Comment: Climate is a local issue

Luna Park flooded

Councillors will need to take mitigation and planning for climate change risks seriously to meet the requirements of the new Local Government Act, writes the Port Phillip Emergency Action Network (PECAN)

By 2040 a major storm like that the one in 2011, accompanied by a high tide and storm surge, could impact up to 27% of properties across Port Phillip, research carried out recently at Melbourne University shows.

The municipality’s very flat topography makes it vulnerable to extensive inland flooding in the event of these conditions occurring concurrently.

Port Phillip is one of the municipalities in Victoria that is most susceptible to the effects of Climate Change. With its proximity to the coast and low-lying topography it is regularly impacted by flood events in Elwood, Middle Park and South Melbourne.

Urban heat buildup is a major problem, also, in the densely populated parts of Port Phillip; and parks, gardens and other open spaces, together with tree canopy cover, are not evenly spread across the municipality.

In 2016 a comprehensive environmental strategy was adopted. Called Act and Adapt it focused on emissions reductions, reduced reliance on private transport, water sensitive urban design, and improved urban ecology.

A major transformation was made in 2018 when Port Phillip joined the Melbourne Renewable Energy Project. Led by Melbourne City Council, Port Phillip joined with Yarra and Moreland Councils together with Melbourne and RMIT Universities, NAB, Australia Post and other commercial entities in a consortium which entered into a contract with a windfarm in Western Victoria to purchase renewable electricity. For Port Phillip Council it meant that net-zero emissions were achieved for all its operations – offices, other building assets, street lighting etc. – as the amount of electricity Council used was balanced by an equivalent amount purchased from the wind farm.

In September 2019 Port Phillip followed a number of other Councils and declared a Climate Emergency. However, provision is yet to be made for the development of a Climate Emergency Action Plan that would accelerate further action or for allocation of additional funds into environmental programs.  This is something the new Councillors will need to work on.

Since then the surrounding Councils of Stonnington, Glen Eira and Bayside have also declared Climate Emergencies, and currently two thirds of the 31 metropolitan Councils have made similar declarations. Action on climate change is now a requirement under the new Local Government Act 2020.

The biggest area that remains untouched in Port Phillip is that of community emissions - those produced by residential, commercial and industrial users. Port Phillip generates 1,850,000 tCO2e annually; only 24% of it comes from residential users; over 700,000 tonnes are produced in the Fishermans Bend area of Port Phillip, alone.

Currently more than 40 Councils are working together to develop a consolidated Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) similar to the Melbourne Renewable Energy Project to accelerate their own shift to net zero emissions. 

We recommend that Council should facilitate the development of two PPAs, one for commercial and industrial users, the other for residential users.  A PPA on the scale of the Melbourne Renewable Energy Project could potentially reduce community emissions by about 10%, which would represent a major start in the process of getting emissions down. A working party between Council and PECAN has now been formed to investigate PPA development.

Secondly, we recommend Council should intensify its approach to Green-Blue Infrastructure. The term Green-Blue Infrastructure refers to Green assets like trees, parks and gardens, while Blue refers to drainage areas, floodwater and water sensitive urban design (WSUD) assets. WSUD encompasses better urban planning and design to capture and reuse stormwater for irrigation, and to prevent polluted stormwaters reaching waterways and the Bay. In this process surface permeability is very important, which is why it is essential that hard surfaces like concrete or asphalt are routinely replaced in appropriate areas with permeable materials.

The key principle here is that the planning and implementation of  Green and Blue assets must be integrated as they are complementary systems. Not integrating them involves extra costs and water pollution, and fails to create the living green systems of healthy trees and water features which are so delightful and essential in hard urban landscapes, especially in the hotter and drier periods of the year.

Earlier this year PECAN members analysed the Climate Emergency Action Plans adopted by other metropolitan Councils. We  have produced a questionnaire which has been sent to candidates in the Port Phillip election, asking them to indicate their support (or otherwise) for the implementation of such a Plan by the incoming Council. We look forward to Council taking this important step and joining with the other Councils who are serious about supporting strong action on climate change.

The Port Phillip Emergency Climate Action Network was formed in 2019 by twelve climate and community groups, to create an umbrella group for coordinating and focusing their work on  climate emergency.