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Future Earth Australia workshop: #FutureEarthOz

In April, Megan Evans, a policy intern at the Australian Academy of Science attended a workshop for Future Earth Australia alongside more than 100 other participants in Canberra. Future Earth Australia is an emerging National Committee within Future Earth that seeks to build sustainability research across the country. As Evans puts it, her job at the event was to “tweet, tweet, tweet!” You can read her summary and impressions of the event and take a look at here photos in her blog post here. We’ve shared a few excepts below:

First, Evans discusses the goals of the workshop and the opening talk. Many speakers during the event highlighted that building toward a more sustainable world means bringing people from all walks of life on board – from the arts to business and more:

"Future Earth Australia aims to develop a strategic and business plan for an economically, environmentally and socially sustainable Australia. The workshop, hosted by the Australian Academy of Science, was an opportunity for scholars from the natural and social sciences, humanities and the arts to come together with business leaders, sustainability practitioners, NGO representatives, policymakers and members of the arts community to develop a roadmap for Future Earth Australia…

The Future Earth Australia 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."

Holmes wasn't alone in that sentiment, either. Writing after the workshop,  Iain McCalman, a University of Sydney Research Fellow in History and Co-Director of the Sydney Environmental Institute, said:  "It was moving for me after a near lifetime of campaigning for humanities, arts and social sciences to work with the natural sciences to see it happening seriously."

In her blog, Evans then dives into the interesting discussions that followed Holmes' talk:

“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.

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…

Prof Glenda Wardle from the University of Sydney made what I thought was a crucial, yet so far neglected point. Amidst all of our discussion about the future, she reminded us that it is in fact a luxury to be thinking about the future, when for many communities across the world (including many of our regional neighbours) resource scarcity and climate disruption is happening right now. This highlighted the need for Future Earth Australia to have a regional focus, and to ensure that solutions for sustainability don't have perverse outcomes or lead to 'leakage' of unsustainable impacts elsewhere.”

On the second day, participants got down to work:

“Day Two of the workshop was devoted to consolidating and further developing the ideas generated by discussion on the first day. Everyone was given the opportunity to pitch questions or projects in the 'Open Space.' The day's agenda was then mapped out from the ideas generated during this session.

Eighteen projects were identified by participants as having potential to contribute to sustainable futures for Australia and our region, that also align with the goals of Future Earth globally. These projects will be included as part of an initial portfolio for Future Earth Australia and will form part of a final plan for the initiative, to be delivered in May 2016.

Overall, the Future Earth Australia workshop was a fantastic opportunity to connect with a diverse group of people, to 'think big,' and to consider innovative & collaborative approaches for sustainable development. The key now will of course be to keep the momentum going, and translate the ideas into implementation. Although sustainability can often seem like a daunting, unachievable goal, I think it can sometimes be closer than we think.

Connecting with people across disciplines, sectors and cultures can be a challenge in a world full of silos – but if given the opportunity, it's possible to make these connections and identify "leverage points" for positive change. Future Earth Australia might just be this opportunity for change. So, let's get to work!”

Support for Future Earth Australia has been provided by the Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA) and the Australian Academy of Science.