For Renewables & Women’s Health Agendas, Research is Key
Thursday, 2nd June 2016 at 11:41 am
As the longest election campaign in almost 40 years grinds on, renewable energy and women’s health have emerged as front-running issues for the NFP sector this week, writes Sara Bice socio-political commentator from the Melbourne School of Government at the University of Melbourne in her ongoing commentary leading up to 2 July.
While a link between renewables and women’s health may not seem readily obvious, the two issues share an important research challenge that will influence public policies and electoral understanding of core issues.
First to the issues.
Renewable energy came fully into the election agenda stream this week, buoyed by the release of several renewables-focused reports and related conferences, including the Australian Energy Storage Conference and Exhibition, which kicked off in Sydney on Wednesday.
A report released by the Australia Institute this week indicated that 63 per cent of voters polled would be more likely to vote for a party that committed to transitioning to 100 per cent renewable energy by 2030. But party promises fall far short of these expectations, with Labor proposing a renewables target of 50 per cent by 2030.
Renewables also entered the jobs spotlight, with reports by the International Renewable Energy Association and Not for Profit Community Power Agency detailing global rises in renewables-associated jobs and public benefits from community-owned power projects.
Meanwhile – and further to earlier discussions of the importance of NFP coalitions in raising the profile of issues in this election campaign – the Australian Women’s Health Network this week released Australia’s inaugural women’s health charter. Positioning women’s health as a national equality issue and calling for four key changes in government approaches to health policy, the charter presents an opportunity for unification around an improved “whole of government” approach to women’s health.
And now to their connection.
Both renewable energy and women’s health sectors remain plagued by a research lag and underinvestment. These concerns bring another member of the broader NFP sector into important election debates: universities.
Across numerous research areas, we know (through research, of course) that the bleeding edge findings of academic studies are slow to make their way onto the desks of policymakers, corporate and NFP leaders, let alone be implemented into practice. We also know that only a small portion of the substantial amount of knowledge generated by our universities makes it out of the institution – and related academic publications – and into the mainstream.
Renewables have only to look to their predecessor fossil fuels to understand the concern. A 2015 University of Queensland report concerning university research-influence into technological advancement and risk management in the coal seam gas industry worried over the lag between the release of those scientific results and integration into policy.
In a controversial industry like Coal Seam Gas, the research translation time lag not only forestalls informed debate, it may have contributed to the industry’s economic decline. With research translation into practice and policy often taking years (if not decades), the renewable energy sector faces a long road to efficiency and integration of leading edge technology. And in a troubling context in which CSIRO is cutting research into climate change, the future of renewables research is one under shadow.
Women’s health faces similar challenges, combined with a long history of underinvestment into women’s health research. And this has not been limited to “women’s health” concerns like childbirth. We know today, for example, that women present different heart attack symptoms to men and that many women suffering cardiac problems may have, in the past, been turned away from medical care because their symptoms did not match the prescribed list. More women’s health research, then, means better understanding of women specific concerns but also a disaggregated, gender-based knowledge of broader diseases.
Considerable and immediate investment in research is needed to support these two key election concerns. Transitioning to renewables is pressing but the transition will remain slower without strong research, rapidly transitioned into practice and policy. Women’s health will continue to drag in equality without an equivalent knowledge base.
Polls provide a rapid analysis of the issues most prominent in voters’ minds. Our research needs to be more quickly deployed to address them.
About the author: Sara Bice (PhD) is director of research translation, Melbourne School of Government at the University of Melbourne. With a decade of experience assisting private firms, Not for Profits and government agencies to plan and advance their sustainable development agendas, Bice’s career is committed to creating shared value for communities and companies through evidence-based decision-making, risk management and strong stakeholder engagement.
She will be a regular contributor to Pro Bono Australia News during the federal election campaign analysing the issues relevant to the Not for Profit sector.
(Note the photo of Sara Bice is courtesy of Adam Hollingworth)