As part of this series on Western Sydney, climate change may seem like the most unlikely of topics to cover. But for anyone who believes climate change is a real threat, then the projected impacts for people in Western Sydney must be on the table.
Everything from transport to housing policy should be incorporating a climate change component to at least try to stave off the grim warnings from the Climate Commission about what climate change will mean for the Western Sydney suburbs. As a major manufacturing region, there is also huge potential for retooling factories to produce renewable energy components and other sustainable industries.
Both the Climate Commission report, and the recent BoM statement on the summer just gone, highlight the increase in temperatures predicted for this region.
However, the climate change elephant in this suburban room, is the persistant level of denial that flourishes in local and state government, and by opposition federal politicians. This is now so out of step with other jurisdictions that it is masking the urgency of the mitigatation and adaption needed.
When the Climate Commission report was released, Tim Flannery was heckled at a public forum on the issue in Parramatta. Local State LNP MPs have spoken in over ten debates in NSW Parliament about the doom the carbon tax will rain down on Western Sydney. The LNP sweep into power, across the local councils, has halted any moves to tackle climate change seriously.
Before I get into the projected impacts of climate change, the West is already impacted by what’s known as the urban heat island effect. With no sea breezes, dark roofs and fewer green spaces, places like Penrith, can be ten degrees hotter than the inner city already. So, any further increases to temperature are on top of this existing issue.
So, while inner city Councils are putting in bike paths, planting trees and exploring renewable energy, what’s actually going on in Western Sydney when it comes to climate change? For starters, three suburbs, Airds, Casula and Baulkham Hill, are in the top 20 in NSW for installations of rooftop solar. Blacktown finished its Solar City project last year and UWS is conducting research on how forests will react to higher rates of CO2. The water in the landscape project has looked at ways to manage water in the region and a recent demonstration project in Liverpool and Penrith has directly tackled the combined heat island effect and climate change.
The problem with all these projects is that they are limited in scope and not connected to other policy processes. The urgent needs for increased green spaces and better public transport are not new ideas; there are plenty of reports and resources that have been prepared that set out clearly what needs to be done and the specific needs of the region.
The impact of the heat in Western Sydney is real, current and expensive. Even for climate denying politicians, this is not something up for debate. The temperatures directly link to high electricity costs, for both those with air conditioning, and for those without, as this article explains. As more land has been cleared for housing, the temperature has gone up. As more trees are paved over for roads, the temperature goes up. As more houses are built without eaves and surrounding vegetation, the temperature goes up.
Moves towards mandating higher energy efficiency standards for new housing are now on hold, but won’t help with existing stock. Hence, the increase in installation of airconditioning, that in turn increases energy use, which then will make climate change worse.
I haven’t even touched on infrastructure disruption due to increased storms, or the health effects of climate change, or the importance of Western Sydney in sustainable food supplies – a post for another day.
What’s clear is that dealing with just the temperature impacts of climate change will take coordinated action from every level of government. The data is all there, but now needs the political will to make it happen.
I’m utterly sure, however, that this is not going to happen. Petulant calls from some environment groups to ‘educate’ people in Western Sydney about not using cars, or planting more trees is beyond counterproductive – it’s patronising and destructive. When there are no bike tracks, and it’s 40 degrees, cycling is not an option. When there is no public transport, a car is the only option.
There are plenty of passionate people out here, regularly doing bushcare or clean up days. A coordinated, easy to access group of programs, that focused on cooling down the suburbs and saving electricity, could be a way to break the impasse on climate change action.