It seems that there is a new casualty of climate change every day. Could the next casualty be street trees?
Recent research shows that, if emissions continue to increase at present levels to 2070, up to one quarter of all public trees will be at high risk of failure as a result of increasing temperatures. Even if emissions are reduced, that figure only drops to one seventh of all public trees – still quite a significant proportion.
Street trees are generally recognised as adding substantially to the amenity and enjoyment of public spaces and are highly valued by residents and visitors alike. However, their potential to damage private property (think encroaching tree roots and falling branches) and the costs often associated with their maintenance mean that they can be an economic burden to councils and expose them to liability. This is only likely to intensify if the predictions of this recent research prove to be accurate.
The research highlights a need for councils to reassess their approach to street trees. In particular, it may be prudent for councils to consider the species of trees that will be planted and the mechanisms that might be implemented to manage heat stress. A failure to do so may lead to increased exposure to liability as trees begin to fail, causing injury, loss or damage to members of the public.
Ultimately, councils will need to decide whether the benefits of street trees outweigh the costs associated with them. If not, they might just go the way of the dodo.
What is your council’s approach to the planting and maintenance of street trees? Has your council considered the impact of climate change on its street trees and other public assets? Do you think that the benefits of street trees outweigh the costs to your council?
|Kate Oliver | Partner
61 3 9258 3333