Climate change is having an impact on Victoria’s environment right now, and further change will have even more of an impact. Victoria is set for more frequent and intense droughts, fires, heatwaves, extreme rainfall events and coastal inundation. 

What the indicators tell us

There are 17 indicators in the ‘Climate change impacts’ chapter. Only 1 indicator – awareness of climate risks and mitigation amongst Victorians – has a current status of good. 11 of the indicators have a current status of fair or poor (the rest are unknown). 10 indicators show a downward trend, 3 are improving and the remaining 4 are stable or uncertain.
 

Themes and indicators: How does Victoria measure up?

Climate

The climate of Victoria is highly variable and influenced by large-scale climate drivers that occur on interannual timescales in the oceans surrounding Australia, such as the El Niño–Southern Oscillation and the Indian Ocean Dipole. In addition to this natural climate variability, increasing concentrations of GHGs are causing rising surface and ocean temperature and decreasing cool-season rainfall.

Some of the indicators in this chapter refer to different emissions scenarios. Current scenarios are referred to as Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs). In this report, RCP8.5 is referred to as a ‘high emissions scenario’, RCP4.5 is referred to as an ‘intermediate emissions scenario’ and RCP2.6 is referred to as a ‘low emissions scenario’. Note that RCP2.6 aligns most closely with the Paris Agreement target.

Climate – Projections

Sea level

Sea level – Projections

Sea temperature

Greenhouse gas emissions

Carbon storage

Impacts of climate change

Management

More detail

Background

Climate research continues to show that temperatures, sea levels and sea-surface temperatures are rising in Australia. Further changes will drive ongoing and significant ecosystem and biodiversity impacts, and will expose Victorians to more frequent and intense droughts, fires, heatwaves, extreme rainfall events and coastal inundation. SoE 2018 reports on the effect climate change is having in these areas, as well as the potential future implications.

Victoria’s climate is influenced by a range of factors, including the effect of major ocean–atmosphere phenomena such as the El Niño–Southern Oscillation, which produces El Niño and La Niña events, and the Indian Ocean Dipole. These drivers of climate contribute to large natural year-to-year variations in temperature and rainfall. However, long-term climate change caused by increasing GHG concentrations is occurring at global scales.

The link between increasing GHG concentrations and climate change has been a focus of environmental policy-makers since countries adopted the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992, which was a precursor to the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 and the Paris Agreement in 2015.

The challenges associated with mitigating and adapting to climate change impacts are significant. Rising to these challenges will be increasingly important in the coming decades, when the magnitude of climate change is expected to increase. Scientists have produced detailed climate change projections: it is imperative that planning and policy development leverage them to enable decision-making that fully prepares Victoria to manage climate change impacts.

Critical challenges facing Victoria’s management of climate change and its associated impacts, now and in the future, include:

  • reducing GHG emissions to mitigate the speed and severity of climate change as part of the national and global effort

  • developing understanding of the impacts of climate change through better real-time monitoring, trend analysis and predictive capabilities to enable strategic and timely responses to protect the environment and communities

  • reducing the health burden associated with heatwaves and other natural disasters

  • maintaining/designing vital infrastructure, such as power generation and rail transport, for reliability in the face of changes to the average climate and more frequent and intense weather events

  • maintaining secure water supplies across the state as population grows, average rainfall reduces and evaporation increases, leading to less available water

  • maintaining the viability of the agricultural sector

  • protecting biodiversity from the impacts of climate change

  • mitigating the effects of sea-level rise and associated adverse coastal impacts, including more frequent and severe flooding in low-lying coastal areas, dune erosion, loss of coastal ecosystems and reduced public access to coastal environments.

Current Victorian Government Settings

The Climate Change Act 2017 took effect on 1 November 2017. It establishes a long-term emissions reduction target of net zero by 2050, with interim emissions reduction targets set for five-year periods from 2021. The Act also requires the government to develop a Climate Change Strategy and Adaptation Action Plans every five years from 2021 for key systems vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The Act mandates periodic reporting of the following measures:

  • standalone reports on the science and data relevant to climate change in Victoria

  • annual GHG emissions reportingssessment reports at the end of each interim target period.

To develop the five-yearly emissions reduction targets, the Victorian Government is required to seek expert independent advice. In March 2018, an independent panel of experts released an issues paper that explored the issues relevant to setting interim emissions reduction targets for Victoria for 2021 to 2025 and 2026 to 2030, and trajectories to net zero emissions by 2050.

