Kate Auty talks about her role as Future Melbourne ambassador and the climate change challenges facing the city.

By the Future Melbourne Team

If we think about our city today, we can see that it is being impacted in many ways and these impacts represent both challenges and opportunities. Arguably the greatest challenge of our time is climate change and its impact on the long-term health and sustainability of our community.

The Climate Commission’s recent report, Climate Change 2015: Growing Risks, Critical Choices, states unequivocally that it is ‘beyond doubt’ that climate change is occurring and that it is driven by human activity. The most widely used indicator of climate change is the global mean, annual average, near-surface air temperature – commonly referred to as the global average temperature. This has risen by about 0.17°C over the last three decades. More notably, the global average temperature from 2001-2010 was 0.46°C above the 1961–1990 average, making it the warmest decade on record.

With rising temperatures our city becomes more vulnerable to extreme heatwaves. It is estimated that the January 2014 heatwave (14 to 17 January) cost businesses across the municipality $37 million in revenue. This equates to almost $10 million in lost revenue per day. City of Melbourne is currently working to grow urban forest canopy cover levels from 20 per cent to 40 per cent and this is expected to cool the local summertime microclimate by 4°C by 2040 however more needs to be done across the municipality.

The impacts of climate change over coming decades are not limited warmer temperatures and heat waves alone. We know that our city will experience more extreme storm events, flood and, conversely, drought and lower average annual rainfalls. We have already observed the damage caused by extreme drought and floods in Australia in recent years, and it is likely that these events will become more prevalent. City of Melbourne’s modelling shows that the City has been impacted by two extreme rainfall events in less than 40 years that would normally be classified as one in 500 year rainfall events.

Our most recent data shows us that our municipality’s C02 emissions are currently trending up. If these trends continue, greenhouse gas emissions will grow to around 7.7 million tonnes by 2020 – a 60 per cent increase on 2010 emissions. Each year, the City of Melbourne consumes 3.8 million MWh (3,799,663 MWh-2012/13) of electricity. In four years, this consumption is expected to grow to 5.2 million MWh (5,200,000 MWh) of electricity.

City of Melbourne has a climate mitigation strategy, but its impact is predominantly limited to Council operations which make up less than one per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions of the municipality, so it’s important that we work collaboratively with all sections of the community to drive positive change. Achieving zero net emissions requires substantial structural, economic and policy change in Melbourne to drive an increase in energy efficiency; decrease in use of carbon intensive fuel sources and finally, offsetting any remaining emissions.

Global trends linked to climate change

In addition to the impacts described above, we will experience a global move towards embracing the ‘more from less’ philosophy over coming decades. According to the CSIRO’s 2015 report, Our Future World, the earth has limited supplies of natural mineral, energy, water and food resources essential for human survival and maintaining lifestyles.

Climate change will place pressure on water and food production systems, whilst population growth will place further demand on our resources. Emphasis is likely to shift to re-purposing existing infrastructures, acquiring more benefit from current assets and using our resources in a more prudent fashion. This ‘more with less’ trend is likely to drive the sharing economy and maker culture to become mainstream, it will also spur growth for green roofs and vertical walls on urban buildings and community gardens to support urban agriculture.

Cities and Climate Change

In September 2014, Lord Mayor Robert Doyle met with Michael Bloomberg, United Nations Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change, and the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to sign up to the newly created global Compact of Mayors. The purpose of the Compact was to express a commitment to meet the same requirements proposed for the 2015 COP 21 negotiations. The Compact is the world’s largest effort for cities to fight climate change and represents the culmination of long-term efforts by cities to fill the governance gap on climate.

C40, a network of the world’s megacities committed to addressing climate change, indicates that its city members have enacted more than 8,000 measures, policies, and programs to address climate issues in the ten years. According to C40 cities can yield many opportunities for low carbon living, such as the use of cycling paths or mass public transport and large-scale uptake of renewable energy opportunities. If we look at City Of Melbourne, about 850,000 people come into the city each day, so we need to increase the sustainable transport options available to them to travel to and within the municipality, especially as these numbers are expected to reach well over one million by 2030.

Where to next?

To achieve a sustainable Melbourne, we need bold, local solutions for local problems. We encourage our community to take positive actions while setting an example locally, nationally and globally.

Is it possible for the city to achieve carbon neutrality, or is this purely aspirational? We certainly think we can do it, but we need your ideas because it is going to involve significant behavioural change, require investment and community support and action.

Melbourne is renowned as one of the world’s most liveable cities, but to remain liveable into the future we need to adapt to the impacts of climate change and build our resilience. We want your big ideas for how we can continue to maintain our liveability.

How should we address climate change into the future? What are the opportunities and priorities?