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Sydney's poor, elderly hit hardest by climate change

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Climate change will hurt Sydney’s poor and elderly the most, as many live in low-lying coastal areas vulnerable to rising sea levels and cannot afford technologies that protect them from life-threatening heatwaves.

File photo of an elderly lady shielding herself from the sun with an umbrella while waiting for a bus in Sydney. REUTERS/David Gray

This is the conclusion of a new study, backed by the Australian government, which looked not only at the environmental factors in climate change but also at how socio-economic factors determine vulnerability.

The study, by the Commonwealth Scientific & Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), looked at 15 coastal areas in Sydney to identify those most and least at risk and why.

Sydney’s low-lying Rockdale and Botany Bay suburbs, coastal areas to the south of the central business district and site of the nation’s main international airport, were rated most at risk to rising sea levels, flash flooding and extreme heat.

The two suburbs were also rated a high risk because they were home to a large percentage of elderly and low-income residents who could ill-afford air conditioners to combat killer heatwaves or renovations to make their homes more thermally efficient.

In contrast Sydney’s wealthier suburbs, such as Mosman and Warringah, elevated suburbs to the north of the city, and Woollahra and Waverley, hilly suburbs to the east, were rated most capable of dealing with the effects of climate change.

“The consequences of climate change in Sydney’s coastal region will be driven as much by socio-economic factors and decision-making as by climate hazards such as heatwaves and storm surges,” Benjamin Preston, from the CSIRO Climate Adaptation National Research Flagship, said on Tuesday.

“Different areas of Sydney will experience climate change in different ways depending on their geographic location, demographics, and the resources and tools at their disposal to manage future climate change risk,” said Preston.


The CSIRO study said Sydney’s future coastal climate was projected to be both warmer and drier, but with more extreme rainfall events and extreme bushfire days and with rising sea levels causing inundation and beach erosion.

Sydney’s temperatures were expected to rise by up to 1.3 degrees Celsius by 2030 and up to 4.3 degrees Celsius by 2070. Current summer temperatures average 26-29 degrees Celsius.

Solar radiation in Sydney was projected to rise by up to 2 percent by 2030 and up to 6 pct by 2070.

The study said about 176 people aged 65 or older die each year in Sydney due to heat-related causes. It said heat-related deaths could rise to between 432 and 1,042 by the end of the century, particularly amongst the elderly and young children in families least able to regulate their environment.

The study said sea levels were forecast to rise 3-16 cm by 2030, and 7-50 cm by 2070, with extreme tides and storm surges adding to beach erosion.

The study will be used by Sydney’s coastal councils to aid planning and development to adapt to a changing climate landscape in the 15 Sydney suburbs, home to 1.3 million people.