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APEC Earth and Marine Observation Systems Workshop dinner

National Arboretum Canberra

28 September 2016

[Check against delivery]

Thanks for your introduction Tim (Moltmann, chair of the National Marine Science Council and chair of the Global Ocean Observing System Regional Alliance).

I’d like to acknowledge and welcome Mr Mike Heath, Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of the United States of America, Ambassador Palomino De La Gala, Embassy of Peru, members of the diplomatic corps and esteemed science leaders,

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to Canberra on behalf of the Australian Government.

I’m pleased to note that this important and trailblazing workshop has attracted strong participation from across APEC, with 17 of the 21 APEC economies represented here tonight.

The breadth of representation is also impressive, spanning over 30 representative agencies from government, industry and the research sectors.

APEC of course is a major global force.

The 21 member economies account for around 40 per cent of the world’s population and leading the way in science and innovation.

For example APEC’s 21 member economies produced 57 per cent of world GDP and 49 per cent of world trade in 2014[1].

These economies also make a significant contribution to global scientific output and impact.

As a result of APEC’s work, growth has soared in the region, with real GDP doubling from just US$16 trillion in 1989 to US$31 trillion in 2013.

Meanwhile, per capita income of residents of the Asia-Pacific has risen by 45 per cent, lifting millions out of poverty and creating a growing middle class in just over two decades [2].

Into the future, the prospects for growth in the APEC region are positive, meaning it’s likely to be one of  the world’s most economically powerful regions.

But with those opportunities come challenges.

APEC Challenges

These challenges have the potential to have severe direct impacts on communities and resources, threatening economic prosperity and sustainbale growth of the region.

Among these challenges are sustainable growth of the blue economy, that is, economic activity involving sea based industry, resilience to natural disasters, and food security.

The World Bank reported that the Asia-Pacific region has borne the lion’s share of global losses caused by natural disasters over the past 20 years—around 60 per cent of the total.[3]

2014 was a particularly bad year, with the United Nations reporting the natural disasters in the region claimed 6000 lives and cost almost US$60 billion dollars.

And the World Bank predicts that natural disasters will become more frequent in future years, meaning growing economic losses.

Large scale investments in major coastal infrastructure in some economies will make them particularly vulnerable.

It would be nice to say help is at hand but it’s only partly true.

Technology and innovation

Science, technology and innovation can play a central role in assisting governments, businesses and communities to make complex or timely decisions.

But the wide variation in infrastructure, skills and knowledge across the region means we are not making optimal use of our science to support sustainable economic, inclusive growth for our region.

We can meet these challenges through APEC because it’s a way in which we can work together to share our skills, knowledge and resources.

We can achieve much more working collectively than any individual economy can. Everybody stands to gain.

The APEC Policy Partnership on Science, Technology and Innovation provides a basis for governments, academia and the private sector in APEC economies to cooperate on scientific and technological innovation.

The partnership recognises that the region will benefit from more formal arrangements for cooperation on Earth and marine observations.

That’s because data gathered through Earth observations can be used throughout the region to manage issues like climate change, natural resources and natural disaster emergencies. 

At a national level, this information is already having a very positive impact on many individual economies. 

It’s appropriate that we take the next step and work cooperatively as across the region.

Benefits from data use

And the benefits of Earth observation data can be measured.

In Australia it’s estimated that the net value of more accurate, more timely and more frequent weather forecasts, through data gathered by Australia’s Integrated Marine Observing System, is estimated to be at least A$616 million and the benefit to cost ratio is more than 22[4].

The direct economic benefits to Australia from using Earth observing data has been estimated at A$496 million in 2015, rising to an expected A$1,694 million in 2025, with the social and environmental benefits totalling A$861 million in 2015.

These benefits are realised by a very diverse set of industry sectors, including agriculture, aviation, tourism and recreation, petroleum, mining, property, and insurance.[5]

For example, Australian farmers are improving their productivity through precision farming technologies that rely on this data. Weather warnings and forecasts are vital for offshore oil and gas operations.

