In August 2021, Melbourne Climate Futures awarded its first round of ‘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. In November 2022, we awarded a second round of both 'seed' and 'sapling' funding to a further eight projects.
The CRX funding is designed to support established projects that can demonstrate high likelihood of making an immediate impact on the climate problem.
In early 2021, the Birrarung Council – the voice of the Yarra River – invited postgraduate landscape architecture students from three universities to collaborate and develop a vision for the Great Birrarung Parkland. They asked for regeneration ideas from Naarm, the heart of Melbourne, to the upper catchments and tributaries, that build on the Wilip-gin Birrarung murron (Yarra River Protection Act of 2017) Legislation that defines the river as a living entity.
In response, the School of Design created the Design with Country: Resilience Studio, comprising urban designers and landscape and built-form architects, to explore the large, urbanised riverine system and develop and visualise design interventions for present to future scenarios. This multi-disciplinary studio brings together Aboriginal perspective, heritage and Country living systems with contemporary urbanisation and Birrarung catchment management.
We have established a co-educational course working with the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation (WWCHAC) on envisioning the Birrarung (Yarra River) as a living entity and shaping the future vision. Led by UoM staff including First Nations teachers and guests, students are immersed in local culture and science to navigate the concepts of connection to Country, building cultural awareness and engaging bi-culturally with Traditional Owners and knowledge holders, city managers, stakeholders and design professionals in order to understand the challenges and opportunities of the river precinct and surrounding areas from multiple perspectives and future scenarios.
This project will establish a science advisory group to work with landscape architecture, urban design and architecture students, alongside the WWCHAC and Indigenous designers, to incorporate the latest climate projections (such as drought, increased weather intensity, and more frequent and intense rainfall events) and apply a better climate understanding of these challenges. Through the Design with Country initiative (studio and consultancy), we will develop data and climate visualisation strategies to inform the designs and to feed into planning for the Great Birrarung Parkland. This will involve a focus on regional watersheds, sub-basins and neighbourhoods, drainage and infrastructure systems, and biology with the goal of developing multi-scale resilience strategies.
MCF’s CRX funding will support workshops and research support staff members to gather information on and support the development of hydrologic and climatic modeling for 2050s and 2100s scenarios along the Birrarung and its tributaries.
Assessing the potential of recycled glass for greener infrastructure
Concrete is the most used human-made material in the world and is the cornerstone of infrastructure development (roads, bridges, tunnels, etc.). Nonetheless, it is widely considered a carbon-intensive product, which requires urgent decarbonisation in the fight against climate change. Cement manufacturing is the root contributor (about 90%) to the CO2 emissions associated with the concrete industry, which in turn accounts for 8% of the global CO2 emissions.
With the increasing global population and the growing demand of infrastructure development, this will continue to have significant, negative impact on climate change if no mitigating actions are taken. In addition, excessive exploitation and further processing of natural resources used for concrete production (e.g., limestone for cement production and natural sand for fine aggregate) leads to deforestation, habitat destruction and degradation of natural systems. Therefore, as we strive for climate solutions, sustainable concrete-production technologies are needed.
Replacing cement and natural sand in concrete is the most cost-effective solution to this challenge and can be adopted immediately. Recycled glass (RG) is an attractive option as a cement-production alternative, due to its excellent pozzolanic reactivity in powder form and as an alternative for natural sand with which it has similar physical characteristics in particle form.
On average, each Australian produces about 70kg of waste glass annually, which results in 390,000 tonnes of waste glass in Victoria. Of that, around only 48% is recycled back into glass cullet for glass manufacturing. The remaining 52% (about 200,000 tonnes) becomes landfill, which leads to significant environmental problems. Therefore, using RG to replace cement and sand in concrete will have two-fold benefits to address the environmental impact associated with the concrete industry and increase the recycling rate of waste glass. This project aims to assess the potential of high-volume recycled glass in the production of sustainable concrete for the construction of greener infrastructure through structural and environmental investigation.
Directed by the Literary Education Lab and in collaboration with the Stella Prize, Reading Climate aims to build new understandings about the connections between sustainability and Indigenous knowledges in the context of secondary-school English literature. This timely project both responds to the pressing imperative for climate education in schools and activates English literary education as an important interdisciplinary site for reimagining social and environmental futures.
Using sociable and relational approaches to reading, the project will explore the interface between Indigenous literatures and climate justice by bringing into dialogue Indigenous authors, interdisciplinary scholars, English teachers, and students through book clubs and public events, and will generate an online toolkit of teaching and learning resources.
