Only a few weeks into summer and extreme weather conditions are reminding us all of the need for strong action on climate change and better planning to ensure our city works for those most at risk in extremes of heat and cold.
According to Craig Wallace, ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) Policy Manager, “After a week of heat and smog and with temperatures predicted to soar to record breaking 40°C plus, many people on low incomes and with chronic conditions, including people who are ageing, are feeling worse for wear.
“We can’t assume people can escape to the coast for the weekend or at Christmas time. This is especially true for people on low incomes, including people on the extremely low Newstart payment and allowances as well as casual workers for reasons of pay and conditions.
“We need a city that works for people who live in place throughout the whole year. Increasingly we seem to be moving between seasons of extremes and our city needs to respond in ways that meet this new reality.
“Costs of energy and utilities are also higher in these extremes and there is now almost no grace period between turning the heating off and switching on the aircon. As extreme heat hits earlier in the year, people on low incomes are finding no respite from bill shock – moving straight from a whopping winter gas bill to a shocker summer electricity bill.
“Concessions, flexible payment plans and long-term work on energy efficient housing is required. Climate change action is essential, and a just transition is vital to ensure those feeling the greatest effects don’t wear the greatest impacts.
“ACTCOSS would expect that next year’s ACT Budget and the coming Territory Plan review will prioritise investments and planning responses for adequate community facilities and social infrastructure where people can find refuge in public spaces during heatwaves without being expected to spend money or asked to move on. Ageing community facilities need upgrades.
“We need to ensure that the move to medium and higher density housing that is occurring all around this city happens within an expectation that developers will include greenspace and living infrastructure to alleviate heat islands and offer people an escape from the heat and the smoke as well as finding shelter in winter. We need a continued focus on building quality to ensure that new housing also includes adequate heating and cooling.
“This time of year also reminds us of the importance of essential community services that have our backs when times get hard – emergency relief that is there when the utility bills keep on coming, affordable healthcare when smoke effects a chronic lung condition or financial counselling and mediation at a stressful time of year for many families,” Mr Wallace said.