Australia’s new chief scientist, award-winning New South Wales physicist Cathy Foley, has acknowledged climate change as one of humanity’s biggest challenges, and stressed that it is a problem that will require a “whole range” of solutions guided by a “real methodology.”
Foley, who is currently chief scientist of Australia’s premier science agency, the CSIRO, was named on Monday as the replacement for Alan Finkel, whose five-year tenure in the role ends in December.
Foley takes on the job at a crucial time for Australia and the world in its bid to limit global warming, adapt to the climate changes already taking place, and to navigate a world still reeling from the global Coronavirus pandemic.
And while her scientific field of expertise is in mineral exploration, Foley has acknowledged the vital role science will play in driving down emissions in every sector of the economy.
“As science reinvents itself and as the speed of science discovery accelerates, we will need a more adaptive capability,” she said in an interview with Women’s Agenda in December 2019.
“We need to make sure we can respond to challenges, advance missions and catalyse the creation of new sustainable industries and solutions to our greatest challenges such as the impact of climate change and dealing with waste.”
In comments this week, Foley addressed the topic again, in light of her new, slightly more politically charged role.
“I think everyone agrees climate change is something that has to be dealt with and it’s not something which has a single solution,” she told reporters in Canberra on Monday.
“We’re going to have to see over a long time a whole range of different things and approaches that have to come together.
“I guess my role is to see how to build on that to be able to make sure we’ve got what’s needed into the long term,” Foley said.
“It’s not as though we can swap things over overnight, we have to actually work towards that, and have a real methodology which consists of a whole range of components.”
These somewhat cautious comments appear to take into account the climate-lite, gas-heavy stance of the federal government that has appointed her to the role, although how Foley’s stance might evolve on such issues remains to be seen.
Foley’s predecessor, Alan Finkel, faced criticism for his support of an increased role for gas in the shift to a renewable electricity supply, including comments in May that Australia would remain dependent on “complementary” gas power for up to another 30 years.
That said, his continually frustrated efforts as chair of the independent review of Australia’s electricity market – known as the Finkel Review – under a climate-paralysed and deeply divided Coalition government should be recognised.
As noted above, Foley’s area of expertise is in minerals extraction – in 2015 she was awarded the Clunies Ross award alongside Keith Leslie for their invention, LANDTEM, which has detected ore deposits valued at more than $10 billion dollars globally, and $4 billion in Australia.
So perhaps this would be a good time to talk about Australia’s vast lithium reserves, and other key battery minerals, and how the country could become a battery manufacturing powerhouse.