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Kerrie Wilson | Pro Vice-Chancellor (Sustainability Strategy) at QUT

As the Pro Vice-Chancellor (Sustainability Strategy) at Queensland University of Technology, Kerrie’s vision for a better future is one where “...the Australian community and our political parties can come to a broad, science-based consensus on the risks, the possibilities and the path forward. Australia can lead the way in showing how technology and innovation combined with traditional knowledge and practices can build the foundations of a sustainable society”.

Read more about Kerrie and Queensland University of Technology below.

Can you tell us more about Queensland University of Technology (QUT)

Queensland University of Technology (QUT) is a major Australian university with a global outlook and a real-world focus in its teaching and research. We have more than 50,000 students, almost 5,000 staff (FTE) and five faculties – Science; Engineering; Health; Business and Law; Creative Industries; Education and Social Justice. Sustainability and the Environment is one of QUT’s seven strategic priorities. We aspire to live lightly upon the earth and reduce our impact on the natural environment. In March this year we released our first Sustainability Action Plan, which lays out our plans and targets across thirteen domains, ranging from energy, water and waste to research, education and procurement.

Why is QUT taking climate action?

QUT’s vision is to move towards a low-carbon future by urgently reducing greenhouse gas emissions. We believe that universities have a special role to play in the transition to a sustainable future. Every individual and organisation needs to play a part, but universities have an opportunity and arguably an obligation to lead the way, to model the transition. We can lead the way not only by minimising the environmental footprints of our campuses but by maximising the sustainability impact of our teaching, research and outreach programs. The ripple effects of universities are massive. All the graduates, ideas and inventions coming out of our universities every year can drive the change to a sustainable world.

Can you tell us about your commitments to climate action? 

QUT is taking climate action on many fronts. First and foremost, we are reducing our carbon emissions. Our goal is to be net zero for scope 1 and 2 emissions by 2023 and net zero for all emissions (scope 1, 2 and 3) by 2030. Scope 1 emissions are those directly produced by university activities (such as using natural gas), scope 2 emissions are the indirect emissions from purchased electricity, and scope 3 emissions are other indirect emissions linked to goods and services purchased by the university (such as business flights and waste processing). 

In early 2022 we will start drawing 50% of our electricity from a new solar farm that is currently being built in Columboola in western Queensland. The solar farm is a partnership between QUT, Griffith University, Central Queensland University, CS Energy and Luminous Energy. We are also planning to maximise our deployment of solar PV systems on campus by the end of next year and reduce our electricity consumption by 10% from 2017-18 levels by 2023. Scope 3 emissions are notoriously difficult to measure and abate, so one of the priority actions in our Sustainability Action Plan is to develop better processes for measuring, monitoring, reporting and managing these emissions. Some scope 3 emissions, such as electrical utility losses and air travel, are already measured by our suppliers, so we have quite accurate data. Others are less clear – hence the need to develop better tracking systems to help us (and our suppliers) to reduce them. QUT is also addressing climate change and other environmental problems through research. We have several interdisciplinary research centres tackling environmental sustainability problems, including centres focused on agriculture and the bio-economy, clean energy, the environment, waste, robotics, materials science and data science. Other research centres and groups at QUT are investigating the social, economic, legal and political dimensions of sustainability.

Is there a project you are working on that you are excited about?

One project I am excited about is a five-year Education for Sustainability Project we started this year at QUT. The goal is to embed sustainability in all our undergraduate courses by 2026. We want to help our students to understand the sustainability challenges the world faces and how they can be addressed in the fields they are studying and the industries they will work in.

We are not starting from scratch. We already have subjects on environmental science and engineering, future transportation, environmental law and eco crime, disaster management, environmental economics and policy, and fashion sustainability – to cite a few examples. So we are already doing quite a bit to give our graduates a sustainability focus in their future careers and lives, but we want to embed sustainability in the curriculum in a more consistent, cohesive and comprehensive way. And that is what the Education for Sustainability Project is all about.

What real-world opportunities have you uncovered from taking climate action today? 

Many organisations recognise the magnitude of the climate crisis and want to collaborate on solutions. So there are plenty of real-world opportunities. QUT tends to take research ideas further along the innovation pipeline than most universities. We like to work with partners who can implement research ideas at a commercial scale, and we have research facilities and sites that enable us to develop and trial cutting-edge technologies and processes. To give one example, we are working closely with several Australian and international companies, the Queensland Government and local governments on building the science, technology and supply chain of the emerging green hydrogen economy.