Climate change responses are being integrated into federal, state and local government policies and strategies across many sectors. Recent notable publications include Protecting Victoria’s Environment – Biodiversity 2037, which outlines a vision for Victoria’s biodiversity in a time of climate change; Water for Victoria, the 2016 water plan, which links climate science and adaptation to water management; and the Agriculture Victoria Strategy, which identifies research, and capacity-building programs that help farmers adapt to climate change, as priorities.

Sustainability Victoria is delivering the TAKE2 program, designed to support individuals, government, business and other organisations to help Victoria achieve net zero emissions by 2050. The program requires government agencies to make pledges to act on climate change, while businesses and the community are invited to make their own public commitments to reduce emissions in Victoria. The program is designed to build momentum towards a lower GHG emissions future as well as recognising organisations that are leading the way.

State and Commonwealth agriculture ministers have initiated a work program on climate change. The program covers climate change impacts, managing emissions across the sector and identifying the risks and opportunities of adaptation in agriculture. A national approach to climate change in the agriculture sector will be delivered to the Agriculture Ministers’ Forum by May 2019.

In April 2016, the Victorian and Commonwealth governments jointly funded the construction of a Doppler weather radar in the Wimmera, to extend the Bureau of Meteorology’s (BoM) ability to provide farmers in the region with more accurate rainfall data.

Note that the government response to climate change includes additional initiatives, which are covered in other sections, including Energy, Land, Biodiversity and Water Resources.

Future Focus

Improving Regional Climate Projections

Regional climate projections at a finer spatial resolution and more accurate rainfall projections are required to improve management outcomes. Greater detail in climate projections can improve the proactive planning for many sectors, including agriculture, water resources and water quality, with rainfall projections a particularly valuable tool for long-term policy development. An excellent example of this is the runoff projections that have been produced at river basin level in the indicator Projected runoff to dams and catchments. Rainfall projections are currently associated with reasonably large uncertainties (relative to other climate variables such as temperature) and reducing these uncertainties would enhance environmental management, planning and outcomes.

Recommendation: That DELWP, in coordination with research partners, conduct further analysis to improve localised climate projections (particularly in agricultural regions). These projections would aim to reduce the uncertainties associated with rainfall projections as a minimum.

Further detail is provided in the Climate Change Impacts Chapter.

Readers’ note: refer to the recommendation Monitoring and reporting on the targets for Victoria’s energy transition regarding obligations under the Victorian Climate Change Act 2017.

UN Environmental Economic Accounts

Climate change is an issue of global importance with local economic, social and environmental implications, as it contributes to the declining biophysical condition of environmental and ecosystem assets.

As a result of economic activity, residuals (such as air emissions) flow from the economy to the environment. An air emissions account tracks these residual flows, and typically includes GHG emissions, as well as emissions of other air pollutants (see the Air chapter).

The flow of GHG emissions to the atmosphere affects climate. Consequently, temperatures and sea levels are rising, exposing Victorians to more frequent and intense droughts, fires, heatwaves, extreme rainfall events and coastal inundation. These events have a significant impact on ecosystems and the environment, damaging the condition of built and natural assets and our ability to produce resources (for example, timber and fish). These same events disrupt economic activity and hinder economic growth. Understanding the resilience of ecosystems to climate change impacts can help inform government decisions and maximise return on investments in built assets and the environment.

The impact of the residual flow of GHGs on people and the environment already appears to some extent in Victoria’s traditional economic accounts (the System of National Accounts). For example, these impacts would be included as expenditure in the health system due to heat-related illnesses, or expenditure on bushfire response or coastal asset protection. However, the amounts attributable to GHG emissions are not identified in the traditional accounts. Ecosystems can also be a sink for GHGs, providing important climate regulation services through sequestration and storage of carbon dioxide (see the Forests chapter). Carbon stocks in Victoria are vulnerable to climate change, with increased exposure to drought and fire decreasing carbon storage in some areas.

Ecosystem accounting focuses on the flows of ecosystem services and the stock (and changes in stock) of ecosystem assets. Both of these aspects are useful for an improved understanding of the relationship between ecosystems and economic activity, and of the changes within ecosystems and their capacity to continue generating ecosystem services in the future. Understanding these links can provide useful insights to where climate change is materially impacting on environmental assets and the ecosystem services they produce for the economy and society. This can help focus policy efforts where they will be most effective in protecting the environment and enhancing economic and community wellbeing.

