22 November, 2021


We, the Presidents of Australia’s Learned Academies, recognise that our Academies’ collective expertise and leadership is critical to addressing the widespread and intergenerational impacts of climate change. 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. There is no realistic path to decarbonisation without ending fossil fuel use. In response, every sector in Australia must deliver on our commitments to reach the global goals stated in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

The challenges presented by climate change require smart, holistic and cross-disciplinary thinking. We need to continue developing and communicating research to challenge misinformation with robust evidence and steward an economy-wide transition to a low carbon future. Our academies will work to ensure our experts are at the forefront, providing advice to guide the most efficient, fair and cost-effective policy mechanisms that drive reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and broader adaptation.

We welcome the Australian Government’s trust and investment in current and emerging technologies to reduce and manage emissions, but alone this is not enough. The cornerstone of sufficient and effective implementation, uptake, and impact of these technologies will be acquiring and applying strategic insights derived from the humanities and social sciences, to ensure social acceptance and just outcomes.

We know that climate change disproportionately impacts vulnerable populations within our nation, and sea level rise is a significant issue for our Indo-Pacific neighbours. While benefiting all members of society, urgent climate change mitigation and adaptation will reap the greatest benefits for these groups. Fairness and justice should be to the fore in sharing the impacts of the moving away from fossil fuels.

Indigenous knowledge is an important asset. In partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, more effective and sustainable approaches to social, health and environmental issues could be implemented.

Achieving net-zero emissions will be challenging. As of 2020, fossil fuels provided 94 per cent of Australia’s total energy needs. We must urgently respond with appropriate research and translation of technologies and advice. Individually and collectively, the Learned Academies and ACOLA are already undertaking valuable work. These include:

  • identification of research priorities to support Australia’s energy transition [link]
  • a major report on the Risks to Australia of 3 Degrees of Global Warming, and Climate Change Hub to highlight work on climate science and solutions [link].
  • a clear position on the need for greater action this decade using current renewable technologies, accompanied by a series of explainers and webinars to demystify net zero technology and Australia’s commitments to achieving emissions reduction [link]
  • a symposium to showcase ideas from established and emerging scholars whose work will help manage the social and cultural dimensions of the climate crisis [link]
  • a discussion paper and statement on the benefits of market-based mechanisms and carbon pricing to meet our national emission reduction commitments most cost-effectively [link], and
  • a forthcoming report exploring the complex interplay between climate change and health and the role of the health and medical research sector [link], and
  • leading a process to consolidate and extend a broader agenda of proactive and productive reform of climate adaptation with a Future Earth Just Adaptation Strategy for release in early 2022 [link].

To advance the expert research and implementation needed, the Learned Academies and our Fellows will continue to work within and across disciplines to break down silos.

Through our independent voice, expertise, and convening power we are uniquely placed to provide leadership. In 2022, we will continue to harness the collective expertise and resources of our nearly 3,500 Fellows to provide insights, solutions and knowledge. Strategies will aim to exceed our emission reduction targets while effectively managing social, economic, health and environmental factors and empowering governments and industry to take action. We are also committed to substantially reducing the emissions of our own Academy activities.

Professor John Shine AC PresAA – ACOLA Board Chair and President, Australian Academy of Science
Professor Hugh Bradlow FTSE – President, Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering
Professor Jane Hall FASSA FAHMS – President, Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia
Professor Lesley Head FASSA FAHA – President, Australian Academy of the Humanities
Professor Ingrid Scheffer AO FAA PresAHMS FRS – President, Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences