Two-thirds of Australian suburbs are suffering from extreme heat effects due to lack of trees

Two-thirds of Australian suburbs are suffering from extreme heat effects due to lack of trees

The new RMIT (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology) and Greener Spaces Better Places ‘Where Will All the Trees Be?’ Report offers a clear visual understanding of what our streets and suburbs are likely to look like in the future depending on how many trees they will or won’t have. Australia’s first national canopy benchmarking project ‘Where Are All the Trees?’ was undertaken in 2014, and was followed by ‘Where Should All the Trees Go? In 2017, with now the third part of the series recently being published with the aim to understand how a range of factors, such as urban density, will influence local council efforts to increase urban green space.  

The recent report highlighted some alarming statistics, revealing that in the last seven years, the number of trees in 69% of suburbs has continued to drop, leading to dramatic temperature increases up to as much as 10°C in some areas. 

City greenery has been proven to help reduce the urban heat island effect and thus, it needs to be managed as critical infrastructure. According to Prof Hurley, lead author of ‘Where Will all the Trees be?’  in many Australian cities, all too often trees are traded away for other demands like urban development.

The summer of 2019-2020 was Australia’s second hottest summer on record, with 2019 being the hottest year on record so far. Ironically, one of the culprits of increasing temperatures is homeowners who are clearing trees to make room for swimming pools, among other thingsOn top of this, more intense developments in suburban areas were also largely responsible for tree loss, as new houses were being built with little to no thought given to greenery. 

The City of Gold Coast Urban Tree Canopy Study 2020 provides a clear understanding of how the existing tree canopy cover has changed over the past 10 years. According to the recent report, the City of Gold Coast urban footprint has an average of 32% tree canopy coverage, however the canopy cover is mostly grown within areas of conservation reserve and rural residential bounds.2 Public owned land, including open space, only has 8% of tree canopy coverageA growing body of evidence suggests that these levels may be too low to help mitigate urban warming, nor support healthy, liveable neighbourhoods and treeshaded activities.  

Tree canopy cover is important to keeping our urban areas cool, whilst making us question how gree would we like to see our future cities? 

Higher amounts of green space can improve the air we breathe as well as minimise extreme weather events and mitigate the impacts of climate change. Cities around Australia are facing a hotter future if they don’t do more to cool ‘heat islands’ – urban areas with a lack of vegetation.  

 

References:

  1. Where Will All the Trees Be?, Greener Spaces Better Places & RMIT, https://www.greenerspacesbetterplaces.com.au/guides/where-will-all-the-trees-be/, 2020.
  2. Urban Tree Canopy Study, City of Gold Coast, https://www.goldcoast.qld.gov.au/documents/bf/urban-tree-canopy-study.pdf, January 2020.

 

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