In recent years, Melbourne has experienced extreme climate conditions, from record-breaking low rainfalls to record-breaking high temperatures and extreme heat events. This is a major problem because heat is the biggest and most silent natural killer in Australia. In 2009, 374 people died across metropolitan Melbourne in one heatwave. Thirteen years of drought in tandem with severe water restrictions have left the City’s urban forest – an invaluable environmental asset – in a state of unprecedented decline by 2009.
It is estimated that 23% of the City’s current tree population will be lost by 2020 and 39% by 2030 as a result of drought. Furthermore, the pressures of densification to meet the needs of a growing population are compounding the urban forest challenges for the city.
City of Melbourne developed a Climate Change Adaptation Strategy in 2007. In 2010, the urgency posed by the impacts of climate changes resulted in the city creating a multi-million dollar integrated climate change adaptation program – the Urban Landscapes Adaptation Program. The key goal of the Program is taking immediate action to respond to heat and drought. Successful actions include:
- Enacting projects including urban forest expansion, green space expansion, streetscape adaptation, development of green roofs & walls, integrated water management and storm water harvesting, and introducing permeable pavements.
- Running a four-year citizen engagement program to develop public awareness about the impacts of drought on the urban forest.
- Developing guidelines for species diversification to minimize vulnerability to pests and disease.
- Increasing evapotranspiration by watering of parks.
- Undertaking Australia’s first city based dendrochronology research to understand the impacts of climate change at city-scale.
- Running a Green Roofs Forum quarterly since 2010 to facilitate knowledge transfer to community and industry and developing the Growing Green Guidelines – Australia’s first guide for constructing green roofs.
- Commissioning cutting edge academic research to guide the city’s adaptation decisions.
The primary goal of this program is that it will reduce drought vulnerability and cool the city by 4°C to safeguard its citizens and the ecosystem services of its environmental assets from the impacts of climate change. The program also creates the Open Space Strategy, which is anticipated to increase green space by 7.6% of municipal space, and the Urban Forest Strategy, which is projected to double the City’s tree canopy. These programs have already led to the planting of 12,000 new trees and the addition of -10,000 sqm of green space.
The plan is also projected to undertake streetscape adaptation, which will retrofit 40 streets to increase permeability and introduce water sensitive urban design. Some other benefits that are expected to result from this plan are: improved air quality, stormwater infiltration and flood mitigation, reduced energy demand and associated costs, increased liveability of the city, reduced heat-related illness and morbidity, and increased recreational space for citizens.