Climate Research Accelerator (CRX) projects

In August 2021, Melbourne Climate Futures awarded ‘sapling’ funding through its Climate Research Accelerator (CRX) program to eight diverse projects that bring together interdisciplinary teams from across the University with a range of external partners.

The CRX is designed to support established projects that can demonstrate high likelihood of making an immediate impact on the climate problem.

Kate Dooley – Project Lead

Closing the Land Gap via Ecosystem Approaches

This project is developing a new flagship report to rigorously assess the potential contribution that land, including biodiverse natural ecosystems, can provide to climate goals while maintaining other important functions such as food production, habitat and other ecosystem services.

Increasingly parties to the UNFCCC and its Paris Agreement, and non-state actors including major corporations, are offering pledges to achieve “net zero” emissions.  Underpinning these pledges are assumptions about the scale of emission reductions that actors will undertake directly versus the scale of offsetting and ‘removal’ of emissions already in the atmosphere, both of which rely heavily on land. These assumptions are not always made explicit leading to large uncertainties about the potential demand for land and land-use change to address climate mitigation as well as other social and ecological objectives.  How much ‘spare’ land is available for climate mitigation there? Is there any spare land at all? These are complex questions that cannot be answered through technical assessments of productivity or spatial assessments of land cover. Broad usages of land must be considered, including food security, cultural, spiritual and recreational uses, provision of ecosystem services, and commodity demand. Land uses to meet multiple sustainable development objectives must be balanced with land demand for climate mitigation.

This report will provide an initial assessment of the scale and nature of “net zero” pledges and implications for land-use, focusing on pledges made by parties to the Paris Agreement, and drawing on existing assessments of net zero pledges from major corporations (e.g. Shell and others). The report will emphasise that nature’s contribution to climate stabilisation must be in addition to (not instead of) major reductions in climate pollution, and should not be used as a vehicle for maintaining or expanding fossil fuel use.

Suzie Fraser and Danielle Wyatt – Project Leads

Creativity and Climate Futures: Establishing a Creativity, Ecology and Community Resilience Studio (CECR) at Dookie

Within its first six months, researchers and participants of the new Creativity and Community Resilience (CCR) Studio at Dookie campus have identified that a primary aim of the project is to bridge campus research and community knowledges related to climatic futures. By drawing on existing knowledge networks both in the community and in the academy, this project is utilising creative arts and collaborative experimentation to establish a fluency between disparate and equally valuable knowledges of place, environment and culture. This fluency has been built on making time and space for co-creation.

We have established an initial organising group comprising 3 x University of Melbourne representatives and 3 x community-based artists in the region, a group which will expand as the project’s impact and mandate grow. We have also planned a series of co-created, participatory events which will be future focused, imagining together how we can best live through the conditions of a changing climate in an agricultural and regional setting.

By establishing vital relationships with research, government and cultural bodies – including the Victorian Drought Resilience Adoption and Innovation Hub and Shepparton Art Museum – the CCR Studio has built into its framework an emphasis on engagement and impact. These institutional and community networks will facilitate broad dissemination of the project findings, bringing the role of creative and imaginative methodologies to the fore as key contributors to resilience policy and practice.

Colin Gallagher – Project Lead

Investigating post-disaster community resilience through network analysis

When it comes to communities adapting to climate change, it is imperative to find out what makes certain communities more collectively resilient and adaptive than others, and to put those findings in the hands of recovery workers. Social networks are a natural means by which to investigate the collective resilience of communities; by understanding how people are richly interconnected through their social bonds, we can better understand complex social dynamics that contribute to (or detract from) people’s mental health recovery over time.

This project aims to understand these complex social processes in detail, examining the social networks of communities affected by the 2009 Victorian “Black Saturday” Bushfires, building on work first started in the Beyond Bushfires research project Researchers from the social networks laboratory of the University of Melbourne, in conjunction with collaborators at Swinburne and UNSW, aim to use advanced statistical models for longitudinal social networks, to examine how social relationships “co-evolve” with recovery outcomes, such as mental health. This allows us to answer a range of questions, such as:

  • What are the predominant drivers of social relationship formation in a community?
  • Is a community well-connected? How?
  • What sorts of social relationships are protective for posttraumatic mental health?

However, gathering and analysing data on social connections in bushfire-affected communities and other disrupted environments is often difficult. Network data from these settings are often patchy and incomplete, restricting our ability to make sound statistical inferences. Overcoming these methodological challenges requires newly-developed statistical methods combined with immense computing power. Working with colleagues within the ADACS software group, the research team is implementing newly developed routines for Bayesian data augmentation with optimisations for massively parallel computing systems.

The methods developed from this project stand to fundamentally advance the science of community resilience as network-based phenomenon. With a feasible approach to surveying networked-based community resilience in hand, the research team will use these advanced as a springboard for engagement with a range of recovery agencies, exploring how information on social connectedness in a community may aid recovery workers.

Carla Pascoe Leahy and Julia Hurst – Project Leads

Mothering in Crisis: Family, Disaster and Climate Change

The project Mothering in Crisis: Family, Disaster and Climate Change explores how climate change is impacting upon experiences of family life in the twenty-first century. Through in-depth oral history interviews, project researchers are examining the ways in which reproductive decisions and childrearing practices of mothers are being influenced by environmental crises.