Environmental condition accounts can be used to help identify problems, implement policies and review the effectiveness of existing policies and management. Changes in extent and condition of ecosystems could indicate vulnerability to climate risks. Spatially enabled condition accounts can be used to better analyse the options or consequences of intervention in particular places and at particular times. For example, a spatially specific analysis of observed surface temperature could help determine the impacts of climate change on specific ecosystems, providing information on where rising temperatures are of significant concern across Victoria, and where government and community should prioritise interventions. For Victoria’s agriculture sector, spatial analysis of observed surface temperature overlaid with crop yield could indicate farmlands most vulnerable to climate change.

Mapping of coastal zones vulnerable to sea-level rise could indicate where investment in natural barriers will achieve greatest results. For example, planting of mangroves in vulnerable coastal areas would provide habitat for fish and protect coastal assets, as well as sequestering carbon. Additional natural assets along the coast may also help to regulate the environment inland (for example, urban heat islands).

Case studies

Creating the forest of Melbourne

Melbourne was long crowned the world’s most liveable city, but the loss of green spaces is threatening Melburnians’ wellbeing. Now there’s a city-wide plan to turn Melbourne into an urban forest.

Liveability under threat

Melbourne’s liveability relies on a healthy natural environment for basic human needs such as clean air, fresh drinking water and a comfortable climate. However, the way our city is growing is putting these fundamentals at risk.

Some of Melbourne’s local government areas have among the lowest urban tree canopy ratios in Australia. Rezoning and infill development are resulting in less green space and higher population densities in inner and middle Melbourne.

On Melbourne’s fringes, new suburbs are being built on arable land and areas of remnant native vegetation. Where rain once soaked easily into the soil, reducing the risk of flash floods, now hard surfaces like roofs, footpaths and roads dominate. These same hard surfaces, unshaded by vegetation, also absorb the sun’s heat. This has resulted in  peak inner metropolitan temperatures being 7°C higher than in surrounding rural areas

With climate change likely to cause more frequent heatwaves, droughts and extreme rainfall events, keeping Melbourne cooler and reducing the risk of flood will be even more important.

What’s an urban forest?

Trees are particularly important in reducing heat in a city, but an ‘urban forest’ includes all plants. The term also covers all types of living systems – not just parks, rivers and grasslands, but private gardens as well – from sprawling acres to pots on balconies.

The Melbourne Urban Forest Strategy has been developed through a partnership between Resilient Melbourne and the Nature Conservancy. The strategy aims to build and protect strong natural assets and ecosystems in Melbourne alongside its growing population. While some individual local councils already have urban forest strategies, a city-wide approach will be more effective.

The strategy, to be finalised in early 2019, will include ways for government, business and individuals to green the city.

Why go green

A greener Melbourne will mean:

  • shadier, cooler metropolitan areas

  • reduced flood risk for people, buildings and infrastructure

  • less stormwater and nutrients entering waterways and Port Phillip Bay

  • more habitat for our native fauna and flora

  • higher levels of physical activity and improved mental health

  • lower levels of obesity and chronic illnesses.

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Council and community tackle climate change in Mornington

A Victorian coastal council is working with its local community to reduce its climate impact and to help residents and businesses manage the effects of climate change.

A vulnerable region

Sitting on the promontory that separates Port Phillip Bay and Western Port, the Mornington Peninsula is a mix of urban areas, resort towns, tourist development and rural land. It’s vulnerable to coastal hazards as well as extreme weather events such as drought, bushfires and heatwaves.

Climate change is expected to severely impact the area, with higher temperatures and a greater risk of heatwaves, bushfires and severe droughts. Rainfall will be more intense, with more frequent storms. Sea levels are also expected to rise, putting coastal communities and infrastructure at risk of major flooding.

The local council has been preparing for and talking with the community about the potential impacts of climate change since 2001.

The Mornington Peninsula Shire Council is working to:

  • reduce greenhouse gas emissions resulting from its activities

  • support the community to cope with changing environmental conditions in the future.

Engaging the community

Over the years Council has engaged intensively with the community, sharing information and discovering locals’ concerns, including a series of forums and conversations. The community has responded enthusiastically, with more than 3000 participants attending a series of forums including the Shire’s Community Coastal Forum.

One focus has been on identifying and overcoming the barriers that prevent people from changing their behaviour – such as cost and lack of information.

