Securing Australia’s future: PMSEIC releases expert reports on food security and energy-water-carbon intersections

Two Expert Working Group reports were released today on topics key to the sustainable future of Australia and its people: Australia and Food Security in a Changing World and Challenges at Energy-Water-Carbon Intersections.

The reports were developed at the behest of the Prime Minister’s Science, Engineering and Innovation Council which provides independent advice on major national issues in science, engineering and technology and their contribution to the economic and social development of Australia.

While developed independently of each other, the two reports do overlap on a number of issues, including the impact of climate change, the importance of water, and the need to build a resilient Australia.

“We charged the cross-disciplinary, expert groups that authored these reports to take a holistic approach, to look at the big picture, and not just a single piece of the science-society interface.

“The independent, scientific reports they produced are ground-breaking and vital to the future of the nation.  I am delighted that they have been released today so that they can inform not only government decision-making, but also public discourse,” Australia’s former Chief Scientist and Executive Officer of PMSEIC, Professor Penny Sackett said

Challenges at Energy-Water-Carbon Intersections

The interplay between energy, water and carbon in human activities has been made more complex and more pressing by the need to mitigate climate change risk through reducing carbon emissions, whilst continuing to supply energy, water and nutritious and affordable food to a growing population.

“Our energy systems use water; water systems use energy; current energy generation is greenhouse gas (GHG)-intensive; and land uses for food, fibre and energy production all require water.

“Solutions in any one area must take into account implications for the others.  Ideally solutions, whether on the scale of national governments, cities, or rural areas, would be developed integrally. 

“For example, traditional desalination to increase urban water supplies may significantly add to GHG emissions, which can exacerbate climate change, “Professor Sackett said.

A key recommendation of the PMSEIC energy-water-carbon report is to implement consistent principles for the accounting and pricing such as water, energy and carbon emissions into the atmosphere.  

“Consistent accounting and pricing principles are required to ensure our finite resources are used effectively, efficiently, and in ways that are consistent with long-term sustainability and resilience. 

“The implementation of integrated smart networks for energy and water, which is also recommended in the report, will go a long way in enabling the application of these principles,” Professor Sackett remarked.

Another set of recommendations put forward in the report describes positive steps to achieve enhanced resilience and sustainability of our built environments and landscapes. 

“Essentially what this means is that Australia, as a nation composed of individual communities linked by common challenges of water, energy and climate, should develop the ability to recover from shocks such as droughts, floods, and heatwaves, while adapting through learning and innovation, and undergoing transformation as required,” Professor Sackett explained.

Australia and Food Security in a Changing World

Australia is currently a net exporter of food, with considerable expertise in food production under resource constraints and in the face of climate variability. However the PMSEIC report suggests increased challenges to this important Australian industry including: land degradation, population growth, long-term climate change, competition for arable land, scarcity of water, and nutrient and energy availability.

“Food security does not just mean having enough food in a typical year.  It means having reliable and sustainable access to acceptable, nutritious, and affordable food at all times.     

“Australians expect this security, and about 40 million non-Australians internationally rely on our country to secure their food as well.”

“The food security report recommends a visionary approach that brings together regulatory and funding agencies, research organisations and industry, to achieve strong outcomes in economic growth and population health centred on food.

“These steps include urgent new investment in food science and technology that will spur future transformational change in healthy and efficient food production; increasing our human capacity to provide a suitably skilled workforce for the food sector; and translating community awareness of food into better food choices,” Professor Sackett said.

Both expert reports address long-term, transformational issues for Australia that affect the whole nation and thus will require a whole-of-government response.  They will be discussed further with the Prime Minister and other Council members at the next PMSEIC meeting, scheduled for 4 February 2011.

Read Australia and Food Security in a Changing World

Read Challenges at Energy-Water-Carbon Intersections