Funding from the Melbourne Climate Futures Climate Research Accelerator program has allowed this research to develop beyond the initial pilot phase. Interviews are being conducted with mothers in the Gippsland region of Victoria, an area hard-hit by climate-fuelled disasters including the Black Summer fires of 2019-20. These interviews explore what it feels like to be raising children in a time of multiple, overlapping environmental crises. Mothers explain both the impacts of disasters upon their parenting and the strategies they are developing to navigate a period of rapid environmental change. Simultaneously, researchers are analysing archived interviews of how Australians have experienced disasters in the past, to evaluate whether there is something distinctive about the present moment.

To date, project researchers have consulted with key stakeholders and initiated the process of conducting and analysing interviews. One newspaper article, three radio interviews and two academic presentations have been completed, with another academic journal article awaiting publication. Further academic presentations and another journal article will be completed in the second half of 2022. Later in the year a public seminar will be held and report completed summarising project findings.

Rodney Keenan – Project Lead

Scaling Regenerative Agriculture

This project involves a multi-disciplinary team of experts on sustainable finance, accounting, farm management and greenhouse gas emissions. The team is using publicly available and commercial data from finance institutions on agricultural practices to identify indicators of sustainability practices for use in farm financial accounts and to investigate the impacts of these practices on property values, including how soil carbon and other carbon projects are included in property valuations. Outputs will be used to inform financial risk assessments, investment and lending decisions.

Marcia McKenzie – Project Lead

Climate Change Policy and Planning in School Education in Victoria

A new ‘Environmental Sustainability in Schools’ policy for Victorian schools is under development through a research-policy making partnership between the Department of Education and Training (DET) and researchers from the Melbourne Graduate School of Education (MGSE) at the University of Melbourne. The partnership involves collaboration between DET policy experts, and sustainability and climate change education researchers from MGSE and the international Monitoring and Evaluating Climate Communication and Education (MECCE) Project, along with input from sustainability education specialists at Sustainability Victoria. An extensive consultation process will be undertaken with peak school bodies, youth organisations, and a range of education and climate change stakeholders to inform the development of the policy. The ‘Environmental Sustainability in Schools’ policy is an action under the Victorian Government’s Education and Training Climate Change Adaptation Action Plan 2022 - 2026 (AAP).

The ‘Environmental Sustainability in Schools’ policy will provide support for Victorian schools to advance sustainability and climate change action. The policy builds on the extensive history of sustainability education policy and practice in Victoria, including Sustainability Victoria’s ResourceSmart Schools initiative, and the work of a large network of government and non-government organisations who support Victorian schools to operate more sustainably. This partnership project is funded by a Climate Accelerator Research Grant from Melbourne Climate Futures at the University of Melbourne.

Phoebe Quinn and Katitza Marinkovic Chavez – Project Leads

Young People’s Climate Change Capitals

The Young People’s Climate Change Capitals (YPCCC) project aims to develop an engaging, strengths-based resource by and for children and young people, to assist in navigating the climate crisis. The resource is being co-designed by a diverse group of approximately 20 children and young people (between 12 and 25 years old) who are engaged around issues of climate change in their communities. The children and young people in this project will participate as co-designers in a series of workshops in the first half of 2022 to share their ideas and insights for a resource that would be useful for other children and young people. This will result in a digital booklet that addresses the different strengths and resources that can help children and young people engage in climate action and adaptation in a way that is protective of their wellbeing.

The YPCCC project builds on the outputs and methods from previous projects that have produced strengths-based resources for disaster resilience (Recovery Capitals (ReCap)) and a recovery resource co-designed by young people affected by disasters (Youth Views).

The YPCCC project is also intended as a first step towards developing an ongoing collaboration with children and young people in Australia to address the impact of climate change in their lives. So, this project will also document future priorities for resources and research needed, as identified by the young co-designers. The YPCCC project also presents opportunities to foster their capabilities and build connections amongst children, young people, adults and organisations working to address issues of climate change.

Rebecca Runting – Project Lead

Downscaling hydroclimate projections to advance integrated land-sea planning

Efforts to mitigate declining trends in biodiversity have increasingly turned to systematic conservation planning - a reproducible and cost-effective strategy with clearly defined targets. However, as conservation planning efforts tend to be restricted to one realm (e.g., marine), integrated land-sea planning has emerged as a way to set priorities for actions across the land-sea continuum that account for cross-realm connectivity. Here we aim to advance methods in integrated land-sea planning to account for the impacts of climate change within and across realms. This is vital as climate change alters both land-borne threats to marine systems (through changes in runoff), and sea-borne threats to land (sea-level rise).

Our analysis is centred on mitigating sediment and nutrient runoff from agricultural lands in the Burdekin region to facilitate the long-term resilience of the Great Barrier Reef. This requires future hydroclimate modelling at a fine spatial and temporal resolution, which is not directly produced by global climate models. The CRX funding has enabled us to produce preliminary downscaled climate change projections for the Burdekin region. We have also engaged in discussions with a local, expert modelling team to embed the climate projections into their high-resolution catchment models. We will continue these discussions in a CRX-funded workshop in the Burdekin region, where we will also elicit insights on best-practice catchment modelling out to 2050, as well as key targets for the cross-realm planning exercise.

So far, our project has accelerated further collaboration and communication across institutions with common goals. Importantly, our project will provide updated, downscaled climate change projections across Australia to enable modelling and planning projects beyond the Burdekin. Incorporating these projections into integrated land-sea planning will inform decision-making that improves the water quality and ecological connectivity of the Great Barrier Reef and related catchments – bolstering resilience to the global impacts of climate change.