An imperative of governments worldwide is to ensure that the infrastructure our society uses to live, work or commute, continues functioning within tolerable risks of interruption or failure. Flooding represents the most common hazard worldwide, with 18 million people impacted annually, a number that is expected to increase three-fold by the middle of this century.
Rising global temperatures are intensifying storm events leading to increased flood risk. Simultaneously, increasing evaporation leads to drier soils before the storm event that increases the amount of rainfall absorbed by the catchment, known as “rainfall losses”. Drier soils typically lead to increased rainfall losses and hence reduced flood volumes and water supply.
Australia’s flood guidance provides recommendations on how to address increased rainfall intensities under climate change, but there is no guidance provided on how to consider drier soil moisture states and the resulting increases in rainfall losses.
Despite global knowledge that changes in soil wetness need to be considered in assessments of flood risk, no jurisdiction in the world is assessing how these changes could be incorporated into flood risk assessments. Here, we aim to calculate the changes in rainfall losses due to climate change across Australia to directly inform practical engineering applications.
Developing a spatial index and dashboard of electric vehicle solar charging potential for decarbonisation
By contributing to 15% of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and 29% of global energy demand, the transport sector must play a significant role in decarbonising the energy system. Electric vehicles (EVs) have emerged as a promising technology that, through inter-disciplinary research, can lead this decarbonisation.
In particular, a significant opportunity lays in the Australian residential sector, which already has over 3.1 million rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) systems installed and millions of forecasted EV purchases over the next 20 years. Collectively, an increased use of rooftop solar PV generation to charge EVs can accelerate vehicle emission reductions and contribute directly to Australia’s net-zero emission targets, while individually, it enables consumers to increase the utilisation of their own solar PV generation while reducing electricity bills.
This project aims to develop an analytic framework and data visualisation dashboard that maps the potential for integrated use of rooftop PV systems and EVs. The project will involve a spatial analysis of the Greater Melbourne region that assesses how the driving and utilisation patterns of private passenger EVs intersect with residential rooftop solar PV generation and battery energy storage systems.
A holistic index will be created for administrative geographic units, such as Local Government Area (LGA) or State Electoral Division (SED). The index will include indicators that cover technological, economic, social, and transport demand dimensions that reflect both the current state of EV uptake and PV and battery installations, and the potential deployment scenarios that maximise economic and decarbonisation benefits. Results will be compiled to create a dashboard that will provide planners and policy makers with an evidence-based tool to guide transport decarbonisation roadmaps.
Rephraming integrated design: Towards a more comprehensive software tool that integrates life cycle assessment into the design of buildings, neighbourhoods and cities
Regulation and current attempts to improve the environmental performance of the built environment have principally focused on operational energy and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which are associated with the ongoing uses of buildings such as lighting, heating, cooling and other operational demands. However, studies have revealed that embodied energy and GHG emissions, which are related to construction and material production activities, are often underestimated in the built environment and rarely considered. It is predicted that embodied GHG emissions will represent 50% of the entire GHG emissions footprint of new construction between 2020 and 2050. Thus, design approaches for the built environment must consider and minimise embodied environmental flows to meet short-term mitigation goals for climate change.
Developed by Dr. James Helal, Rephrame is a software tool that enables building designers to conduct an embodied carbon, energy and water assessment as a design-assisting tool, rather than as an appraisal method to evaluate, post-facto, a completed building. Through transdisciplinary collaboration across the University and with industry partners, this project seeks to enhance Rephrame to better identify cost-effective solutions that reduce the life cycle environmental effects associated with buildings. This includes integrating cost analysis and incorporating additional materials, geometries, building systems and life cycle stages.
Ultimately, determining optimal building designs requires a multi-disciplinary, multi-scale approach that holistically assesses the life cycle environmental flows across the built environment. This is due to the complex linkages between urban scales, from a building level to a city level. Thus, this project aspires to embed the capabilities of Rephrame into new methods and technologies in computational urban planning and design. This will help empower architects, engineers, urban planners, and construction managers to collectively implement the urgent and fundamental changes needed to mitigate the effects of climate change by reducing the environmental effects associated with buildings, neighbourhoods and cities.
Biodiversity finance: Leveraging private capital to protect nature
Biodiversity continues to decline and the financing gap between what is currently being spent globally and what is needed over the next ten years is estimated to be more than $700B. However, no studies in top-tier finance journals have quantified and priced risks surrounding biodiversity loss or examined the potential role of private financing in addressing the financing gap. This is relevant because prior work in biodiversity finance has established the importance of this inquiry (Seidl and Nunes, 2019, 2021), but the absence of financial economists from this field poses a “science gap” problem that this work will address.
