Skip to content

Climate change in Merri-bek

How climate change is impacting Merri-bek

The impacts of human-caused climate change are already being felt in Merri-bek, as well as across Australia. Hotter average temperatures and more extreme weather is already affecting local people, plants, and animals. These impacts will worsen if we do not stop the carbon pollution causing climate change.

Every action to reduce carbon pollution makes a difference.

You can see what actions Council is taking on our Our Sustainability Story page. You can also learn what actions you can take on our How you can take action on climate change page.

Climate change does not affect everyone equally

People suffering from social inequality feel the effects of climate change more than others. Causes of such inequality include poverty, discrimination, health vulnerabilities and trauma.

Some of the most affected groups include:

  • Indigenous people
  • People living with a disability
  • People experiencing homelessness, economic hardship and isolation
  • Refugees
  • Women
  • Children

Our commitment is to providing strong leadership on climate action. By working together we can reduce these impacts and protect all of our community as well as our planet.

Changes we are seeing in Merri-bek

The following weather impacts are affecting Merri-bek.

  • We are facing increasing temperatures in Merri-bek. This includes higher daily top temperatures, more days above 35°C, and more heatwaves. For example, at the moment we get 8.3 days a year above 35°C, but by 2050 research says we can expect 21 days a year over 35°C.
  • There will be more extreme rain events that damage buildings and other infrastructure. For example, in 2018 Melbourne experienced a 1 in 1000 year rain event. This caused flash flooding, halted train lines, and caused many power outages.
  • Rainfall in winter and spring will decrease. By 2050 research shows there will be 20% less rainfall during our spring season.
  • There will be more frequent and more intense bushfires.  By 2050, research shows that fire days will increase by 42% in Melbourne. This will contribute to poorer air quality. In January 2020, Melbourne’s air quality was the worst in the world due to smoke from a catastrophic bushfire season.

This information comes from research conducted by the Victorian Government and CSIRO. You can see this research in the following places:

Taking urgent steps like reducing emissions and our environmental impact can make an impact on these changes.

How will this affect us?

The changes we are seeing in Merri-bek will both affect us and our environment. Below are some of the ways that Merri-bek will feel the effects of these changes.

Our health is suffering

Everyone in Merri-bek will feel the health effects of climate change. Our most vulnerable community members will feel these effects the most.

  • Major weather events can cause injuries, illnesses and death.
  • There is a projected increase in respiratory disease cases. This can come from increased air pollution or allergens. It can also come from changes in pollen levels.
  • There are many mental health impacts of climate change. This includes post-traumatic stress after weather events. There are also rising levels of anxiety and depression at the idea of future changes to our world.

Our plants and animals are in decline

Many of our local plants and animals cannot adapt to the changes in their environment. This will cause their population levels to fall or the loss of some species. Groundwater-dependent plants and animals will be most affected.

  • Drought and heat stress have sped up the decline of Melbourne’s tree population. Keeping our trees healthy is a necessary way to reduce the Urban Heat Island Effect. You can find out more about this in the How we are addressing the urban heat island effect (UHIE) section on this page below.
  • The populations of animal and plants that adapt to warm environments are going up. At the same time the populations of those that adapt to cool environments are going down. These changes reduce biodiversity and disrupt food chains.

We have less food security

  • The food production from the food sources that Merri-bek relies on will reduce. This is because of rising temperatures, less rain, and more extreme weather events.
  • There will be less regional and national food surpluses. We are likely to experience food deficits instead.

Our infrastructure is strained

  • Transport like trams and trains will need to stop running when there is extreme weather.
  • Heat waves increase the demand on our power systems. This is because more people are using air conditioners, which also increases emissions.

The urban heat island effect in Merri-bek

Built up areas trap heat in a way that is different to rural areas. This is called the urban heat island effect (UHIE). It is caused by there being a lot of activity in the one area. It is also caused by the dense, dark and solid surfaces in built up environments which absorb and retain heat.

Merri-bek is an area with a lot of activity, and with many built up areas. The UHIE is an issue we need to address, as our aging population and climate change make us vulnerable to extreme heat.

Thermal view of streetscape
Normal view of streetscape

In 2016 we developed our Urban Heat Island Effect Action Plan. This plan was made through consulting with the community and industry experts, including the University of Melbourne and Monash University. It is our first step in our long term commitment to responding to the UHIE.

The goal of the action plan is to help reduce the impacts and prepare for a hotter future. It includes strategies to be put in place across Merri-bek that will reduce overall temperatures. It also covers projects targeting specific locations. These steps will create benefits for those living in Merri-bek such as lower energy costs, better air quality and less health risks.

In 2017 this plan won the Premier’s Sustainability Award (Government Category). 

You can download our  Urban Heat Island Effect Action Plan (PDF 2MB) which is our full action plan.

Reducing the urban heat island effect 

The following are some of the current steps we are taking to reduce the urban heat island effect (UHIE).

Researching and mapping

We want to get a better understanding of the impacts of heat across Merri-bek. We have been researching this using techniques such as heat and vulnerability mapping. This has helped us to identify the hottest areas in the city and where we should take action.

Expanding tree cover

Research shows that a 10% increase in tree cover can lower temperatures by one degree. We have been planting 5,000 trees each year since the adoption of our Urban Forest Strategy, and increasing protection of our existing trees.

This action has resulted in a canopy cover expansion rate of 0.37% between 2017 to 2021, and enabled us to achieve 13.42% municipal canopy cover in December 2021.

We are also creating green spaces in new developments, prioritising tree planting in areas vulnerable to the UHIE and looking at innovative ways to introduce more trees into heavily urbanised spaces.

You can learn more about the plans we have to increase tree canopy cover on our Coversations Merri-Bek page.

Conserving water

Conserving water will make sure that hot summers don't kill our trees and green spaces. We have an Integrated Water Management Plan for this called Watermap 2020, which you can learn about on our Water page. It covers the projects needed to improve the quality of our stormwater. It will also improve water conservation and improve the health of our waterways. 

Designing sustainable buildings

All new buildings in Merri-bek have to meet sustainable design standards. When we plan a new Council building, we need to follow our Sustainable Buildings Policy (PDF). Private developers also need to meet sustainable design standards. Their plans have to fulfill our sustainable design in the planning process requirements. These requirements are necessary for all private development plans. You can find out more about these policies on our Sustainable Design page.

Creating strategic transport initiatives

We want to make our transport options more attractive and environmentally friendly. One of the ways we are doing this is planting trees along shared pathways. This is an effort to make walking or cycling more comfortable.

We are also advocating to reduce traffic on our major roads, and our free electric charging points promote the use of electric vehicles. We are also exploring the use of cool road materials in some areas to reflect rather than retain heat.

Creating opportunities for collaboration and advocacy

We need collaboration and effort from all of our community to make our city more liveable. We have committed to encouraging our community to take action on urban heat. This includes consulting with community members, and providing ways they can take action. You can find out how you can take individual action against climate change on our Zero Carbon Merri-bek website.