New research has looked at the ‘thermal inequality’ created by a lack of trees in poorer suburbs.

“When you think about Australian neighbourhoods that are green and leafy, they’re usually wealthy,” says Griffith University researcher A/Prof Jason Byrne.

“But as cities increase in density they lose trees. Fewer trees mean hotter neighbourhoods and higher electricity bills for cooling. Poorer residents often struggle to pay those bills.”

Griffith has been tapped by City of Gold Coast for a long-term research project, conducted over five-year intervals, looking at community attitudes to tree planting, how property values can be attributed to trees, and how it benefits councils across Australia to invest in urban greening.

The research team will also work on policy ideas to help the Gold Coast council (which is funding the studies) to achieve ‘urban climate justice’, using Upper Coomera as a case study.

The researchers say it will provide an example for other councils to look to.

Upper Coomera was chosen for the study because it has socio-economically marginalised residents, and it is vulnerable to heat stress due to social and physical characteristics such as roof colour, building materials, yard size and building density.

These elements – combined with land clearing prior to development removing tree canopy cover - trap heat and will continue to do so without extra greening efforts.

The research found about 90 per cent of Upper Coomera residents recognised climate change as an issue and about 70 per cent were concerned about it.

“It concerned them, which was unexpected, and the majority recognised that trees could provide shade but what they didn’t put together was the connection between trees, shade and lower energy expenses,” Professor Byrne says.

“If Council get trees in the right places it will save residents money on energy bills; that’s money saved for schooling, food or transport.

“It will also benefit Council having healthier and happier residents, neighbourhoods that are more walkable and a safer and more attractive city.”

The team is now moving on to using thermal sensors in the suburb, measuring heat change and analysing the data for long-term planning on the Gold Coast.

The most recent paper is accessible here.