2020 ANU Climate Annual Report

Contributing to climate change solutions

Here in Canberra, 2020 started in a way that I and so many others will never forget – in a haze of thick, orange smoke caused by the fires burning across much of the country.  Unfortunately, climate change has intensified three of the key factors that lead to extreme fire weather, namely dry fuel, high temperatures and dry air. We have good reason to be concerned about further climate changes.

In response, many Climate Change Institute (CCI) members have collaborated to directly address these threats, including via the award-winning Bushfire Impact Working Group and the ANU-Optus Bushfire Research Centre of Excellence, which is working on early detection and extinguishing of bushfires. 

Whilst 2020 has been defined globally by the COVID pandemic, it is now also in equal place with 2016 as the warmest year on record.  This is in spite of the La Niña climate pattern that tends to low global temperatures. La Niña has also brought much needed rain to many areas of Australia, providing respite from the drought conditions and boosting agricultural production.

Despite 2020 being the equal hottest year on record, I’m feeling more optimistic about our collective future due to recent announcements from four of our major trading partners (China, US, Japan and South Korea) that they are aiming for net zero emissions by 2050 (or in China’s case 2060) joining existing key trading partners such as the EU and NZ.

Read the full message

Research highlights

The CCI brings together cutting-edge climate research – from climate science and its effects on our environment to societal, economic, political, legal and technological impacts and responses.  

Here is a small snapshot of highlights which demonstrate the breadth of climate change research by CCI members in 2020

Education spotlight

119 climate courses across ANU
62 undergraduate climate courses
82 postgraduate climate courses
3 professional short courses

The IPCC is tasked with providing policymakers with regular scientific assessments on climate change, its implications and potential future risks, as well as putting forward adaptation and mitigation options. It has 195 member countries.

Studying climate change at ANU

As the impacts of climate change become increasingly apparent, people who understand its multiple dimensions and can contribute to developing, communicating and implementing innovative solutions are in increasingly high demand.

Master of Climate Change student – Demi Tinning

For Demi Tinning, studying a Master of Climate Change was an opportunity to make a difference in the world.

“After my undergraduate degree, I wanted to look at doing more study, but in a way that has real-world experience. Where what you do is tangible – I wanted it to count towards something.”

“I think that the Master of Climate Change is really good at that.”

PhD Profile – Living with flooding as our climate changes

Flooding in the floodplain area of Lower Northern Thailand has been having disastrous consequences for the locals for decades.

“Climate change has been causing unprecedented levels of flooding which are impacting people’s lives, and people are beginning to realise this now.”

“Through my PhD research, I hope to contribute to making significant changes for people in my homeland to live with floods more peacefully.”

Climate Essentials professional short courses

 “This was quite possibly the best course I've attended. The content was fascinating and the presenters absolutely nailed the level of detail required for the level of knowledge that I have.”

 “It was an excellent experience and I'm grateful to have heard from the wonderful speakers and engaged with the participants. It was particularly valuable looking at climate change through a multitude of lenses in quick succession, as it served as a reminder that in order to address it appropriately, we really need to take a transcontextual approach.”

Climate Essentials for Agriculture

 “Current, relevant, important information, would recommend to everyone”

“The program was very good, well organised and great content. One of the better ones I have attended.”

“It’s amazing to have time with the scientists, I really appreciated being able to speak to the people leading the science in this space and I think it's invaluable to the industry and society that we are in close contact with our scientists.”

Public policy engagement & outreach

Climate Change Institute members are engaged with policymakers at international, national and state / territory levels on an ongoing basis.  Here are some examples:

Bushfire Impact Working Group honoured

The ANU Bushfire Impact Working Group has been jointly awarded the prestigious Sidney Sax Medal for outstanding contribution to Australian healthcare, with Patricia Turner, CEO of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation.

Prof Sotiris Vardoulakis and collaborators recognized for public health advocacy & leadership during the 2019/20 ‘Black Summer’

Prof Sotiris Vardoulakis and his team have been presented with the Advocacy & Leadership Award at the virtual Australian Public Health Conference 2020.

“This is a great recognition of our work on public health communication during the terrible bushfires and in the aftermaths of the crisis. Many colleagues from across RSPH and ANU contributed tirelessly to this effort, and I am proud of our work to help protect public health and support affected communities,” says Vardoulakis.”

Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements

On 20 February, the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements was established. The Commission was established following the devastating 2019-20 bushfire season in Australia, to examine the national disaster management preparedness, coordination, and response. The ANU made a submission to the Commission addressing three of the twelve terms of reference.

Technology Investment Roadmap: First Low Emissions Technology Statement 2020

On 21 May 2020, consultation opened for the Australian Government’s national Technology Investment Roadmap. The aim of the Roadmap is to drive investment in low emissions technologies, to support Australian jobs and businesses, and strengthen the economy following the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

CCI and the Energy Change Institute (ECI) jointly organised and presented an open public forum on 12 June, aimed at sharing a range of perspectives around the Roadmap’s discussion paper.

