Community Sector Must Address Issue of Climate Change
16 November 2012 at 3:24 pm
Climate change will have a direct impact on Australia’s community sector and there is clear need for action to address the issues, a sector forum has been told.
The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) presented the preliminary results of its ‘Climate Change and the Community Sector’ survey at its annual policy forum in Sydney.
Described as a world first, ACOSS says that the national survey seeks to discover how prepared the community welfare sector is for the inevitable impacts of climate change.
ACOSS policy officer Emily Hamilton told the forum that the survey revealed there were “huge gaps” around understanding the community sector’s role and how the sector will be affected by climate change.
She said one of the key findings of the survey, which returned 650 responses, was that the sector and its client base were highly vulnerable to the affects of climate change and extreme events.
“Despite the vulnerability we did find a clear willingness by the sector to act,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton said a minority of organisations who completed the survey had already started to take action to mitigate the effects of climate change but that most would be willing to take action if they were supported to do so.
Hamilton said that a lack of resources meant that acting on climate change was beyond the scope of many organisations.
The Director of Climate Risk, the organisation that partnered with ACOSS to carry out the research, Dr Karl Mallon, said that the community sector is not getting the type of advice the public and private sectors are receiving.
Mallon said that the research found that unlike the private sector, the discussions about climate change impact were focussed on people, and the lack of the sector’s ability to provide services to those affected by disaster.
“It’s about the ability to get services to people who are extremely dependent on them,” Mallon told the conference.
The key issue that came through to me was that rather than focussing on the vulnerable groups or the people experiencing disadvantage, it’s the organisations who are the ‘shock absorbers’ for those people.
That is what we have to get right. And if we don’t do that right, then we’ve got a very very serious problem.”
Hamilton told the forum that in order to reduce the sector’s vulnerability so that it can continue to provide services there are three key priorities identified from the research: preparedness, resilience, and collaboration.
She said that it was important for the sector to identify and manage the risks of climate change, implement risk mitigation and collaborate with other organisations.
“It’s about sharing the risks,” she said.
ACOSS chief executive Dr Cassandra Goldie said that while there had been discussions about how the corporate and private sectors would be affected by climate change, the community sector has been overlooked.
“Community organisations play the key role and are there for the long haul to try and rebuild the communities and support them for the future,” Goldie said.
"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," she said.
The survey was funded by the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (NCCARF). The full results are expected to be released in the first half of next year.