Research by local government sustainability group ICLEI Oceania in conjunction with East Gippsland Shire Council suggests Gippsland will face a significant increase in fire risks in coming decades.
The international non-profit association has warned the temperature in Gippsland is set to skyrocket over following decades.
The annual average temperature is predicted to rise by 1 to 1.4 degrees celcius by 2030, with the greatest increases expected in spring and summer.
The number of extreme fire days could increase by 25 per cent by 2020. By 2050, Gippsland’s extreme fire days could be up to 70 per cent more frequent than now.
On current trends, by 2090 annual average temperatures could reach 1.9 to 4.8 degrees above the 1995 average temperature of 19.8 degrees.
Hartmut Fuenfgeld was a key researcher for ICLEI’s report.
He now works as a senior lecturer in Sustainability and Urban Planning at RMIT university, leading research projects investigating the impact of climate change and how locals can do their part to combat the issue.
“The purpose of the pilot project with the East Gippsland Shire was to help them plan for climate change impact and adapt appropriately,” Dr Fuenfgeld told the Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen.
“The pilot involved two separate projects, one a regional collaboration across all six councils in Gippsland to develop a regional approach toward climate change adaptation.
“We were approached by the East Gippsland Shire to conduct the project and there was strong interest in our research within the region.”
Dr Fuenfgeld said councils were “more exposed to the risks and impacts of climate change.”
“Local government is also the tier of government which is closest to the community and is the first port of call for members of the community, which was another driver for our project.
“Local government is most active and proactive on this issue. Some councils in Gippsland have a heightened sense of awareness about extreme weather events and their increasing duration.
“It’s about developing regional priorities, strategies and responding to risk. We have the opportunity to not only coordinate an appropriate response, but to also share and learn, which is a unique approach that exists across Australia.”
Dr Fuenfgeld said Gippsland had a record of bad fires.
“The most intensive and frequent bushfires occur in Gippsland, in particular East Gippsland, because there are large areas of exposed bushland,” he said.
“The intensity of bushfires in Gippsland has increased due to the drying trend.”
Closer to home, Baw Baw is facing its own climate challenges.
The CSIRO predicts the future climate of West Gippsland will be significantly hotter and drier than it is today.
However, the outcome depends on greenhouse gas emissions.
By 2070, the region can expect to be 1.4 degrees warmer with 6 per cent less rain if greenhouse gas emission growth is low, compared to a 2.6 degree increase if emission growth is high.
The Baw Baw Shire has planned to work with residents to minimise environmental impacts, build resilient communities and ease the transition to more sustainable practices.
While still Baw Baw mayor, Debbie Brown said “building resilience and preparedness for climate and environmental impacts forms part of one of the [council’s] five strategic objectives.”
“As part of this objective, the council is helping the community respond to the challenges and complexities of climate change by facilitating and monitoring action on the Baw Baw Environmental and Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan.”
“The shire aims to provide consistent leadership, create policies that factor in long-term risk and opportunity assessment, support the community to transition to sustainability, and form effective partnerships to ensure concerted action.
“The council is a member of the South East Councils Climate Change Alliance and participates in a number of climate change adaptation activities as part of it, including the Energy Saver Study and the Save it for the Game project.”
SECCA’s Energy Saver Study aims to assist 320 households in Victoria’s south east reduce energy use and associated costs, while Save it for the Game seeks to improve the energy efficiency of sporting clubs.
Dr Fuenfgeld said Gippslanders need to focus on reducing green house gas emissions
“Members of the community need to think about their greenhouse emission profile and specific impacts that affect the region or area they live,” he said.
“Farmers are at the forefront of this change. They constantly adapt to changes in seasonal weather and more long term climate change.”
“We also need to focus on simplifying the language around the subject of climate change. There needs to be a clear distinction between climate change adaptation and mitigation. Climate change mitigation is action taken to eliminate or reduce long-term risks and hazards of climate change, whereas adaptation is the ability of certain systems to adjust to climate change to moderate potential damage.”
“We need to get better at communicating in simpler ways that relate and touch people on an emotional level.
According to ICLEI, unless action is taken the environmental future is grim for the rest of Victoria.
The coastline can expect greater inundation and erosion from sea level rise and increased frequency and intensity of storm events.
The marine environment will be impacted by increased sea temperatures, changing sea currents and acidification of the ocean.
Shorter, drier winters will also significantly impact Victoria’s unique alpine region and the plant and animal species that live there, many of which are already endangered.
Despite the worrying predictions, Dr Fuenfgeld remains optimistic about Australia’s environmental future
“Australia has increasing awareness of sheer opportunities that lie in the green economy – ageing manufacturing industries transitioning into new areas, exploring business opportunities in a de-carbonised economy,” he said.
“Our nation also has one of the best solar potentials in the world. For instance, the best site for solar electricity in the UK is worse than the worst site in Tasmania.
“However, our environmental policy is still weak compared to other countries. As other countries push ahead, we as a nation have to change and gain strong bipartisan support.
“There is unanimous agreement among scientists that we must keep the global temperature rise under 2 degrees Celsius. I believe we will be able to achieve this target as it lies in our coping range, but the longer we delay action, the more quickly we will have to transition the whole economy.”
ICLEI’s project with the East Gippsland Shire will reach completion next year.