What climate action would you like to see Australia take?

Australia needs to commit to net zero carbon emissions by 2050. We also need a strong target for 2030, because the next decade is critical. Climate change is underway: the sixth assessment report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shows that Australia has warmed by around 1.4 degrees since 1910. More warming is inevitable, and every fraction of a degree increases the risks of natural disasters and biodiversity loss. So we need to make the policy changes and investments required to set Australia and the world onto a sustainable path by 2030. This is a huge responsibility, but it is also a wonderful opportunity to be part of one of the greatest transformations in human history.

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Dr Lai Heng Foong | Emergency Medicine Specialist

Dr Lai Heng's climate work with the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM) has uncovered that "renewable energy sources can be sustainable and profitable and provide much needed jobs, especially to rural areas." She is Emergency Medicine Specialist at Bankstown Hospital with expertise in Public Health, Disaster Medicine and Climate Change and Health, and is a member of the Indigenous Health Committee of ACEM.

Read more from our interview with Dr Lai Heng Foong below.

What is ACEM? 

The Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM) is the not-for-profit organisation responsible for training emergency physicians and advancement of professional standards in emergency medicine in Australia and New Zealand.  The Public Health and Disaster Committee has spearheaded the organisation in divesting from fossil fuels, declare a climate emergency (in November 2019) and collaborate with other medical colleges and NGOs on climate change advocacy work. We are committed to continue this work and are working on an Environmental Action plan to guide ACEM in all our work.

Why is ACEM taking climate action? 

The Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM; The College) considers climate change and the associated health impacts to be a population health emergency. Climate change presents an immediate risk to the capacity and ability of EDs, health systems and the emergency medicine workforce to safely manage increased demand as a result of more frequent and intense climate disasters. ACEM recognises that EDs and hospitals need to be resourced and supported to respond and manage increased presentations including surges in demand. Alongside this, ACEM actively supports efforts to minimise the impact of climate change including measures to reduce the carbon footprint of hospitals and health systems.

We have declared Climate Emergency in November 2019 and are finalising our Environmental Action Plan which will be framework that will guide our College’s operational, educational, advocacy roles. Given the scale of climate change, ACEM recognises the vital need to support and partner with other organisations and actors to both mitigate and adapt to climate change. Our last annual scientific meeting was all about Climate change, and a different way of running our Emergency Departments. We have also strengthened about advocacy role and campaigned for a health based economic recovery after Covid-19. We collaborate with different organisations incuding other medical colleges and NGOs on climate change and health advocacy. We support all steps that will help us reduce our CO2 emissions and keep temperature down below 2, and ideally 1.5 deg C as recommended in the Paris Accords.

Can you share something ACEM is currently working on that you are excited about?

I have led the Public Health and Disaster Committee’s establishment of an Environmental Action Plan. This document is an action plan which aligns with the Strategic Vision for Action against climate change. The action plan is aligned to the same themes as the Strategic Vision including leadership, research, advocacy, partnerships, education and culture. ACEM and its members recognise that climate change requires both adaptation and mitigation and therefore a mix of actions are outlined. Actions are assigned to ACEM staff as well as Emergency Department Directors, Fellows of ACEM and trainees.

What real-world opportunities has ACEM uncovered from taking climate action?

  • That the medical community has the confidence and trust of the community and can spread messages that links health impacts to climate change, and that we need to act now to avoid the destructive impacts of climate change related health impacts.
  • That community advocacy can be very powerful and inspiring and can change the political dialogue on climate change.
  • That renewable energy sources can be sustainable and profitable and provide much needed jobs, especially to rural areas.

What action would you like to see Australia take on climate?

  • Accept that Climate change is real and its impacts (including health) will be felt by everyone, and is reversible after we pass a certain threshold and take actions that will avoid this threshold.
  • Take concrete actions to commit to transitioning to renewable sources of energy (and away from Fossil fuels) and to lower out Co2 emissions and aim for a temperature increase not more than 1.5 deg C consistent with the Paris accords.
  • Commit to developing renewable sources of energy which will create jobs for people, especially in the rural areas are accountable for their actions in continuing to approve mines of coal, gas which will increase our CO2 emissions.
  • Commit to developing more climate resilient health systems and community preparedness for extreme weather events.

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