Designing zero-carbon cities, providing energy and food for a growing population, and preparing for natural and manmade disasters will be closely examined at a new University of Melbourne conference this week.

Days after 30,000 protesters converged on Treasury Gardens in Melbourne’s CBD to rally for greater action on climate change, the University will host Carlton Connect Conference 2014: Challenges, Partnerships, Solutions from Tuesday to Thursday. 

The conference will bring together local and international experts from industry, government and academia to showcase and discuss innovative approaches to social and environmental sustainability worldwide, and explore how these can guide Australia’s future.

Carlton Connect Initiative project director Dr Charlie Day said needing to make our societies more sustainable and resilient presents both opportunities and challenges.

"Resilient societies are able to evolve and adapt in response to long-term changes, as well as short-term shocks,” he said.  “Making our societies more resilient will require us to use the very latest technologies and ideas in innovative ways, and the conference is a great opportunity to stimulate that process.”

The Carlton Connect Initiative aims to bring together talented people who share a desire to tackle sustainability and social resilience challenges, providing a hub for the world-class research and development occurring across the South Carlton Precinct.

The world’s population is expected to reach eight billion in 2024, increasing the strain on global food supply. Meanwhile the increased pace of socioeconomic development, particularly in Asia, is driving greater energy needs.

Meeting these challenges while limiting harm to the environment will require smarter solutions. Dr Day said these would require cross-disciplinary collaboration, as well as stronger linkages between universities, industry and government.

“It is well known that these challenges don’t respect traditional boundaries, and the conference is explicitly designed to break down those boundaries and help create the kinds of partnerships that can have real impact.”

Other topics to be explored at the conference include: how best to manage the competing interests of the environment, food producers and hydraulic fracking; how emerging technologies such as unmanned drones, high-end computing and advanced networks are being taken to market by government and industry, and; the opportunities and ethical difficulties presented by the increased availability of information, or ‘big data.’