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Victoria can lead the country on climate change action

The historic climate change international accord, adopted in Paris this weekend, is aimed at transforming the world’s fossil fuel-driven economy within decades and slowing the pace of global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius. This welcome news puts pressure on Australia to come up with a national target that is in line with the ambitions of the global agreement, and to address the impacts that will come with the changes that climate change will bring to our natural environment, infrastructure, communities and people.

The Victorian Government has already committed to restoring Victoria as a leader in climate change action, and the Department of Environment, Land Water and Planning (DELWP) is undertaking work to review a range of relevant legislation, policies and programs to develop effective climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies to transition to a sustainable future.

Key to this is the development of a whole-of-government Victorian Climate Change Framework, to be released in 2016. DELWP is currently consulting with leaders across government, business, industry and communities to provide input into the framework.

VCOSS is a member of the Victorian Climate Change Advisory Panel to provide advice to DELWP from the perspective of the community sector. VCOSS has stressed that vulnerable and disadvantaged groups will be among the first and worst hit by climate change – even in developed countries like Australia. Climate change impacts exacerbate the health, mental health, safety, financial and other socio-economic aspects of people facing disadvantage, particularly those on low incomes and those living below the poverty line. People facing disadvantage have increased vulnerability and limited ability to adapt to the negative impacts of climate change due to their high risk of exclusion from the economic and social life of society. They have less resources, social support, mobility and housing options at their disposal. They are less able to prepare for climate change impacts, such as being unable to afford to retrofit homes, run air-conditioning or take out adequate insurance. They are also less able to respond to and recover from the impacts of impacts of climate change like extreme weather or natural disasters, such as relocating or undertaking repairs to homes.

In fact, the impacts of climate change like extreme weather and natural disaster can drive people into deeper disadvantage. Population groups acknowledged to be most at risk include:

  • People on low incomes
  • People who are homeless, living in poor quality housing or in the private rental market
  • People with disability
  • Frail older people and people with chronic conditions
  • Aboriginal people
  • Newly arrived migrants and refugees
  • Rural communities
  • People with underlying medical conditions

The impacts of climate change disproportionately affect disadvantaged and vulnerable people, including:

  • Higher costs – energy, water, food, fuel, insurance
  • Health impacts – physical and mental health
  • Economic changes
  • Higher risks of bushfires, storms, floods, drought and heatwave
  • Displacement

The Australian Senate’s Environment and Communications References Committee’s 2013 report into recent trends in and preparedness for extreme weather events states that:

Where people live, their income level, as well as health and social contexts will be a factor in determining the effect that extreme weather events have on people…‘There is a growing recognition that the distribution of weather-related health impacts has been, and will continue to be, uneven, falling more heavily on low-income populations and those with chronic health conditions. Other factors associated with increased vulnerability include age, disability, homelessness, social isolation, poor English language skills, and residing in rural and remote communities’.[1]

The Australian Medical Association has identified that changes in the frequency, intensity and duration of future weather events will expose growing numbers of Australians to hazards that affect their health. It says:

…it is predicted that Australia will experience more heat waves, extreme fire weather, severe storms, and drought across southern parts of the continent. Some of the health effects accompanying these changes will be direct, such as increases in mortality and morbidity associated with heat waves. Other health impacts will be indirect, including damage to health infrastructure, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, increasing health inequities, and an erosion of the social determinants of good health. When estimating the overall financial costs associated with extreme weather events, it is imperative that consideration is given to the significant costs arising from health impacts.[2]

Low-income and other disadvantaged groups contribute least to causing climate change but are likely to be most negatively affected by it. Research from the UK shows that as a proportion of income, they pay the most towards implementing certain policy responses and benefit least from those policies; in addition their voices tend to go unheard in decision making. Some of the impacts include:

  • Higher costs – energy, water, food, fuel, insurance
  • Increased health impacts – physical and mental health
  • Economic changes
  • Higher risks of bushfires, storms, floods, drought and heatwave
  • Displacement

Low-income and disadvantaged groups are less likely than others to be able to respond adequately to the negative impacts of climate change and climate policy because they experience barriers to preparing for a changing climate. Barriers relate to a lack of financial, information and social resources targeted to their needs.

DELWP and Sustainability Victoria will be hosting regional workshops across Victoria, online engagement and direct interviews with those already responding to climate change with leadership. They will also be consulting more widely across Victoria in the months to come. You can register your interest to provide feedback on the development of the Victorian Climate Change Framework by emailing climate.change@delwp.vic.gov.au.

[1] The Senate, Environment and Communications References Committee, Recent trends in and preparedness for extreme weather events, Commonwealth of Australia, ACT 2013

[2] Ibid