Financial economists can contribute important tools and methods of analysis that matter for decision makers at firms and investment managers. This project will address this challenge by developing the first objective and data-driven assessment of two of the world’s first biodiversity finance products: Belize’s $364M“Blue Bond” and South Africa’s $150M “Rhino Bond”. The Blue Bond is intended to finance marine conservation, aiding in the long-term planning and protection of Belize’s marine ecosystems. The Rhino Bond includes performance payments from investors through the World Bank’s Global Environmental Facility toward contributing to protect and increase the black rhino populations in two protected areas in South Africa.
The living archive of Aboriginal art: Indigenous artmaking for a better climate future
This project situates Indigenous creative practices as a process of caring for Country and climate action. Together with Museums Victoria (MV), the Living Archive is developing a relational database with the capacity to link up information between people, places and things, alongside new and evolving stories of Country as they emerge through creative practices. From an Indigenous worldview, Country is kin, interconnected with and sustaining the wellbeing of humans, non-humans, land, water, sky, cosmologies and more (Moreton-Robinson 2015). As the recent State of Environment report notes, to keep Country healthy relies on keeping knowledge strong by continuing culture through creative practices, eg, artwork, photography, performance and storytelling (Janke et al 2021).
One example of artmaking as caring for Country (that also illustrates the concept of the Living Archive), is the southeast Aboriginal tradition of possum skin cloak-making. For instance, stories of waterways and knowledge of Country are frequently mapped on cloaks. These stories also intersect with other creative practices that support ecological knowledge, including, for example, the large-scale 10-metre river reed eel trap made by Mitch Mahoney and Maree Clarke in collaboration with a broad section of the public at Footscray Arts with Science Gallery at UoM. The project elaborated Indigenous ways of doing to support healthy and sustainable land and waterways, while exchanging knowledge through artmaking.
In 2022, the Living Archive has produced two possum-skin cloaks that connect stories of Country to people and places: one produced by Mahoney and Clarke with students at our partner university in the United States; and another (a work in progress) with Newcastle High School, NSW, students in collaboration with the Ngukurr community and southeast Aboriginal artists (Edmonds et al 2022).
Aligning with the CRX project, Mitch Mahoney aims to take the unfinished/unmarked cloak to Ngukurr, as a process of cultural exchange between north and south. Opportunities for understanding climate knowledge through artmaking between two Aboriginal communities, located in diverse ecosystems, offers new ways of engaging with Indigenous ecological knowledge. We will take the opportunity to explore how artmaking within and between these communities is intrinsically connected to caring for Country. In this CRX project, UoM researchers, alongside Aboriginal community-based co-researchers, will progress the Living Archive as a space where Indigenous ecological knowledge as creative practice is centered and contributes a model and resources for the development of an interdisciplinary masters subject across the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, School of Culture and Communication and the Wilin Centre/RUIC to progress intercultural knowledge exchange among students and the university’s broad networks.
This project centres Indigenous knowledge as critical for ecological wellbeing; it is led and guided by Indigenous knowledge holders and contends that everyone must engage with Indigenous knowledge to mitigate the climate crises. The project will expand on the work conducted through the ARC INDP Indigenous Storytelling and the Living Archive of Aboriginal Knowledge, led by Wiradjuri scholar and creative writer Associate Professor Jeanine Leane, in collaboration with co-researchers, southeast Aboriginal artists, Mitch Mahoney (Boonwurrung/Barkindji) and Maree Clarke (Mutti Mutti/Wemba Wemba/Yorta Yorta/Boonwurrung), alongside the Ngukurr community in Arnhem Land.
In August 2021, Melbourne Climate Futures awarded its first round of sapling funding to eight diverse, interdisciplinary projects with a high likelihood of making an immediate impact on the climate problem. One year on, the Climate Research Accelerator (CRX) project leads presented on their research progress and the impact of the funding.
Learn more about the impact that these projects had:
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 provides 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.
Creativity and Climate Futures: Establishing a Creativity, Ecology and Community Resilience Studio (CECR) at Dookie
Suzie Fraser and Danielle Wyatt – Project Leads
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.
Investigating post-disaster community resilience through network analysis
Colin Gallagher – Project Lead
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.
Mothering in Crisis: Family, Disaster and Climate Change
Carla Pascoe Leahy and Julia Hurst – Project Leads
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.
On 2 December 2022, the Mothering in Crisis project leads presented their findings. Watch the recording here.
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.
Climate Change Policy and Planning in School Education in Victoria
Marcia McKenzie – Project Lead
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 has been 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 provides 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.
Young People’s Climate Change Capitals
Phoebe Quinn and Katitza Marinkovic Chavez – Project Leads
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.
Downscaling hydroclimate projections to advance integrated land-sea planning
Rebecca Runting – Project Lead
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.