REFOCUS is a short episode where we revisit some of the key ideas from some of our previous guests on the podcast.
Policy Certainty with Dr Mary Stewart
This week we refocus on the message presented to us by Dr Mary Stewart.
engineers have to be aware of the policy environments in which they are developing answers
She speaks to us about the important role engineers have to ensure our planet’s climate doesn’t continue to spiral out of control. But engineers, and others, won’t want to engage until policy certainty is obtain by all sides of the government.
Dr Mary Stewart is the CEO of Energetics, Australia’s largest climate and energy risk consultancy. Recognised globally as an expert in decision-making for sustainable development, Mary has nearly 20 years’ experience in assisting some of Australia’s largest energy users develop energy management and climate risk strategies. She is an international expert on life cycle assessment as it applies to resources and in the development of carbon footprints and carbon neutral positions.
Mary is the BINGO (business and industry NGO) observer on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Technology Executive Committee’s Implementation taskforce. She was invited to take up this position by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC). The taskforce supports technology needs assessment, collaborative technology development and transfer, and uptake of existing clean mitigation and adaptation technologies. She also represents the ICC on the Adaptation working group and the Standing Committee on Finance.
In 2017, Mary won the Women’s Agenda Leadership Award for ‘Emerging Leader in the Private Sector’. She is on the Board of the Energy Efficiency Council (EEC) where she chairs the strategy committee and is the current vice president. She is on the International Energy Board of the Institute of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) where she was a member of the drafting group for their Climate Change Position Statement. Mary is also on the Governance Panel of IChemE. Mary has served on the Community Advisory Board for FlexCareers and supports her local community by sitting on the Environment Advisory Committee for Inner West Council.
This is a “close” copy of the words that were spoken during REFOCUS 1 Podcast episode
It is not 100% accurate.
REFOCUS: Mary Stewart
Mary: [00:00:00] I’m immersed in it on a daily basis. whenever there’s something in the Fin Review about energy prices or something in the Guardian about emissions reduction, I’m aware of it, but engineers have to be aware of the policy environments in which they are developing answers. Because we don’t know now what we’re designing for in 2050, the climate will change. Severe weather conditions will increase, the economy and economic structure will change in response to whatever happens on carbon reduction. And yet we are building plants that have 20, 30, and 40 year lifespans.
[00:00:38] Mel or Dom: [00:00:38] Yeah.
[00:00:39]Mary: [00:00:39] so the engineer of today has got to think about a solution that is not a single point solution.
[00:00:44] We have got to devise design solutions that are robust, irrespective of what happens with weather, irrespective of what happens with demographics. we have to design robust solutions, not necessarily optimal solutions.
[00:00:59]Mel or Dom: [00:00:59] it’s interesting that you’ve come to it from a different perspective, like what you were saying about the policy certainty to get, this is,
[00:01:06] Cause it’s the one thing that really you’re right, it needs to drive it because otherwise, unless there’s a need to move in that direction, people are just kind of stick with the status quo because it’s easy.
[00:01:17] So it needs to… someone kind of needs to drive the change too.
[00:01:22] Mary: [00:01:22] Well, what we’re seeing with the RET, which is the renewable energy target, is that that sets a requirement for a certain percentage of renewable energy to be injected into the grid by 2020. And underneath the RET we’re seeing a whole lot of renewable energy projects being implemented now. They’re being implemented because they financially make sense. It is cheaper to develop those than it is to develop a whole lot of the older, more traditional electricity producing technology. So it’s a financial solution, but it’s a financial solution to a certain policy objective.
[00:01:59] Mel or Dom: [00:01:59] yeah, I was actually going to wonder, like how much would policy drive verse financial or is that kind of hand in hand?
[00:02:06] Mary: [00:02:06] For me, the policy is part of those sets of conditions, which bound your problem. so, so so ultimately your problem is bounded by thermodynamics. Mass can’t be created or destroyed. Energy can’t be destroyed. They are bound to your problem. Policy is just one of those bounds that says we can’t go past this. And we have an indication of what emissions reduction needs to look like in 2050. But what we’re arguing about is the trajectory to get us there. Because at the moment we are on an increasing emissions pathway and somewhere along the line policy is going to have to say that emissions pathways is wrong, we need it to look like this.
[00:02:49] And that will bound our problem differently to how it is bounded at the moment.
[00:02:54] Mel or Dom: [00:02:54] So you can imagine there are so many things that tie into that, just in regards to population growth, a n d just the demand on resources that are gonna happen over the years as well, and making sure that that’s all taken into consideration to drive it in the right direction.
[00:03:09]Mary: [00:03:09] And for me, the tools of the engineer are the ones that will get us there, it’s the systems thinking. Its Understanding the interconnectedness. I mean, whether I’m talking about how people react to each other or how chemicals react with each other. People laugh at me because I say that a lift is a batch process and an escalator is a plug flow reactor.
