2017 research highlights

The following is a sample which demonstrates the breadth of research by members in 2017.

New books in 2017

Climate Science

Professor Eelco Rohling is part of a team that elaborated the science case that underpins the "Juliana vs. the US Government” court case where young people try to hold the US Government legally responsible for knowingly causing climate change, and their latest paper came out this year in preparation for hearings scheduled for 2018.

Research led by Dr Sophie Lewis warned that Melbourne and Sydney should prepare for 50 degree Celsius days under the Paris Agreement global warming limit of 2 degrees.   Dr Lewis said the study assessed the potential magnitude of future extreme temperatures in Australia under Paris targets of an increase in global temperatures of 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial level.

Earlier research led by Dr Lewis outlined how the hottest year on record globally in 2015 could be an average year by 2025 and beyond if carbon emissions continue to rise at the same rate.

Steven Crimp, Philip Kokic, and Mark Howden co-authored an article in the International Journal of Climatology examining the changing frequency and seasonality of minimum temperature extremes and the synoptic drivers responsible for these changes. The later occurrence of Australian minimum temperature extremes appear to be driven by changes in the position and intensity of the sub-tropical ridge as well as increasing dominance of atmospheric blocking.  These changes are due in part to decadal variability as well as anthropogenic climate change.


The climate of the ancient Earth 4 billion years ago is of interest to Rowena Ball. With co-author John Brindley of Leeds University she found that a special distribution of temperature fluctuations enabled the origin of life.  

Climate and Agriculture

An Ian Potter Foundation Grant recently led to the founding of the cross-sector ANU Sustainable Farms Initiative. These funds, along with other philanthropic grants and donations, are enabling the establishment of the Sustainable Farms Initiative at ANU in 2018. The Initiative aims to improve environmental, economic and social outcomes in rural Australia. It will do this by working with farmers, academics, policy makers and industry to better enable farmers to manage their farms as enduring natural assets as well as successful businesses. 

Research by Floney Kawaye and Professor Michael Hutchinson, “Are increases in maize production in Malawi due to favourable climate or the Farm Input Subsidy Program (FISP)?”,  provides a robust, spatially explicit, analysis of the dependence of observed maize yields on climate and uses this to assess the significance of the impact of FISP on yields in Malawi.  Obtaining such statistically significant dependences of routinely observed yield data on climate is often seen to be difficult.

Professor Mark Howden was co-author on Considering agriculture in IPCC assessments with John R. Porter and Pete Smith. The paper discussed how methods to quantify crop yield impacts and mitigation potentials have been significantly improving and used as part of IPCC assessments of climate change.

Climate and Fire

Dr Marta Yebra is working on a new mapping system to predict the severity of bushfire season from space and has grants from the Bushfire & Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre and the CBR Innovation Development Fund.  She has also published a number of papers this year on measuring and predicting fire indicators such as moisture and fuel loads, including Using alternative soil moisture estimates in the McArthur Forest Fire Danger Index with Professor Albert van Dijk and Assoc Professor Geoffrey Cary

Climate finance and economics

Professor Warwick McKibben and Augustus J Panton co-authored a paper, Climate Change and Monetary Policy: Dealing with Disruption. The paper explores the interaction of monetary policy and climate change as they jointly influence macroeconomic outcomes and received some coverage in the Australian Financial Review on climate policy. 

Research by CCI Adjunct, Dr Jonathan Pickering, What drives national support for multilateral climate finance? International and domestic influences on Australia’s shifting stance, finds that changes of government explain some but not all variations in Australia’s stance on climate finance.  International peer group effects have moderated the positions of two governments that were otherwise reluctant to act on climate change. Another paper, Managing fragmentation and complexity in the emerging system of international climate finance, brings together seven studies that aim to understand the patchwork of institutions that govern international climate finance for developing countries, and to identify ways of rendering these institutions more effective, equitable and accountable.

Climate policy

Planning for a low-carbon future in Australia will need to address simultaneously three aspects of sustainable development: centralisation/regional development, mobility and communication. Research by Professor Patrick Troy (AO), A national strategy for a low-carbon economy: The contribution of regional development planning, identifies the importance for Australia of an integrated and mutually reinforcing set of measures, based on a bold approach to urban and regional planning.’

In a paper published in Palgrave Communications, Dr Luke Kemp argues that the actions of US President Donald Trump alone are unlikely to have a large long-term impact on emissions, unless carried on by future administrations. Yet the poor climate policy decisions of the US are deeper and can be attributed to the fossil fuel lobby and political divides.  

Traditionally climate change has been seen as a collective action problem, where states have an incentive to free ride on the efforts of others (known as the Prisoner’s Dilemma). Yet around the world national and sub-national governments are introducing unilateral regulatory measures to reduce emissions.  Recent research by Professor Peter Drahos and Dr Christian Downie suggests that it is increasingly in states' interests to regulate emissions for a variety of reasons, including on economic, geopolitical and moral grounds.