In Australia, we allow free and open access to much of our data, including Earth observation data, because of the clear economic and social benefits.

SMEs in particular have shown that they can be very innovative when it comes to applying data commercially in a host of fields.

Making Earth observation data more available right across the APEC region will open enormous opportunities for SMEs to create new systems, programmes and platforms.

For example, on a larger scale in Australia, the Bluelink partnership between CSIRO, the Royal Australian Navy and the Bureau of Meteorology has developed well beyond its original intent.

It was first established in 2001 to improve forecasting for the global ocean circulation around Australia.

These days Bluelink gives Australian scientists the ability to forecast ocean conditions not just in Australia but anywhere in the world using data collected by NASA satellites and floating robots.

It has huge implications for search and rescue and weather forecasting.

Saving lives

I understand that if the technology had been available in 1998, then it’s possible weather forecasts could have been more accurate and the tragic loss of six lives in that year’s Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race might have been avoided.

That year an unusually strong low pressure system developed into an exceptionally strong storm which led to the loss of five yachts, a record 66 yachts retiring from the race and the airlifting of 55 sailors by rescue helicopters

On a brighter note, technology could also help recreational fishers targeting particular fish get more bites by giving them detailed information about where particular water masses are.

Here in Australia we’ve been using some of our excellent data gathering and interpretation to benefit the region more broadly.

For example, Australian Government research agencies have been working with 15 Pacific island countries on a range of tools and knowledge that will help them to deal with a changing climate.

Much of this draws on Earth observing systems as well as marine based information gathered by the Integrated Marine Observing System that feeds into these tools.

The work that we’ve done with our Pacific neighbours will help these economies to combat the threats posed by a changing climate.

Some of these include impacts on human health, infrastructure, coastal resources, disaster management, fresh water availability, agriculture, fisheries, forestry, marine ecosystems and tourism, to name just a few.

There are any number of other examples that show the diversity of needs to safeguard resources and communities that Earth observation systems can fulfil, from working on emergency responses and preparedness to the sustainable management of natural resources.

I’m aware that many of the 21 APEC economies collect a wide range of Earth and marine observations in a variety of different ways for many purposes.

With such a broad amount of data being gathered you might think that it would be shared, but this isn’t always the case.

In many cases, it’s kept in house in the agencies collecting it, limiting the potential for its broader use.

Working on a way ahead

I know that apart from issues of working out how you can work more closely together, your workshops are also examining other issues like:

  • working out what we should be gathering,

  • how the data should be stored and

  • what’s the best way to process it to provide information that’s useful.

All this adds up to the fact that we would be better off taking a regional approach to observation systems, reducing duplication and pooling resources, expertise, observation infrastructure and information.

Taking a more regional approach means we can improve the quality of information and improve our ability to work on regional problems.

Sharing technology, infrastructure and information has a multitude of benefits for working on regional challenges.

For example timely, good quality data is critical to emergency response decisions so that the impact of disasters can be reduced and responses can be better planned.

Conclusion

To conclude, I would like to thank you for coming to take part in this workshop, your presence is an excellent start, and I know that you’re finding a lot of common ground.

It’s early days, I know, but I’m confident that this workshop will result in some great outcomes for individual economies as well as the APEC region as a whole.

Developing a plan for regional cooperation will help to cement important links that will yield great benefits and lay a strong foundation for the future. I wish you all the best for the rest of the week.

(Ends)

References

[1] http://www.apec.org/About-Us/About-APEC/Achievements%20and%20Benefits.aspx

[2] http://www.apec.org/About-Us/About-APEC/Achievements%20and%20Benefits.aspx

[3] http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2013/06/03/losses-from-disasters-in-east-asia-and-pacific-raise-concerns-for-poverty-reduction

[4]http://imos.org.au/fileadmin/user_upload/shared/IMOS%20General/documents/external_reports/Economics_of_Australia_a_Sustained_Ocean_Observation_System_1_.pdf

[5] http://www.crcsi.com.au/assets/Program-2/The-Value-of-Earth-Observations-from-Space-to-Australia-ACIL-Allen-FINAL-20151207.pdf