Research themes

Melbourne Climate Futures (MCF) cultivates a network of cross-disciplinary climate change researchers across UoM and connects climate change practitioners and researchers with the broader public across ten key research themes:

  • Law and litigation
    Program Lead

    Professor Jacqueline Peel, Professor of Law, Melbourne Law School; Director of Melbourne Climate Futures

    Early career researcher co-lead

    Ms Rebekkah Markey-Towler, Research Fellow, Melbourne Climate Futures

    Description

    Law and regulation at multiple levels of governance (local, state, national, transnational, international) play a central role in addressing the climate crisis. Climate law is a relatively recent legal discipline that draws on, and has close intersections with, other areas of law and regulation, such as international law, environmental law, corporate and financial law, law of the sea and human rights law.

    Climate law may shape the roles and responsibilities of governments and other actors, such as companies, to:

    • Address climate change
    • Put in place the framework for response measures on mitigation and adaptation
    • Provide for planning and coordination of activities
    • Create regimes of liability for harm.

    Climate litigation (disputes on climate change brought to the courts for resolution) have emerged as a major site for climate governance and law-making in countries around the world and particularly in Australia, which has the second-highest number of climate cases globally. Law and litigation are often seen as a central tool in the fight for climate justice for vulnerable communities by providing for (the possibility of) remedies and compensation for climate-related harms.

    Grants and Resources

    ARC DP22 project on ‘Advancing Investor Action on Energy Transition’

  • Health, wellbeing and justice
    Program Lead

    Professor Kathryn Bowen, Professor of Environment, Climate and Global Health, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health; Deputy Director – Knowledge Translation and Policy Impact, Melbourne Climate Futures

    Early career researcher co-lead

    Dr Belle Workman, Research Fellow, Melbourne Climate Futures

    Description

    Human health is intricately connected with our natural environment. The way we live influences our environment, and our environment influences our health and wellbeing. Climate change – one of the greatest environmental challenges with which we are faced – impacts human health in both direct and indirect ways. For example, the direct deaths and injuries arising from an extreme weather event such as a flood or heatwave, as well as the indirect impacts borne by food insecurity from the destruction of agricultural crops due to flooding, drought or other extreme weather events.

    At its heart, climate change is an issue of justice. The health impacts of climate change are inequitably distributed both globally and within countries. This is starkly evident in parts of Australia and within our Indo-Pacific neighbourhood. Many communities and certain population groups are at higher levels of health-related risk from climate change, including children, those living in poverty, First Nations peoples, and those with underlying health conditions. The climate-related health impacts on these groups are often profound and result in the disproportionate experience of negative health outcomes. These impacts are often interconnected with other forms of inequity, such as financial and social inequity. Consequently, a proactive and integrated approach that has justice at its core is required to adequately address the interconnected threads that impact our health and wellbeing.

    By applying a health and justice lens during policy and program development, we can ensure that the healthiest climate policies and actions – those that prioritise human health, wellbeing and justice – are pursued. This approach facilitates the development of ambitious, win–win solutions that benefit all members of our current and future communities.

    Grants and Resources
  • Business and finance
    Program Lead

    Associate Professor Ben Neville, Department of Management and Marketing, Faculty of Business and Economics; Deputy Director – Strategic Partnerships and Community Impact, Melbourne Climate Futures

    Early career researcher co-lead

    Dr Franz Wohlgezogen, Senior Lecturer in Management and Marketing

    Description

    Business and finance play a crucial role in transitioning towards a clean energy future, both in managing their own climate risks and seizing climate-related opportunities. Until relatively recently, businesses were attributed limited responsibility for reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.

    There is now a growing realisation that such 'business-as-usual' approaches to climate change come with financial, social and environmental costs. Stakeholders – including investors, employees, customers, suppliers, regulators and communities – are putting increasing pressure on business to act. Risks to businesses include physical climate risks, such as damage to assets or disruption to supply chains, transition risks from policy and investment moves towards a low-carbon economy, as well as reputational and liability risks.

    Climate change also offers significant opportunities. These include benefits from efficiency and cost savings, investments in renewable energies, new product and service development, access to new markets, resilient supply chains and the overall financial stability of the world economy. Private climate finance is also essential to support the mitigation and adaptation needs of societies to address climate change, particularly those in developing countries.