Introducing ANU Below Zero

91% over 91% of the ANU community are alarmed or concerned about climate change
7 online workshops run, featuring presentations and discussions on each theme
226 attendees from ANU and the broader community to the online workshops
292 ideas for reducing ANU carbon emissions submitted to the online ideas-generation platform

The ANU Below Zero initiative aims to transition ANU from being part of the problem to becoming part of the solution – from a source of GHGs to a net absorber of GHGs.

Harnessing ideas from the ANU Community

In late August, over 500 members of the ANU community shared their attitudes to climate change and emissions reduction via a brief online survey conducted by Dr Samantha Stanley and Dr Zoe Leviston of the Research School of Psychology.   

Over 91% of the ANU community are either alarmed or concerned about climate change. 

Integrating Below Zero with research and teaching.

Kate Donnelly is a Master of Climate Change student who presented her recommendations on ANU GHG targets at the Leadership & Targets workshop.

“What I really enjoyed about the workshop was seeing ANU leadership saying ‘We know this is a problem - there’s no need for discussion about that.  Now what can we do to resolve this faster?’  It’s a galvanising moment when institutions step up like this. “

Read more about the ANU Below Zero Initiative

Building a community of climate researchers and teachers

324 climate change institute members
7 out of 7 ANU Colleges
22 out of 27 ANU Schools
273 academic staff members and 51 PhD student members

CCI Member Profile – Prof Sotiris Vardoulakis

Sotiris Vardoulakis is the Professor of Global Environmental Health at the ANU National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health.

“My research focusses broadly on interactions between the built and natural environment, climate change, and human health. This includes interactions between environmental stressors such as air pollution and people”, Sotiris says.

“Over the years, my focus has shifted from identifying and quantifying the risks to health, to actually looking into policy and technological solutions to improve health and improve the environment.”

Sotiris has found multiple benefits have stemmed from becoming a CCI member.

“CCI has helped me in many different ways, through connecting with other researchers across the university, connecting with other institutions and initiatives, and having a platform to disseminate my work.”

Policy engagement workshop

On Friday 28 February, we held a Policy Engagement Workshop in collaboration with the Energy Change Institute (ECI), and the Public Policy and Societal Impact Hub. The workshop was a bespoke service offered to CCI and ECI members, to provide them with practical advice about how to engage with policy-makers. It also provided an opportunity for the researchers to build connections with some key decision-makers in the climate and energy domains.

Covid-19 and climate change

ACIAR report – COVID-19 and food systems in the Indo-Pacific: An assessment of vulnerabilities, impacts and opportunities for action

On 10 November, the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) released a report titled COVID-19 and food systems in the Indo-Pacific: An assessment of vulnerabilities, impacts, and opportunities for action.

The report co-leaders included CCI members Dr Lisa Robins and Dr Steven Crimp. Several other CCI members also contributed to the authorship, including Dr Robyn Alders, Dr R. Michael Bourke, Dr Aparna Lal, and Dr John McCarthy.

COVID-19 and Climate webinar series

From June to August, we ran a series of five online events focussing on five different topics where comparisons can be drawn between the COVID-19 pandemic’s impacts and climate change.

ANU climate events

28 public lectures, seminars, roundtable discussions and climate cafes
3700 audience members at CCI events
4.3 overall rating our of 5 stars
81% of those surveyed will talk to others about the event

“Excellent event where I felt empowered and supported to take action against climate change.”

“The forum is a useful source of information tracking the state of/ and responses to climate change. The passion and focus that each speaker brings to their topic gives the forum a strong sense of identity (as an academically informed and accessible interrogation of responses to climate change).”

“A seamless and acutely informative presentation.”

Climate Updates in Canberra and Melbourne

An overview of how our climate is changing and how we’re responding to those changes.

Delivering on the Paris Climate Agreement

Almost five years after the Paris Agreement, how is the world tracking to meet the targets set out in the agreement?

Preparing for flooding and cyclones in a COVID-19 world

Preparing for increased flood risk in this La Nina season, along with the practical difficulties COVID-19 is imposing on emergency services, other agencies, and communities.

In the media

The media is a vital channel for communicating ANU climate research to the Australian and international community. Climate researchers engage with media on a daily basis. In 2020:

  •  Over 10,600 media programs, articles featuring key CCI contributors
  • More than 84m audience reached by CCI media
  • Mentioned across over 3,300 media outlets

Here are some examples of 2020 media coverage:

Photo: Shutterstock.

Australia, it’s time to talk about our water emergency

Prof Quentin Grafton et al, The Conversation, May 2020

Connect with the ANU Institute for Climate, Energy and Disaster Solutions

If you’d like to get involved in ANU climate change activities, email ICEDS@anu.edu.au to subscribe to our regular e-newsletter and follow us on social media.