Climate change will hurt poor and elderly most

Climate change will hurt poor and elderly most

30 April 2008

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WILD weather caused by climate change will hit Sydney’s poor, elderly andleast-educated hardest, according to a new study mapping the city’s mostvulnerable coastal regions.

Of 15 council areas, Rockdale and Botany Bay were identified as the most atrisk from climate change impacts, including extreme heat, rising sea levels andflash flooding. Wealthier areas, such as Woollahra, Waverley, Warringah andMosman, were the most capable of dealing with the dramatic effects.

The year-long project by the CSIRO and the Sydney Coastal Councils Groupanalysed each council’s exposure, sensitivity and adaptability to severe weatherevents predicted to occur by 2030.

Dr Benjamin Preston, a scientist with the CSIRO’s Climate Adaptation NationalResearch Flagship, said the study was the first of its kind in Sydney. It wouldhelp emphasise the influence socio-economic factors have in determining theseverity of climate change impacts.

“The consequences of climate change will be influenced just as much bydemographic factors, economic factors and future decisions regarding riskmanagement as by changes in the climate system itself,” Dr Preston said.

Overall, Rockdale was rated the Sydney coastal council most vulnerable toextreme heat. Botany Bay and Rockdale were equally the most susceptible to sealevel rises and changes to their natural environments. North Sydney and Rockdalewere rated equal worst for flash flooding. Hornsby was considered the councilarea most at risk from bushfires.

The study, which did not seek to predict the frequency or magnitude of theimpacts each council would experience, examined each council’s environmentalattributes, such as its height above sea level and the slope of its land. Italso looked at demographic factors, including the percentage of people over 65and the proportion of residents living in apartment blocks.

Elderly people, particularly those in units, were at an increased risk ofdeath during heat waves, the study found. About 176 elderly people die fromheat-related causes in Sydney each year. A report cited in the study predictedthis could grow to more than 1000 deaths by the end of the century.

The study found residents with greater disposable incomes would have a betterchance of reducing their vulnerability to prolonged heat waves by installingair-conditioners and renovating their properties to make them more thermallyefficient.

Dr Preston said Rockdale and Botany Bay rated poorly because of their lowelevations, large amounts of high-density housing and lower than average incomes.The two councils also had relatively low per capita spending on community,health and environmental services, he said.

The Mayor of Rockdale, John Flowers, said the council was taking the reportseriously and would develop a climate adaptation program.

The executive officer of the Sydney Coastal Councils Group, Geoff Withycombe,said three case studies involving the local government areas of Leichhardt,Mosman and Sutherland would be undertaken by August to examine the beststrategies councils across Australia could adopt to manage the effects ofclimate change.

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