Research co-authored by Professor Quentin Grafton and Professor Tom Kompas also explores the dynamics of global climate change mitigation in the context of game theory and free riding.  They suggest that, contrary to these theories, there are already many actors who are motivated by the public good. In fact, as the number of these countries / agents increases, the quality of the environment will improve and everyone will be better off.

Existing energy policies remain well short of achieving a rapid transformation to a low carbon system of energy supply.  An article by Dr Christian Downie, suggests that one of the principal reasons has been political resistance from incumbent fossil fuel industries.

Realising the aspirations of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to reduce inequality, limit ecological damage, and secure resilient livelihoods is a grand challenge for sustainability science, civil society and government. Research by Dr Kathryn Bowen identifies three key governance challenges that are central for implementing the SDGs, requiring collective action across sectors, levels and scales and an integrated approach.

Climate change and cities

Yuan Peng and Professor Xuemei Bai’s research paper, Experimenting towards a low-carbon city: Policy evolution and nested structure of innovation, explores how Shanghai’s low carbon initiatives integrate existing frameworks with new policies and facilitates innovation.  The findings provide new theoretical and empirical insights into the multilevel governance of low-carbon transition in cities.

In 2017 Assoc Professor Bob Webb has extended his work on climate change into the broader context of sustainable development with a focus on urban areas with research co-authored by Professor Xuemei Bai, Professor Robert Costanza, Adjunct Professor Barbara Norman and Emeritus Professor Will Steffen. This is based on earlier work which evidenced that cities are the most crucial focus for climate change mitigation and adaptation, and that broader framing within sustainable development opens up synergies as well as trade-offs which should help decision makers.

Climate Change Adaptation

Bethune Carmichael and Assoc Professor Bob Webb have been working with indigenous rangers on climate change adaptation and remote cultural heritage sites, using very innovative approaches that link adaptation good practices with local engagement and knowledge.

Assoc Professor Bob Webb has been Invited to lead a paper on good practices for climate change adaptation and decision support for a special issue of Climatic Change journal (in review for publication in 2018), based on earlier projects carried out for NCCARF, CSIRO and the then Department of Environment.

Stacy-ann Robinson has published a couple of papers looking at climate change adaptation in small island developing states (SIDS). Mainstreaming climate change adaptation in small island developing states identifies mainstreaming drivers and barriers, and proposes a seven-step process for practically achieving mainstreaming in SIDS.  Climate change adaptation limits in SIDS characterises adaptation limits in SIDS and finds that 39% of the limits are institutional.

Responding to extreme events

Cobi Smith has written a book chapter entitled A Case Study of Crowdsourcing Imagery Coding in Natural Disasters. Crowdsourcing and open licensing allow more people to participate in research and humanitarian activities. Open data, such as geographic information shared through OpenStreetMap and image datasets from disasters, can be useful for disaster response and recovery work.

Climate Communications

PhD student, Inez Harker-Schuh, is launching an interactive, online game to teach children aged 12-14 about climate science.  Her research will explore how to create a versatile learning tool that educates kids about how our climate is changing.

Professor Mark Howden and Dr Bec Colvin published an article with Dr Justine Lacey of CSIRO and Dr Christopher Cvitanovic of the University of Tasmania on the dynamics of trust at the climate science-policy interface in Nature Climate Change. The article explored risks created by trust at this interface, and strategies for managing trust.

Climate and Energy

To find out more about climate and energy, please visit energy.anu.edu.au. Professor Frank Jotzo, in partnership with colleagues across ANU and other universities in Australia and Germany, created the Australia-Germany Energy Transition Hub.

Climate and oceans

The 2016 bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef was the worst on record. New analysis by Dr Sophie Lewis and Dr Jennie Malella points the finger squarely at human-induced warming, and warns that the entire reef's future is at stake.

Dr Fiona Hibbert and Dr Tony Purcell took part in a workshop on "Phasing of ice sheet and sea level response to past climate" as part of PALSEA.(Dr Katherine GrantDr Fiona Hibbert, Dr Tony Purcell, Dr Paul Tregoning and former VC Ian Young participated in “Future Sea Level and Coastal Impacts Workshop" at University of Tasmania, which concluded by laying out a program for producing a broad review paper of regional sea-level change in 2018 and a Centre of Excellence bid in 2020.

Climate and Health

New Research published in July called for health professionals and climate forecasters to work more closely together ahead of extreme weather events and gradual climate change to help prevent the spread of infections.  Lead researcher Dr Aparna Lal said health researchers were often left out of planning and discussions about the looming climate events.