The sustainability challenge
SCIENCE plays an important role in helping to inform the sustainable growth and development of Tasmania’s agricultural sector. For this to be successful, policy makers, farmers, growers and researchers need to have an understanding of the intersection between sustainability, policy and practice.
Along with colleagues from the University of Tasmania, Deakin University and RMIT, I recently launched a book called Enhancing Science Impact: Bridging Research, Policy and Practice for Sustainability. This new book explores roles and options for setting up ‘science for sustainability’ and suggests ways to develop research projects and programs that are fit-for-purpose. The book draws from research on the practices of successful scientists and scholarship from Tasmania and around the world.
A lesson from this book is that to effectively address Tasmania’s complex sustainability challenges, researchers and research funders need to design projects and programs to fit with different types of challenges and the ways they inform government and industry decisions.
Sustainability outcomes range widely, from healthy waterways and clean drinking water, to reducing loss of biodiversity, to ensuring agriculture TOOLS: Dr Peat Leith outlines ways to embed science in decision-making processes. and fisheries are well managed. Tasmania’s farmers and growers are key players in the sustainable management of our local natural resources.
These different environmental challenges are governed — and influence policy — very differently. Some sustainability topics are regulated in hotly contested settings while others are more collaborative efforts of different scales of government, citizens and the private sector. These different forms suggest very different roles for scientists and research organisations if they wish to contribute effectively.
In the book is an accessible set of approaches and tools to help embed science in decision-making processes for addressing sustainability challenges.
One case described in the book is an estuary management program for the River Derwent in Hobart. For over 50 years the local zinc smelter discharged heavy metal waste into the river and in 1975, University of Tasmania chemistry professor, Harry Bloom, announced his serious concerns. Professor Bloom’s credibility could not be ignored by our governments nor by the polluting industries.
A few years later, poorly treated sewage and storm water run-off raised further concerns about water quality in the Derwent Estuary.
New research confirmed dangerously increasing nutrient levels and a co-ordinated approach to managing water quality in the estuary was instigated. The State of the Derwent Report provided scientific evidence framed within an inte- grated approach that helped bring diverse stakeholders together. The newly established Derwent Estuary Program coordinated the affected industry and community groups, along with local and state governments.
In this local case, science helped to unpick controversy and provided a critical resource for policy makers, industry and researchers to consider and apply to a collectively informed outcome.
Enhancing Science Impact: Bridging Research, Policy and Practice for Sustainability is published by CSIRO Publishing and is available online at publish.csiro.au/book/7519/.