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2020 Vision looks forward to a whole lot more trees

Trees in urban settings help provide a buffer against extreme heat events. Photo permatil.com

Trees in urban settings help provide a buffer against extreme heat events. Photo permatil.com

Despite being already well and truly into the first month of autumn there appears to be no end to the record temperature highs throughout Australia. New hot temperature records for Australia have been confirmed by the Bureau of Meteorology’s (the BOM) climate outlook for March to May[1] in addition to a series of recent reports .2-5 Specifically of interest;

  • The World Meteorological Organisation found last year was the hottest for global climates and if Australia combined both its 2013 and 2014 heat data, those two years would be the hottest on record[2]
  • A collaborative report from CSIRO and the BOM signalled Australia can expect to see more extreme weather events and heat, and fewer cooler weather extremes[3]
  • A secondary report from CSIRO and the BOM revealed it was highly likely every major city in Australia could expect to warm by 2.5 degrees, considered a worst case scenario by the researchers[4]
  • Finally, a report, from the University of Sydney[5] found that whilst during the day Australian cities suffered from less humidity than compared to rural areas, during the evening humidity in cities rose to the same levels of rural areas with natural surrounds

‘This research tells us heat stress is expected to continue to increase, and occur over longer periods of time than previously in our cities,’ said Professor Steffen Lehmann a sustainable development expert from Curtin University and advocate for the 202020 Vision – a national initiative to increase urban green spaces by 20 per cent by 2020

‘The silver bullet to mitigate the impact of heat and turn the tide on climate change-related heat stress in our cities are trees, but currently we just don’t have enough of them in most dense urban areas.’

Increased climate variability, which often results in heatwaves or extreme heat records, are a serious public health issue, with more people dying from heatwaves than bushfires in Australia each year[6].

Climate change researcher Daniel Argueso from the University of New South Wales, found high overnight temperatures can adversely affect the body’s ability to recover from daytime heat stress, ‘Several studies found high temperatures through the night increased the chance of heat stress because the body was unable to recover from hot daytime temperatures,’

‘They showed that if we go through several nights where the body is unable to recover, then the effects of heat stroke start to appear, particularly amongst the elderly and very young.’

While increasing trees and plants in urban green spaces is a complex issue, savvy businesses and governments are seeing it as a powerful solution. ‘Trees can not only improve the health of our urban communities, but they can also save local councils and consumers considerable money as there will be less demand on utilities,’ commented health, wellbeing and biophilia expert Professor Tonia Gray from University of Western Sydney and advocate for the 202020 Vision.

Breaking down the barriers to increasing green space is at the forefront of the 202020 Vision following a national tour they conducted with Australia urban green space leaders in late 2014.

‘The tour collected over 3,000 possible solutions across a range of issues from Australia’s brightest minds who are working daily in the green space sector,’ ‘commented Professor Gray.

The outcomes from the tour are currently being analysed and developed into the 20×2020 plan expected to be released in May 2015. To learn more about the plan and the individuals and groups working towards increasing our urban green spaces go to 202020Vision.com.au.

[1] http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/outlooks/#/overview/summary

[2] http://www.wmo.int/pages/mediacentre/press_releases/pr_1009_en.html

[3] http://www.bom.gov.au/state-of-the-climate/

[4] http://www.climatechangeinaustralia.gov.au/media/ccia/2.1.4/cms_page_media/168/CCIA_PROJECTIONS_TECHNICAL_REPORT.pdf

[5] http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0117066

[6] Victorian Centre for Climate Change Adaptation Research (VCCCAR), Responding to the Urban Heat Island: A Review of the Potential of Green Infrastructure, 2012 

 


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