Low Income Coastal Communities At Greater Risk From Climate Change

A research report released today by the National Sea Change Taskforce identifies that people on low incomes in coastal communities are at greater risk from the effects of climate change than more affluent residents.

The report, prepared by the Faculty of Architecture Design and Planning at The University of Sydney, finds that people living in temporary housing, such as caravans and mobile homes, are at risk from severe weather events associated with climate change.

Associate Professor Nicole Gurran, the principal author of the research report, said recent disasters such as the Hurricane Katrina in the United States, show that low income populations are at particular risk of injury and death from natural disasters.

“This is because their housing is often less well maintained and unable to provide adequate protection,” she said. “People in rental properties have limited capacity to make sure their dwelling is fortified to withstand increased flood and other severe weather events.

“Communities with high rates of resident turnover are also less likely to have the resources or social connections needed to get help and information in times of disaster.”

Associate Professor Gurran said people without proper insurance or ownership of land face the prospect of long-term displacement in the event of a natural disaster.

“Landlords are less likely to rebuild their houses than owner occupiers,” she said. “And the immediate shock of a severe storm event places upward pressure on housing costs as many people search for new accommodation.

“Policies designed to mitigate climate change impacts, such as pricing mechanisms intended to discourage energy or water use, may have a disproportionate impact on lower income groups, who have less disposable income.”

The research report makes a number of recommendations to improve planning for climate change in Australia’s coastal communities, including:

  • That all state and territory planning authorities introduce planning policies to ‘mainstream’ climate change mitigation and adaptation in coastal planning decisions
  • That Federal and State Governments support local councils to carry out vulnerability assessments and adaptation planning work
  • That further research be conducted to understand and respond to social vulnerability to climate change impacts, with priority assistance given to coastal areas with increased physical exposure, socio-economic disadvantage and population instability.

The research report, titled Planning for climate change, was launched at a Coastal Management Forum in Brisbane today by Jennie George MP, the chair of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change, Water, Environment and The Arts.

Read the report Planning for climate change.