[00:03:30] Mel or Dom: [00:03:30] Dom’s laughing. Dom’s like agreeing. Yes.
[00:03:35] Mary: [00:03:35] underneath it all I’m a geeky engineer.
[00:03:38] Mel or Dom: [00:03:38] I’m loving how you, you keep coming back to these engineering principles when you’re, you’re describing a policy or a situation . Cause every now and then when you talk about the policies, I’m thinking she should have studied politics or something. Cause it seems to be quite involved.
[00:03:52] But yeah, no, I know. I can see you’re shaking your head, but there’s constantly an element of engineering in every solution. and then what is the solution here? Is the policy certainty. Is that going to happen? Like what do we need to do to get that?
[00:04:11] Mary: [00:04:11] We need bipartisan support for something, before the next elections. So. The coalition’s proposed framework is the NEG, the National Energy Guarantee. it’s ambition is low and, and that’s where I was talking about with respect to any emissions trajectory. It’s ambition is low. And there are some challenges with the NEG.
[00:04:32] So policy certainty is what we need, to the point where policy could be counter productive. Policy certainty is more important than excellent policy.
[00:04:44] Mel or Dom: [00:04:44] Okay.
[00:04:45] Mary: [00:04:45] policy certainty on adequate policy is good enough.
[00:04:48] Mel or Dom: [00:04:48] So it’s a case of, as long as we’re moving forward, it, we just need to move forward. We just need to have something in place, even if it’s not what we’d love. As long as there’s something there that’s moving us in the right way, then that’s obviously going to be far greater than not doing anything at all.
[00:05:04] Mary: [00:05:04] And from what I’m seeing. And what I’m hearing, and these are entirely, my opinions are not those of my companies. there’s probably greater challenge within the coalition to get support for the NEG than there is between the parties, because labor will accept the NEG and will compartmentalize it to being electricity only and we’ll develop policy for other sectors of the economy.
[00:05:29] So I don’t see labor getting in the way of the NEG. Some of the factions in the coalition that are most likely to derail it, if it is derailed.
[00:05:35]Mel or Dom: [00:05:35] you did say at one stage that it’s going in the wrong direction, like the emissions, which is concerning for me. Like not, well, it’s concerning, it’s concerning for our children as well, which is the, it’s why people . Well, yeah, that’s, it seems to be, uh unfortunately it’s one of those things that people just seem to gloss over until it’s too late.
[00:05:58] And then it’s a case of, well, what do we do when you sort of say, well, we’ve been telling you for the last Lord knows how many years that we need to look at this.
[00:06:05] Mary: [00:06:05] Sydney this morning had negative temperatures on the outskirts. These extreme weather events are going to carry on.It’s not that climate change will happen it’s climate change is happening.
[00:06:17] Mel or Dom: [00:06:17] yeah. what are your thoughts for future engineering?
[00:06:20] Mary: [00:06:20] it links into what I was saying about that robust response, a robust answer. Um, so an engineer I admire is a man called Roland Clift and Roland, um, is an emeritus professor at Surrey University.
[00:06:33] And he started the Center for Environmental Strategy and he was one of the first engineers to research the role of engineering in sustainability. And he wrote a seminal paper in about 1995 about engineering for the environment. And it was called “Engineering for the Environment : The New Model Engineer and Her Role in Society”, and Roland was the first, one of the first people I met who spoke about diversity of thought. And the importance of diversity of thought in solving the problems of now and the problems of the future. And he spoke of the variants tolerance engineer. And it’s that, an engineer who’s able to engage with uncertain information and to come up with a robust answer. So an answer that doesn’t change, or changes little , as a function of varying parameters. So changing temperature and pressure and climate and your response remains relatively constant, irrespective to how you try to make it different. And women are quite often better placed to engage with that type of thinking. and that that’s, that’s the diversity debate and it’s it’s women in STEM. It’s, it’s about making sure that we get the right brains to think about the challenging problems. Of course, there’s a role for the black and white thinkers and the very deductive thinkers and very analytical thinkers.
[00:08:05] And the way engineering has typically been approached in quite a. In inverted commas here yeah. I’m waving my hands “male approach to problems”. But for me, the future of engineering is about the ability to embrace diversity and its ability to embrace diversity of thinking, diversity of thought and diversity in response surfaces.
I’d like to thank everyone for listening to another great episode of Engineering Heroes as we present the new dawn of engineering challenges for Engineers Australia. your hosts have been Melanie and Dominic De Gioia. You can view this episode show notes or learn more from our podcast by visiting our website, www.EngineeringHeroes.com.au
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