CASANZ has just reached the significant milestone of turning 50 this year, so it is a good time to reflect and celebrate our success. In March 1966, we started out as a small group of passionate individuals who wanted to form a society for people with a common interest in air pollution. We now have around 600 members across Australia and NZ. Look out for our 50 year anniversary Journal in May and other events and activities coming up.
Over the past 50 years, air quality management has come a long way. In the early years of the society the focus was mainly on point source industrial processes in a local area. Public interest in air pollution was also high following number of killer smogs in major cities in Europe and the US. Most of the effects that were being dealt with were acute and legislation responded to this.
Since then we have continued to make an impact and as a profession we can be proud of the success and influence that we have had. In most urban environments in Australia and NZ, the contribution of industry to air emissions is now minor relative to the contributions from motor vehicles and domestic fires. Significant improvements have also been made in vehicle emissions and fuel quality standards. The international community has also successfully worked together on important agreements such as the Stockholm Convention (organochlorines), Montreal Protocol (Ozone depleting substances), Long Range Transport of Air Pollutants and the Minamata convention.
Now air quality management is more about dealing with a range of diffuse air pollution sources, some of which have global impacts. Killer smogs now also occur in other parts of the world where industrialisation and the use of motor vehicle transport has increased significantly. Our understanding of the impacts of air pollution also continues to improve.
I expect we will still be working on air quality management over the foreseeable future, but we will also be dealing with new issues we don’t yet know much about (for example nanoparticles) or hadn’t even thought of. Although tighter emissions standards have significantly reduced pollution rates per vehicle, we have not yet resolved the issue of air pollution from motor vehicles. The growth in traffic numbers and distance travelled offsets some of the gains we have made. NOx and ultrafine particle emissions still cause air pollution issues in European cities, particularly where diesel vehicles increased as a result of legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Advances in appliance design have also cleaned up emissions from wood burners, but urban intensification in areas subject to poor winter time dispersion means we still see wintertime exceedences. Significant future improvements in air quality are less likely to come from industry and more likely to come from engaging the community to change their behaviour.
Over the past few months, I have been leading the development of a science strategy for where I work. This has been an interesting project thinking about how science is used to make decisions. Robust scientific and technical information is an essential component of government decision making and for this reason central governments in both Australia and more recently NZ have Chief Scientists who advise government on science matters. Many other organisations also have chief science advisors. This recognises the importance of science, and for us air quality science, used to make decisions at a national and local level.
However, when it comes to making decisions in a political environment, science and technical information is only part of the picture, even though sometimes we might wish it wasn’t. The costs and benefits of a proposal, the social impacts and how to influence behaviour change are also important considerations. A really good example of this is domestic home heating emissions. Even though we know at a technical level that emissions from domestic home heating have an impact on people’s health, change will only occur if society judges that the risk is high enough to outweigh the social and economic impacts of implementing policy on domestic heating. How we make this balance judgement also changes over time – what we thought was acceptable thirty years ago might not be acceptable any more – either because views have changed or we know more.
Therefore as air quality professionals we need to be up to date with current thinking, understand competing interests, and be able to communicate what we know about air quality. CASANZ is the place where we can up-skill on these aspects of our work. We can learn about emerging issues and network with colleagues who have similar interests.
Many of us interact across technical and non-technical areas or across other environmental domains. With this in mind, we will partner with other organisations where we have a common interest. We will also provide training in areas that are not solely about air quality science but do have direct relevance to us as members.
These are opportunities we will explore further in mid-March when the Council of CASANZ (which could be viewed as the society board) meets to discuss business planning and future strategic direction. We will also discuss what else we should change so we stay relevant to you as members. If you think there are ways we can do things better then you are welcome to contact Vicki or me before the March meeting.
The team, both paid and volunteer, have worked hard over the last couple of years to improve the way we operate. This has included implementing our accreditation programme which rolled out last year, upgrading our website (due for completion in April) and refreshing our training. The Brisbane conference team aim to run the conference so that it works better for delegates and for organisations that have booths in the exhibition area. We are starting to see some positive change and more activity within the Society. Our priorities over the coming year will be to:
· Hold more events, training and networking opportunities
· Run a successful conference
· Upgrade our website including:
- members only access
- easy to update profile and entry of CAQP points
- searchable content
- downloadable publications
- improved consultants directory
- shopping cart and additional features
· Modernise our constitution
The changes we are making now, along with our strategic thinking in March, will put us in a good place to continue on for the next fifty years. All the best for 2017 and I hope to see many of you at the CASANZ conference in October.