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Thursday, October 2, 2014

Transport Forum question on Climate change and heatwaves

Originally Published at Climate Action Moreland.

The Moreland Transport Forum was held on Monday, just a few hours after Premier Denis Napthine signed the East West Link contracts. A few of us from Climate Action Moreland attended handing out our leaflet on East West Link being Climate Madness, and a climate postcard.

Andrea Bunting from our group submitted the following question to be asked at the forum. It was the most highly rated question.

With climate change, we are facing a hotter, carbon-constrained world. Currently during heatwaves we can experience power failures for public transport, unbearable heat in trams and trains, and buckling of train tracks. Dark roads also amplify the urban heat island effect; hence temperatures in our urban areas are much hotter, leading to increased deaths and illness. What will you to do (a) reduce dependency on fossil fuel usage in transport; (b) ensure that all transport infrastructure can deal with heat waves; and (c) reduce urban heat island effect from dark roads?

The question was asked slightly differently in person at the forum to all three candidates - sitting member for Brunswick Jane Garrett MP, Greens candidate for Brunswick Tim Read, and Liberal Party no 2 on the ticket for Northern metro region (Upper house) Gladys Liu.

During heatwaves in Melbourne in recent years air conditioning on public transport has broken, rails have warped, and major delays and cancellation of services have occurred due to engine and electrical failure, which has had a major impact on economic activity. Rising temperatures due to climate change and the urban heat island effect has made our transport system vulnerable. How did the candidates deal with this curly question?

Garrett called it a profound question and launched into a discussion of the necessity of pricing carbon. She didn't really answer the question posed about how to reduce the vulnerability of our transport systems to climate change induced heatwave temperatures, although she did take a swipe at the Greens for voting in the Senate against the first iteration of the Rudd Government's Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme legislation.

Read was the only candidate who listened to the question and who endeavoured to answer it. He emphasised the need for getting more people to use public transport and also increase renewable energy in Victoria to 40 per cent by 2020. He made the point that our governments need to stop considering heatwaves as 'acts of god'.

"Many government services are really ill prepared for heatwaves. I have just read through Victoria's Ebola fever plan. We are better prepared for Ebola fever in this state than the next heatwave. Ebola is unlikely in Victoria... but a heatwave is pretty much certain. We had one in January, we had one in 2009. The one this year killed 170 odd people, the one in 2009 300 odd.

"I favour an enquiry into how all levels of government respond to heatwaves. It has really been haphazard. A lot of reponsibility has been put on Councils. We want PTV to require operators to build and maintain track to a standard where it will survive." Read said.

For roads Read advocated the importance of more trees to shade surfaces, "Trees are extraordinarily good at reducing temperatures, not just underneath them but for a considerable area around."

Gladys Liu noted that "the weather has changed a bit". She didn't really answer the question on addressing transport vulnerabilities to heatwaves but did say that icy poles are no longer handed out to hot commuters during heatwaves and attributed this to the work her government had done in improving the public transport. Maybe Ms Liu was trying to be humorous but it fell flat with the Moreland audience. Social vulnerability to Heatwaves in Moreland has been assessed as high and heat related deaths is a major concern.

Watch the video of the question and the three responses:

You can watch the opening presentations by the three candidates at the MTF/Leader Newspapers Transport Forums article: East West Link takes centre stage at Moreland forum

Heatwave vulnerability of infrastructure

I read up on heatwave vulnerability of infrastructure early this year, particularly the experience of Melbourne in 2009. This is what I found:

Heatwaves cause failures in infrastructure as temperature tolerances are exceeded. Electricity and transport sectors are particularly vulnerable which can result in cascading infrastructure failure with widespread social and economic impacts. (McEvoy, Ahmed and Mullett 2012, Reeves et al 2010, Nguyen, Wang and Chen 2010)

The electrical generation and transmission system is particularly vulnerable to excessive temperatures and heatwaves. Higher temperatures reduce the efficiency and effectiveness of traditional coal fired power generation cooling systems and transmission lines, at the very time when electrical power is at peak demand including to run the electrified transport systems. This combination drives up electricity costs and stresses the system. The likelihood of blackouts is enhanced. During the January 2009 heatwave in Melbourne an estimated half a million homes lost power, the city's rail and tram network was disrupted, thousands of businesses were forced to close lacking electrical power and affecting internet services nation-wide.(PriceWaterhouseCoopers 2011, Climate Institute 2012)

The 2009 Melbourne heatwave highlighted the risks and vulnerability to urban infrastructure. Like McEvoy et al (2012) the Climate Institute (2013) identified that businesses and government are largely unprepared for extreme heatwave events of any magnitude and substantial duration and of the danger for system interactions and dependencies breaking down resulting in cascading system failure. The Climate Institute made specific recommendations for both business and Government planning, management and coordination of heatwave risks to infrastructure.


Climate Institute. (2012) Coming Ready or Not: Managing climate risks to Australia’s infrastructure. The Climate Institute, 2012.

Climate Institute. 2013. Infrastructure Interdependencies and Business-Level Impacts Report.

PriceWaterhouseCoopers. 2011. Protecting human health and safety during severe and extreme heat events. A national framework. Report for Australian Government Department of Climate Change and Energy and Efficiency

McEvoy, Darryn, Iftekhar Ahmed and Jane Mullett, 2012, The impact of the 2009 heat wave on Melbourne’s critical infrastructure, Local Environment Vol. 17, No. 8, September 2012, 783 –796 (abstract)

Nguyen, N., Xiaoming Wang and Dong Chen. 2010. An Investigation of Extreme Heatwave Events and Their Effects on Building & Infrastructure, CSIRO National Flagships Climate Adaptation (PDF)

Reeves, J., Colleen Foelz, Peter Grace, Peter Best, Torben Marcussen, Shahbaz Mushtaq, Roger Stone, Margaret Loughnan, Darryn McEvoy, Ifte Ahmed, Jane Mullett, Katharine Haynes, Deanne Bird, Lucinda Coates, Megan Ling, (2010). Impacts and adaptation response of infrastructure and communities to heatwaves: the southern Australian experience of 2009, NCCARF – National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility.

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