Future Earth Australia workshop #FutureEarthOz

Over 28-29th April 2016, over 100 participants from diverse disciplines and professions came together at the Shine Dome in Canberra, to discuss how to translate the global Future Earth program into a regional initiative: Future Earth Australia.

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  1. Future Earth is a global research platform designed to provide the knowledge needed to support transformations towards sustainability. It is a ‘federation’ of projects and other initiatives related to Global Environmental Change, and will contribute to achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
  2. I was there in my role as a policy intern for the Australian Academy of Science, and my job was to tweet, tweet, tweet!
  3. The workshop was designed to stimulate ideas and constructive debate, and so formal presentations on day one were short and punchy, with the aim of stimulating dialogue and discussions during break-out sessions, and on all of day two.
  4. The workshop was opened by Prof Andrew Holmes, President of the Australian Academy of Science. Prof Holmes described Future Earth as an exciting and important global initiative, that has the potential to make a huge impact in Australia and in the surrounding region if we grab the opportunity. He argued that we must harness the full range of talent - from the sciences, humanities and arts - to meet the potential of Future Earth.
  5. Prof Xuemei Bai from the Australian National University (and member of the Future Earth scientific committee) introduced the Future Earth global framework, including the Knowledge-Action Networks, Open Networks and the opportunities available for early and mid-career researchers. More than 20 international research projects, 7 regional centres and 5 global hubs make up the architecture of Future Earth.
  6. Dr John Finnigan, Chair of the Future Earth Australia expert working group, described Future Earth as a platform for international, collaborative research to deliver local & regional outcomes. Ultimately, Future Earth aims to enable communities to thrive in the future amidst massive global change. He argued that if we are to identify long term solutions for sustainability, we need everyone to be involved - business, civil society, government, researchers and the arts.
  7. The first series of presentations focused on people in a sustainable society, and featured contributions from a number of scholars. Prof Freya Matthews from La Trobe University discussed the ethical dimensions of sustainable development, and questioned whether anthropocentrism is an appropriate ethical lens through which to make decisions around sustainability and biodiversity loss. A/Prof Linda Williams from RMIT outlined how the arts & humanities can contribute to Future Earth, and told us that the arts have power to change people's hearts and minds about environmental issues - but this can be intangible and hard to measure.
  8. Andrew Petersen from Sustainable Business Australia described how the business community can play a crucial role in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals. He argued that there is no way business can ignore the SDGs because of the risks and opportunities they present. Future Earth has a key role in developing tools that businesses can use to implement the SDGs, and in return business will be a massive incubator for achieving these goals in collaboration with researchers and the wider community.
  9. In the first breakout session, participants joined discussion groups based on the topics raised in the morning presentations. This session featured a lot of introductions, as everyone was offered the opportunity to tell the group what interests them and why they wanted to discuss a topic. This initial (rather large!) investment of time proved very useful for the remainder of the workshop - as it then became easy for participants identify others with common interests, and develop an understanding of what skills and expertise they brought to the table.
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