Equity and climate change
Climate change will affect every Australian and many of its impacts are likely to hit low-income households hard. Older people, infants and people with disability are particularly at risk during heatwaves, for example, which are predicted to become more frequent and severe in south-eastern Australia.
Many low-income households are under-insured, making them more vulnerable to losses from extreme weather events like storms or floods.
Along with these direct impacts of climate change, many households are facing difficulties due to higher energy bills. Few can afford to invest in fuel-efficient cars, home appliances that will cut their energy costs, and more efficient heating and hot water systems. Private renters face even greater hurdles to energy efficiency. This means that as energy prices go up, those least able to adjust will see their standard of living reduced even further unless assistance measures are put in place.
Many are also employed in industries that are vulnerable to the economic restructuring that climate change will require, such as the closing of coal-fired power stations. This makes climate change not just an important environmental issue, but also a vital social issue.
We need to ensure that low-income Australians are protected from the impacts of climate change and that our responses to it do not increase social inequality. In fact, done the right way, taking action on climate change can make us a fairer and wealthier nation.
The Brotherhood of St Laurence is urging all governments to address climate change fairly and equitably so that neither government policy nor climate change itself increase financial stress or decrease living standards for low-income families. We need to do this through:
- fair and effective measures to reduce Australia's greenhouse gas emissions, with appropriate safeguards for vulnerable households
- targeted support for low-income households to improve the energy efficiency of their homes and appliances
- a review of energy pricing arrangements and appropriate reforms to ensure energy affordability for all Australians.
The Brotherhood of St Laurence has been at the forefront of research into the potential effects of climate change on low-income people and communities. This is enabling us to work with governments, businesses and environmental organisations to devise socially equitable solutions.
Our current focus is on:
More on our work in this area is available at Research: Energy, Equity and Climate Change.