, the ARC will be expected to align the Linkage grants scheme to the Modern Manufacturing Priorities, involve end-users in grant assessment, and strengthen the national interest test. The Academy looks forward to discussing the detail of these changes with the ARC and the Minister as 2022 develops.
On 24 December 2021, it was announced that six ARC Discovery Projects had been rejected using ministerial powers, despite being recommended for funding by independent expert panels, all with deep knowledge of the relevant fields. The Academy holds that the independent selection of research grants is essential for the integrity of Australia’s research system. The Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia has called for legislative reform to ensure independence from political interference in research funding decisions and Fellows of the Australian Academy of the Humanities have signed an open letter and petition condemning the government interference.
The International Science Council’s Committee for Freedom and Responsibility on Science (CFRS) has released a discussion paper, A contemporary perspective on the free and responsible practice of science in the 21st century. Cheryl Praeger, former Foreign Secretary of the Academy and member of the CFRS is an author of this report.
The Biden Administration is taking steps to restore scientific integrity, and the United States National Science and Technology Council’s Task Force on Scientific Integrity released a report calling for an overarching body to work across federal government agencies to ensure and promote best practice and manage scientific integrity violations by senior officials. Political interference and misuse of scientific evidence represent a common concern in the science–policy interface. The United States is not alone in instances of government interference in science as the recent veto of research grants in Australia shows.
An All-European Academies (ALLEA) report, Fact or Fake? Tackling Science Disinformation investigates the roots and consequences of science disinformation on democratic governance and society. It assesses possible solutions for policy, technology, and communication.
A Nature Comment calls for the need to acknowledge the human-made components of vulnerability and hazard and emphasises human agency to better proactively reduce the impact of natural disasters and stop blaming the climate for disasters. As the world again braces to face the impacts of climate change in 2022, the framing and need for preparations are a large part of the discourse on climate change.
The International Science Council has released the Global Risks Perceptions Report 2021. The report assesses scientists’ perceptions of global risks as a critical contribution to dialogues about potential solutions. This contributes to the conversation around mitigation strategies already underway and will spark new and more inclusive dialogues.
United Nations General Assembly has designated 2022 as the International Year of Basic Sciences for Sustainable Development (IYBSSD). The international year recognises that basic sciences are crucial to achieving Agenda 2030 and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The bid for IYBSSD 2022 was led and supported by international science organisations, on which many the Academy is Australia’s representative, such as the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics.
The Academy brings together leading Australian experts to consider and advise the nation on scientific issues. These experts provide authoritative information and advice on current science, technology and emerging research to inform discussion and assist evidence-based policy development and decision-making.
With the announcement of the establishment of a manufacturing mRNA capability, the Australian and Victorian governments are taking significant steps towards creating an innovative RNA research and development ecosystem in Australia and becoming a global player in this disruptive industry, creating and manufacturing high-value RNA-based products domestically and exporting them to the world. Read the Academy’s statement.
The Academy first called for a sovereign RNA manufacturing capability in our pre-budget submission to the Australian Government in February 2021.
Near the end of 2021, the Academy hosted a roundtable with the Australian Academy of Law on World Heritage and climate change. The roundtable of experts suggests that the adoption of a consistent and transparent climate change vulnerability index across all World Heritage processes would help countries better understand and respond when their World Heritage sites are threatened by climate change.
The Academy policy initiative, Science for Australians, illustrates the benefits of science to the public and policy makers.
The latest article answers the question, What is happening to Australia’s rainfall? Australia is a land of ‘drought and flooding rains’. As rainfall varies significantly from year to year and from decade to decade, recurring floods and droughts are deeply ingrained into our culture. More recently, we’ve seen longer-term changes in some parts of the country.
Australian agriculture and climate change: a two-way street, investigates how we can continue to feed the nation and have the food choices we want if climate change threatens our established agricultural practices.
Australia’s agriculture industry plays a fundamental role in our society and economy. It puts food on our plates, provides a range of employment opportunities and brings income into our economy through exports. It’s also one of the most climate-vulnerable industries, sensitive to changing rainfall, temperatures and extreme weather events. However, while agriculture is vulnerable to the impacts of a changing climate, it’s also a significant contributor to the problem.
You can now find all Academy evidence briefs, reports, strategies, position statements and submissions to government related to climate change in our Climate Change Hub: science and solutions.
On 4 February, the presidents of Australia’s five learned academies urged that our system be consistent with world’s best practice, where expertise in both conducting research and in evaluating which research to support is essential. Read the statement.
On 20 January, the Academy published a ten-year plan for Australian space science, with recommendations and strategies to advance national interests and priorities in space; growing the innovation economy, developing sovereign capability and improving the lives of all Australians. Read the plan.
On 28 January, the Academy made a submission to the 2022–23 Federal Budget. Read the submission.
On 22 December, the Academy and several National Committees for Science provided submissions to the 2021 National Research Infrastructure Roadmap Exposure Draft consultation by the Department of Education, Skills and Employment. Read the submissions.
On 7 December, the Academy provided a submission to the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment consultation on the National Biosecurity Strategy. The Academy outlined the themes of data and analytics, technology and research, and also discussed considerations in these areas for Australia’s biosecurity. Read the submission.
On 5 December, the Australian Academy of Science and the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering provided a submission to the Food Standards Australia and New Zealand consultation on Proposal P1055: Definitions for gene technology and new breeding techniques. The academies expressed support for FSANZ’s proposed approach to defining genetically modified food, noting that the redefinition will need to be carefully managed so as to not stifle innovation in the field of gene modification while ensuring safety. Read the submission.
On 22 November, the presidents of Australia’s five learned academies issued a joint statement on COP26 and Australia's path to net-zero emissions. The statement promises the academies’ independent voice and convening power, which harnesses the collective expertise and resources of nearly 3,500 Fellows across the academies, to provide insights, solutions and knowledge. Read the statement.
On 16 November, the Academy provided a submission to the Australian National Audit Office consultation on the Management of Threatened Species and Ecological Communities under the EPBC Act. The submission drew attention to the Academy’s submission to the Samuel Review of the EPBC Act, which provided an analysis of the operations of that Act and provided advice for reform. Read the submission.
March 01 — Register for this event
February 15 – March 08 — Register for this event
March 29 – 30 — Register for this event
April 11 – 12 — Register for this event
April 12 — Register for this event
The Australian Academy of Science occasionally partners with Australian Government departments and other science and research organisations to produce independent research reports and science advice, and facilitate international science linkages on their behalf. If you are interested in working with the Academy please contact us.
© 2024 Australian Academy of Science