The research capability and expertise of CSIRO has been called upon as a critical part of the national response to the two issues that continue to dominate media headlines and public concern; the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) and the bushfire crisis.
In addition to the organisation’s standing contribution to infectious disease research and monitoring, CSIRO will form part of a global rapid response effort to study the novel coronavirus as part of the ultimate effort to discover a vaccine.
Meanwhile, following heavy and sustained rainfall that finally extinguished many blazes burning in eastern Australia, the Federal Government has put CSIRO science and research at the centre of bushfire recovery efforts.
CSIRO’s track record in zoonotic disease research has been called upon to form part of an international response to the outbreak of coronavirus COVID-19. The new or novel coronavirus was first reported in the city of Wuhan, located in China’s Hubei province on 31 December 2019.
The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) – a partnership between public, private, philanthropic, and civil organisations to develop vaccines to stop future epidemics – has engaged CSIRO to help determine the characteristics of the current virus.
CSIRO scientists based in Geelong’s Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) will undertake research to understand key questions regarding the origin and behaviour of COVID-19; building on AAHL’s previous work with the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) coronavirus outbreak in 2002-2003.
With imminent danger doused by heavy rain across eastern Australia, bushfire recovery efforts have stepped up and CSIRO has been directed to assist the response; drawing on the organisation’s extensive history of bushfire research.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has commissioned a CSIRO Report on Climate and Disaster Resilience, seeking ‘practical measures for Australian governments to improve Australia’s climate and disaster resilience.’
Working with the Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel and an expert advisory panel, CSIRO will produce an interim report to the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting in March ahead of a final report with implementable recommendations due 30 June 2020.
The announcement builds on an earlier direction from Science Minister Karen Andrews following a roundtable in January for CSIRO to develop improved public communication regarding the contributing factors for bushfires, identification of opportunities for citizen science projects to assist response, recovery and resilience efforts and the development of industry sessions to increase communication and collaboration between front-line fire fighters and other stakeholders.
Below are the terms of reference for the CSIRO report on practical climate and disaster resilience measures, agreed by the Prime Minister.
CSIRO Report on Climate and Disaster Resilience Terms of Reference
Australia’s climate is changing. The science tells us the effects of emissions already in the atmosphere will continue to be felt in coming decades, even under the most ambitious global emissions reduction scenarios.
This will require Australia to build our ability to resist, absorb, accommodate, recover and transform in the face of our changing climate, including the effects of longer, hotter, drier summers, coupled with changes to the frequency and severity of cyclones and floods.
Climate and disaster resilience is the collective responsibility of all sectors of society, including all levels of government, business, the non-government sector and individuals, with the Commonwealth playing an important leadership role.
This will require the Australian community to engage with issues including how we manage native vegetation, design public infrastructure, allow asset protection zones on private property, where we allow structures to be built, the materials used and standards to which they are built, and how we manage seasonal and structural risk reduction activities, such as hazard reduction burning and construction of flood levees.
To support these efforts and ensure they are informed by science, the Prime Minister has asked the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) to report on practical measures for Australian governments to improve Australia’s climate and disaster resilience. CSIRO will work in close partnership with the Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel, who will chair an expert advisory panel.
Timeframes and deliverables:
CSIRO will provide a report to the Prime Minister on practical options for Australian governments to support and improve Australia’s climate and disaster resilience through the following key deliverables:
Early March 2020:
A preliminary report, for consideration at the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) March meeting, with
30 June 2020:
Scope of the Review
The report will identify practical measures to build climate and disaster resilience at local, regional and national scales, including:
Areas to be considered will include, but not be limited to:
The review should build on the Government’s National Climate Resilience and Adaptation Strategy, Climate Science Strategy and the National Disaster Risk Reduction Framework and synthesise past scientific work where appropriate, but not duplicate existing work such as the National Environmental Science Program.
The report will have regard to:
Expert Advisory Panel:
CSIRO will work in close partnership with an Expert Advisory Panel (EAP) chaired by the Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel. The EAP will include individual experts in areas such as climate, weather, bushfire and natural disaster science, emergency management, agriculture, environment, land use planning and construction, and government.
CSIRO will undertake direct consultation with state and local government bodies, community and industry stakeholders during the second phase of the project.
CSIRO will provide an independent report to the Prime Minister to underpin discussions in COAG on future actions.
The Australian Government Disaster and Climate Resilience Reference Group co-chaired at the Deputy Secretary level by the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment and the Department of Home Affairs will provide a forum for CSIRO to update agencies on its work.