Climate Action

Tony Worby on central role science will play in accelerating the solutions for a zero carbon society

Ahead of the Sustainable Innovation Forum 2019 taking place in Madrid, Spain on the 10-11th December, we caught up with Tony Worby, Director, Oceans and Atmosphere at CSIRO, to discuss the central role science will play in accelerating the solutions for a zero carbon society.

  • 13 December 2019
  • Rachel Cooper

Ahead of the Sustainable Innovation Forum 2019 taking place in Madrid, Spain on the 10-11th December, we caught up with Tony Worby, Director, Oceans and Atmosphere at CSIRO, to discuss the central role science will play in accelerating the solutions for a zero carbon society.


Q. Let’s start with some background on CSIRO and its long-standing contribution to the Australian economy.

As Australia’s national science agency and innovation catalyst, CSIRO is solving the greatest challenges through innovative science and technology and have been doing so for over 100 years.

Our value to the Australian economy is massive. Our proud legacy invented fast Wi-Fi and polymer banknotes and used in more than 30 countries. We're currently working on projects to help find the first gravitational waves in space, 3D-printing body parts and pioneering new renewable energy sources, and we are Australia’s largest patent holder with 686 patent families, 420 trademarks, and nearly 500 active licences.

The estimated present value of benefits from our work is around $4.5 billion per year which is almost three times our total annual budget and more than four times the funding provided by the Australian Government.

We partner collaboratively with business, industry and research organisations across the country on a range of solutions including strategic advice and planning, research and development, IP licensing and commercialisation, prototyping, testing and certification, SME funding and scaling up. 

Our 2,400 customers include 1000 SMEs, 488 international customers, 311 government departments and 355 large corporates. Our team includes more than 5,000 people across 50 locations around the country, as well as offices in Silicon Valley, Chile, France, Vietnam, Indonesia and Singapore that support our more than 150 international partnerships covering more than 80 countries.


Q. What is the role of science and technology in accelerating the solutions for a zero-carbon, green and sustainable society? What is needed to ensure that it can reach its full potential?

Science and technology play a central role in creating the evidence base for change – it underpins decisions, generates confidence in decisions that are made and informs decision makers on the likely and plausible impacts of not making changes.

The world’s climate is changing and driving changes in science, innovation and technology in ways that will be transformative to life as we know it. Innovation does not occur in a bubble, and occurs alongside changes in global markets, policies and industries.

As society navigates the choices required to head towards, and achieve, a net zero carbon future, science and technology will play many important roles. On the science side, research organisations like CSIRO are conducting research that informs the economic, social and environmental pathways that are required. Using fully integrated coupled earth system models, researchers are able to paint a picture of the options and decisions required. At CSIRO we’ve developed models like Atlantis (a marine ecosystem model) that couples biophysical processes with social and economic dimensions, to get a comprehensive picture of the status of any location and model the full impact of decisions.

On the technology side, massive societal and industrial change will need to be driven by new technologies that mitigate emissions and support climate change adaptation. All parts of the economy will need to embrace technology to reduce their contributions to climate change. Research institutions have a key role to play in testing assumptions and measuring impact of technological change, as well as providing academic and practical understanding of society’s response and willingness to embrace change.


Q. Can you tell us about the technologies you are most excited about?

At CSIRO we have a comprehensive portfolio of research and development to address the breadth of interconnecting and complementary science areas needed to manage risks and opportunities. I am inspired by the ingenuity and motivation that drives the innovative new solutions for industry to manage climate risks, reduce the impacts of economic shocks and capture opportunities during change.

Our FutureFeed sea-based solution to reduce enteric emissions is very exciting. This food additive technology significantly reduces methane emission from livestock and has the potential to increase livestock productivity. Methane is 28 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, and almost 10 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions comes from ruminant livestock. If just 10 per cent of global ruminant producers adopted FutureFeed as an additive to feed their livestock, it would have the same impact for our climate as removing 50 million cars from the world's roads, and potential increases in livestock productivity could create enough food to feed an additional 23 million people.

Restoring coral reefs is a global challenge that has been attempted around the world, with previous research achieving varying levels of success at small and localised scales. CSIRO, together with other leading Australian research organisations, is assessing the prospect of implementing restoration at the scale of the entire Great Barrier Reef. We are testing the effectiveness of large-scale restoration using population models, field trials, and remote sensing approaches. Along with our industry partner Van Oord Dredging and Marine Contractors, and Delft University, we conducted a feasibility study to test fundamental components necessary for the large-scale harvesting and long-distance transportation of wild coral spawn slicks. The controlled release of coral spawn slicks has the potential to achieve large-scale restoration of coral communities with low impact technology.


Q. What is the importance of cross-sector collaboration in driving climate action and how integral has it been to the successful legacy of CSIRO?

Collaboration is fundamental for driving action on climate change and is central to science and technology being able to underpin a global change agenda. Collaborating across disciplinary boundaries builds an environment that can embrace change and accelerate for effectiveness.

At CSIRO collaboration is a core pillar to our strategy, sitting alongside people, scientific excellence, global engagement and customers. Collaborating allows us to integrate the best solutions for our customers, increase our flexibility, and enhance Australia’s innovation performance.

Our oceans are physically connected globally through binding large-scale circulations and for the well-mixed atmosphere, greenhouse gases and pollutants do not distinguish between state boundaries. For CSIRO this leads to collaboration, across agencies, sectors and regions, being an obvious tool required to tackle large multi-dimensional problems.

This approach has been successful for CSIRO – enabling bigger and more far-reaching impacts. Our relationship with the UK Met Office and Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology are central to the development and delivery of the Australian Community Climate and Earth System Simulator (ACCESS). ACCESS embodies a national approach to climate and weather prediction modelling that will give CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology the best possible scientific tools for climate impact and adaptation analysis, and weather forecasting.


Q. What is the importance of events such as the Sustainable Innovation Forum in supporting the goals of CSIRO?

Although we’re an Australian research organisation, we deliver impact by partnering with international organisations, working in over 80 countries and it is events such as SIF19 that support our international goals.

Our impact areas are focused on supporting the Australian Government foreign policy agenda, enhancing our scientific standing through partnering with world-class institutions, capturing the value of our innovations and services and creating pathways to global markets for Australian innovation.                       

We wouldn’t be able to achieve our global objectives without our longstanding partnerships, our global footprint, and our involvement in international activities and programs. Our aim is to actively contribute to Australia’s economic growth through participation in the global innovation system; address key national challenges; and contribute towards foreign policy objectives.


CSIRO is a Strategic Partner of the 10th annual Sustainable Innovation Forum which took place alongside COP25 on the 10-11 December in Madrid, Spain. To learn more about the Sustainable Innovation Forum 2020, visit the event's official website here