Climate change impacts
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.
Victoria’s air quality is good overall by international standards. However, densely populated areas can have poor air quality because of motor vehicle emissions, industry, and household activities such as burning wood for heating. Air quality can also be affected by fire, including bushfires, industrial fires and planned burns.
Biodiversity: plants & animals
Victoria’s biodiversity – the number of animal and plant species our environment supports – has seriously decreased over the past two centuries. The loss has come from land clearing, fire, pest plants and animals, land development, river regulation, water pollution, and more recently, reduced resilience under climate change. Many of our native species are now threatened, and native vegetation continues to be lost.
The development of land for cities and farming has led to a decline in land health in Victoria. Many of the environmental challenges facing our state are the result of past decisions about land use and land management. A key challenge around land use is making sure farms can keep operating while protecting and enhancing biodiversity and land health.
Forests maintain our water quality, purify the air, store carbon, stabilise and nourish soil, assist agriculture and support regional economies. Victoria’s population growth will increase the pressure on our forests, through more demand for water and timber. Climate change and more frequent and severe fires also threaten our forests.
Fire brings both growth and destruction to the Victorian environment. Many native plants need smoke or heat from fire to germinate, and fire helps produce nutrients that create fertile soil. Many of our native animals are adapted to fire. However, fire can also threaten endangered species and is a risk to people and property. With climate change likely to bring more intense, frequent fires, these risks will increase.
Marine & coastal environments
Victoria’s marine and coastal environments (which include our coastline, bays, and coastal lakes such as the Gippsland Lakes) are home to more than 12,000 plant and animal species, many not found anywhere else in the world. But these environments are facing many threats, including population growth and urbanisation, commercial and recreational fishing, invasive species and droughts and floods.
Climate change and population growth threaten Victoria’s water security, with less water to support more people. A trend towards lower annual rainfalls is expected to continue as a result of climate change. Natural flows of river systems have been affected by water being harvested for farms, households and industry. This has degraded many of Victoria’s river systems in Victoria.
Water quality is fundamental to biodiversity, and to the health of people, animals and the environment. Victorian water quality is negatively affected mostly by salinity, turbidity, nitrogen and phosphorus. However, pH levels, pesticides, heavy metals and temperatures are of increasing concern in some regions.
Waste & Resource Recovery
Waste can deplete Victoria’s natural resources, create pollution, increase greenhouse gas emissions, and affect human health. Waste also compounds the risks and effects of climate change. Waste minimisation and recycling of materials are central to the development of a ‘circular economy’, where material that would previously have been classified as ‘waste’ is given a new use.
Victoria’s current dependence on energy from fossil fuels has serious effects on human health and the environment, especially as greenhouse gas emissions contribute to climate change. To meet our climate change targets, we must move to low-emission and zero-emission energy resources. The Victorian government has legislated for a target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 – meaning any remaining emissions must be counteracted by other activities.
An effective transport network that includes all types of transport is essential for a sustainable, liveable and prosperous Victoria. However, pollution from motor vehicles, aircraft, trains and ships and other vessels increases greenhouse gas emissions and negatively affects air quality. With Victoria’s population growing, congestion and overcrowding on roads and public transport are already issues.