Impact of climate change on Australia’s social services: First ever national survey

26 June 2012

The largest survey of its kind undertaken anywhere in the world will be launched in Melbourne today to identify the extent of the community welfare sector’s exposure to climate change and extreme weather risks.

“We know that people experiencing poverty and disadvantage will be first and worst affected by climate change, including extreme weather events and natural disasters. But just as concerning is that community welfare organisations that provide vital services to vulnerable groups may be ill-equipped to cope,” said Dr Cassandra Goldie, CEO of the Australian Council of Social Service.

“There is widespread concern that Australia’s community sector is highly exposed to climate change and extreme weather risks. For the first time this national survey will give us a good picture of the extent of that exposure, and the effects of organisational strain or failure during extreme events on service provision and, crucially, on its client-base.

“The project will also look at the sector’s capacity to become prepared, as well as its capacity to make an effective contribution to societal resilience using its specialist people, buildings, assets and services. This is crucial information for informing our capacity to deal with possible future calamities,” Dr Goldie said.

The research is being designed and supervised by principal research investigator Dr Karl Mallon, Director of Science and Systems at Climate Risk. Dr Mallon said, “The survey will help answer some burning questions, such as what happens to people experiencing homelessness if the shelters are flooded? What happens to families in crisis if the crisis phone-lines go down in a storm? What happens if mental health services are overwhelmed after a bushfire?”

“The evidence is that we can’t take these services for granted under climate change, unless the sector is helped to adapt. On the plus side, the fact that the sector has a strong local presence, as well as specialist people, assets and services suggests that it can also be part of society’s coping strategy,” Dr Mallon said.

The survey has been funded by the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (NCCARF) and will be launched at the NCCARF Conference in Melbourne today (Sebel Hotel Albert Park).

For more information about the survey click here and see survey here.

Media contacts:
Fernando de Freitas, ACOSS – 0419 626 155 (Sydney) 
Karl Mallon, Climate Risk Pty. Ltd – 0412 257 521 (Melbourne)