    Grants and Resources

    ARC DP22 project on ‘Advancing Investor Action on Energy Transition’

    Scenario analysis and company reporting

    SPIPA project reviewing learnings from the European Sustainable Finance Taxonomy

  • Politics and policy
    Program Lead

    Professor Robyn Eckersley, Redmond Barry Distinguished Professor in the Discipline of Political Science, School of Social and Political Sciences

    Description

    Policy and politics are fundamental to understanding and responding to the climate crisis. At the international level, climate policy and politics have evolved through structures like the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement. Policy and politics have also shaped dynamics at the domestic level, spanning not only national and sub-national government action but also civil society and non-government organisations.

    Climate change policy involves responses to mitigation and adaptation challenges and opportunities. On the greenhouse gas emissions reduction side, policy mechanisms include carbon pricing, emissions trading schemes, nature-based solutions or renewable energy technologies. On the adaptation side, policies range across systems including the built environment, education and training, health and human services, natural environment, primary production, transport and the water cycle systems.

    While climate policies respond to the climate crisis, climate change politics shape, enable and constrain the possibilities available. Politics are influenced by different social, economic and political forces that will ultimately determine whether we can secure a safer climate future.

    Grants and Resources
  • Land
    Program Leads

    Professor Richard Eckard, Professor of Sustainable Agriculture, Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences; Director, Primary Industries Climate Challenges Centre (PICCC)

    Professor Rod Keenan, Chair of Forest and Ecosystem Science, Faculty of Science

    Description

    Climate change has substantial impacts on Australian agriculture, affecting crop productivity through multiple pathways, including extreme weather events such as flood and drought. Agriculture in Australia also contributes to a changing climate, accounting for 13 per cent of Australian greenhouse gas emissions in 2019.

    There are opportunities to reduce emissions in the agricultural sector by implementing mitigation and adaptation measures that address the impact of agriculture on climate change and build agricultural resilience to current and future climatic changes. These opportunities involve technological, governance and corporate strategies that require interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral collaborations. Such opportunities include regenerative agriculture, which shifts land management from traditional intensive framing practices toward practices that prioritise ecological health and prepare for agricultural shocks and stresses.

    Grants and Resources
  • Biodiversity
    Program Lead

    Profesor Brendan Wintle, Professor of Conservation Ecology, School of Ecosystem and Forest Science

    Co-leads:

    Dr Georgia Garrard, Senior Lecturer in Sustainability

    Dr Rachel Morgain, Senior Research Fellow, Regional Planning

    Description

    In Australia, climate change and biodiversity are largely dealt with independently in policy, legislation and regulation, as is resourcing initiatives to tackle either challenge. Australia has been identified as a global extinction hotspot and serial under-performer in conserving biodiversity, as well as in setting and reaching emissions reductions targets.

    Biodiversity and climate are inextricably linked. The loss of biodiversity exacerbates climate change by reducing nature's ability to absorb and store atmospheric greenhouse gases. Ongoing climate change exacerbates biodiversity loss by reducing the suitability of climatic niches and driving the disappearance of habitats. In Australia, this is most clearly observed in our recent track record of land clearing and high-emissions forest management, which lead to biodiversity losses and are responsible for 25 per cent of total human-induced or anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions nationally.

    In addition to fixing these large and obvious policy perversities that drive emissions and biodiversity loss, there is an exciting set of opportunities to contribute to GHG emission reduction and sequestration targets through Country, culture and nature-based solutions. Provided that such actions support, and are not in lieu of, ambitious emission and fossil-fuel reductions, ambitious land and ocean-based actions to protect, sustainably manage and restore ecosystems have co-benefits for climate mitigation, potentially providing over a third of GHG emissions reductions and atmospheric carbon removal required under the Paris Agreement. In Australia, these include actions as diverse as regenerative and Traditional farming and fire practices, urban forests, feral herbivore control and wetland rejuvenation.

    Grants and Resources

    The Biodiversity Council

  • Water
    Program Lead

    Professor Mike Stewardson, Leader, Water Environment and Agriculture Platform, Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology

    Description

    The impact of climate change on earth’s water systems is felt across economies, environments, societies and cultures. This program is concerned with understanding and responding to hydrological changes in soils, surface-waters, sub-surface water stores and estuaries.

    Changes in these water systems threaten many ecosystem services on which humans depend. Understanding and responding to these threats is becoming a major focus for governments, industries and civil societies worldwide. Water connects across landscapes and values and these challenges engage disciplines across the University campus. The water program enables conversations across these disciplines to participate in global, national and local challenges of adapting with changing water systems.

