Region-wide Monash sustainability institute

Launched in 2012, the Monash Sustainability Institute's sustainable development goals project aims to lead input into and influence the national and international discussion on practical solutions to sustainability challenges, sustainability indicators, sustainable development goals and the green economy.

The project is an initiative the institute carries out under the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, or SDSN programme. Monash University was one of the first two organisations around the world to be appointed a regional centre for the SDSN, as the regional centre for the Asia-Pacific region.

Director of the Monash institute, Professor Dave Griggs, says the SDSN programme places the university at the forefront of global efforts to solve the sustainability crisis.

Griggs says the SDSN is an independent global network that aims to mobilise scientific and technical expertise from academia, civil society and the private sector “to solve the sustainable development challenge on a local, national and global level”.

The SDGs and SDSN Asia-Pacific

“At the Rio+20 UN Conference in 2012, world leaders agreed to develop universal Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, that would apply to all countries after 2015. The goals are intended to guide efforts to create an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable future for our planet,” he says.

“The three-year sustainable development goals project, supported by the [Harold] Mitchell Foundation, aims to provide leadership in the development of the SDGs and the solutions for implementing them in Australia, and in the south-east Asian and Pacific regions.

“The initiative is engaging senior leaders from government, the private sector, civil society, and academia in a national and regional dialogue on what kind of sustainable future we want and how we can get there.”

As the SDSN regional centre, the Monash institute coordinates the regional network’s activities.

At present this includes the institute, five other Australian university sustainability centres and two independent organisations – Canberra Urban and Regional Futures and ClimateWorks Australia, a research-based, non-profit organisation whose main goal is catalysing reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in Australia.

Griggs says the institute’s research is redefining sustainability and sustainable development to reflect the inextricable connection between the environment and development: “It is developing a science-based framework for sustainable development goals, and targets that integrate the environment and development.”

Leading climate change science

Griggs was formerly a leading figure in the Nobel prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the famed IPCC, and says a combination of research, education and action is the best weapon against global warming.

After the IPCC he was deputy chief scientist at the UK Met Office – Britain's Bureau of Meteorology – and director of the world's leading climate modelling centre, the Hadley Centre for Climate Change.

He provided scientific advice during the Kyoto Protocol negotiations, and was head of the IPCC science working group secretariat that gathered and assessed the research of the world’s top climate scientists.

But after years of working at the forefront of climate science, he says he became frustrated with the lack of urgency around him: "I spent 20 years in and around weather and climate and over 10 years trying to alert the world to the threat we were facing.

“There was an increasing acknowledgement that climate change was real, but the response at a political, business and industry level and an individual level just wasn't commensurate with the scale of the challenge. I felt that if I believed what I was saying, then rather than just keep saying for another 10 years, I had better try and do something about it."

He says the Monash institute aims to do three things: research, education and action: “The research had to be something that would pull through and be applied, and action was crucial, because we wanted to be able to put our hands on our hearts and say we made a difference.

“But education is also the key to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It is today’s students picking up the right attitudes and taking those attitudes into the workplace and their daily lives, and passing them on to their children and so on.”

Organisations promoting sustainability

Other Australian organisations promoting sustainability include:
  • • The Australian Education for Sustainability Alliance comprises organisations from the education, union, youth and environment sectors that want a higher prioritisation of sustainability in the education system. They are achieving this by advocating and lobbying for best practice education for sustainability policy.
  • • The Australasian Tertiary Education Facilities Management Association assists facilities managers in universities, colleges and other educational institutions in the Asia-Pacific by promoting excellence in the planning, construction, maintenance, operations and administration of educational facilities.
  • Climate Scientists Australia is an independent group of senior working scientists with a mission to advance the use in Australia of balanced, scientifically-based information in decisions on climate-related issues. The group is coordinated by Dave Griggs and includes some of Australia's most acclaimed climate scientists.