A planned approach

With such strong community support, Council incorporated strategies for responding to climate change throughout the organisation, taking an ‘embedded approach’ that starts with the Shire’s Strategic Plan and flows into other processes such as business unit plans and budgets. These strategies have included:

  • inland and coastal flood mapping across the entire Peninsula to support an Integrated Drainage Strategy to respond to sea level rise risks

  • adopting a policy of carbon neutrality by 2020 and identifying ways to achieve this

  • investigating initiatives such as a community-based solar farm.

Keeping at it

Since the initial large-scale community engagement, Council’s ongoing community interactions have been focused on specific risks or opportunities – for example, engaging with townships about the outcomes of the inland and coastal flood mapping.

Knowing that addressing climate change is an ongoing challenge, Council is continuing to work with its community to prevent and manage the impacts of climate change throughout the Shire.

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What's the future of Victoria's ski resorts?

With higher temperatures and less snowfall predicted for Victoria’s alpine regions later this century, will Victorians still be able to ski, snowboard and throw snowballs?

Climate change in the snowfields

The potential impact of climate change on alpine resorts has been discussed for decades. Now a 2016 report from the University of Tasmania, The Potential Impacts of Climate Change on Victorian Alpine Resorts, gives us some startling predictions for Victoria’s own alpine regions, with changes likely to have a large impact on natural ecosystems, local economies and recreational use.

What the projections tell us

Under a high emissions scenario, Victorian alpine resorts are projected to be 4 to 5°C warmer later this century with 5 to 20% less precipitation and 60 to 80% lower annual snowfall compared to the late 20th century. Snow cover and volume will decline so much that eventually only the highest peaks will get any snow.

The projections are similar for all major resorts.

  • Mt Hotham, Mt Buller, Mt Baw Baw, Lake Mountain and Mt Stirling will experience an increase in temperature of 3 to 5°C. Temperatures at Falls Creek will increase a little more — 3.5 to 5.7°C.

  • Snow will reduce by as much as 86% in most resorts, with lower estimates still mainly being around the 70% mark.

  • Fewer snow days (meaning days when all precipitation falls as snow). More snow will fall as sleet, meaning the snow that has fallen won’t last as long.

  • No changes in wind speed or direction.  

Trouble for skiers, resorts, and native wildlife

These predicted changes will threaten the environmental, economic, social and cultural value of the alpine resorts. Animals already under threat include the Mountain Pygmy Possum [LINK TO CASE STUDY], Baw Baw Frogs [LINK TO CASE STUDY], and the Powerful Owl. As natural snow declines, more snow will need to be made to cater for snow activities, with the added challenge of warmer conditions. Visitor numbers may decline, affecting the economic viability of resorts.

With snow-making, the northern resorts (Mt Buller, Mt Stirling, Mt Hotham and Falls Creek) should have adequate snow to support winter snow activities in the short to medium term (more than 20 to 30 years). The southern resorts (Mt Baw Baw and Lake Mountain) should have adequate snow to support winter snow activities in the short term (within around 10 to 20 years).

The more severe global warming becomes, the less snow will fall in Victoria’s alps.

What’s being done

The Alpine Resorts Coordinating Council (ARCC) is developing the Alpine Resorts Strategic Plan: Responding to Climate Change. Consultation with Traditional Owners and other stakeholders is informing the plan.

Alpine resorts are already focusing on year-round activities so that they can be economically sustainable across all seasons. As well, resorts are investing in sustainability through water recycling and treatment systems, waste recycling processes and programs to protect the sensitive alpine ecosystems.

The rising threat of rising sea levels

Rising sea levels mean an increased risk of coastal erosion as well as flooding – threatening coastal ecosystems, local landscapes and crucial infrastructure.

Recorded sea levels across Melbourne have been steadily increasing by 3.37cm every decade between 1966 and 2016. This means a total increase of 17cm in the last 50 years. Most of this change has happened since 1993.

Melbourne’s highest sea level was recorded during wild winter storms on 24 July 2014. The storms caused destruction in many parts of the city as a result of unprecedented wind gusts and rainfall. The storm saw parts of the Yarra River flooded including restaurants, ticket booths and boats. Along the bays, bike paths and structures were inundated, including at the Williamstown foreshore where the sea level reached a peak of 1.62m compared to the monthly average for the previous month of 0.725m.

Events such as this storm are happening more often, and scientists predict the frequency and intensity will continue to increase. As was seen in Melbourne in 2014, these will cause higher than usual sea levels even beyond the steady rise we’re seeing each decade. This means lasting and costly damage unless we find suitable ways to adapt to seal level rise.

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