    Grants and Resources

    Water, Environment and Agriculture Platform (Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology)

  • Climate communication and education
    Program Lead

    Professor Marcia McKenzie, Professor of Global Studies and International Education, Melbourne Graduate School of Education

    Description

    There is an identified need for greater and higher-quality climate communication and education worldwide. Effective climate communication and education should not be confined to primary, secondary and higher-education domains; it is fundamental in government, civil society, business, media, and communication sectors to maximise climate literacy and climate-related outcomes. Yet, little is understood about what constitutes effective climate communication and education.

    There is also a lack of data to support benchmarking and target-setting by national and state-level governments to increase climate communication and education across sectors, including in Australia. To address this gap, efforts are underway to capture global data on the quantity and quality of climate communication and education through an international monitoring and evaluation project. By increasing our knowledge and understanding of the current climate communication and education status, we can advance national and intergovernmental policy making and practice across sectors.

    Grants and Resources
  • Social vulnerability and adaptation
    Program Lead

    Professor Jon Barnett, Professor and ARC Laureate Fellow, School of Geography, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences

    Early career researcher co-lead

    Dr. Colette Mortreux, Research Fellow, School of Geography, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences

    Description

    The social vulnerability and adaptation research theme examines the frontiers of knowledge about the risks of and responses to climate change. With a focus on social science expertise and a geographic interest in Australia, Asia and the Pacific, this research theme seeks to understand the social impacts of climate change and examine opportunities to adapt social systems in ways that are fair and sustainable.

    The Social Vulnerability and Adaptation research program intersects with community wellbeing, human settlements and livelihoods, population and migration, culture and identity. Research from this program is committed to informing institutions and policies to manage climate change risks, including research on adaptation to sustain and enhance individual, community, social and cultural wellbeing.

    Grants and Resources
    Related Grants:
    • ARC DP (2021) Catherine Phillips, Jennifer Atchison, Lesley Head. Understanding contested human-plant geographies for urban greening success.
    • ARC DP (2019) Celia McMichael, Uma Kothari, Karen McNamara, Alex Arnall. Everyday experience of climate adaptation in small island states
    • ARC FL (2018) Jon Barnett. Future Islands: Catalysing Solutions to Climate Change in Low-Lying Islands
    • ARC DE (2020) Rebecca Runting. Robust strategies to achieve sustainable savannas under rapid global change.
    • ARC DP (2019) Lesley Head, Sue Jackson, Lisa Palmer, Morgan Robertson, Noel Castree, Ingela Stenseke. Social implications of market-based policy instruments for carbon and water.
    • ARC LP (2019) Karen McNamara, Celia McMichael, Carol Farbotko, Fanny Thornton. Transformative human mobilities in a changing climate (partnership with International Organisation for Migration, Pacific Conference of Churches, and UNESCAP).
    • ARC FT (2021) Carol Farbotko. Indigenous solutions to global challenges in the Pacific Islands.
  • Climate systems science
    Program Leads

    Dr Josephine Brown, Senior Lecturer, School of Geography, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences

    Early career researcher co-lead

    Dr Andrew King, Senior Lecturer, School of Geography, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences

    Description

    Climate science uses computer models and understanding of the fundamental processes governing the atmosphere and ocean to explore past, present and future variability of Earth’s climate system. Climate science has provided the evidence to identify human influences on the climate system and to quantify possible future pathways in a warming world. Climate scientists have summarised this understanding in the six major Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Assessment Reports with increasing evidence and detail, based on improved models and observations of the climate system.

    Climate science also provides information about future climate projections at a regional scale, including changes in average temperature and rainfall, as well as changes to climate extremes such as droughts, floods and heatwaves. Working in collaboration with the impacts and adaptation communities, climate scientists continue to refine understanding of the possible challenges we may face in a warmer world. Areas of active research include modelling climate extremes, understanding how major modes of variability such as El Nino Southern Oscillation will change with warming, and providing climate projections in the context of uncertainty using approaches such as storylines and probabilistic projections.

    Grants and Resources

Climate Futures Research Cluster

In alignment with these themes, the Climate Futures Research Cluster cultivates a network of cross-disciplinary climate change researchers across the University.

The research cluster:

  • Strengthens relationships within and between faculties and research institutes
  • Creates a network of cross-disciplinary climate change and sustainability researchers for collaborative research grant development
  • Connects researchers at the University to external research funding partners (academic, industry and government)
  • Provides a portal and focal point for climate change and sustainability practitioners, the public, and academics both at and beyond the University
  • Supports research training and early career researchers at the University.

If you want to join the cluster or find out more, contact us at:
melbourne-climate-futures@unimelb.edu.au.