Extreme heat events requires climate adaptation and building resilience
We hope you have adapted to the heatwaves this summer in Melbourne. The change in the frequency, duration and intensity of Extreme heat events has been shown to be clearly linked to climate change and human carbon pollution.
It was gratifying to see the heat health threat has been amplified during recent emergency services briefings such as on Tuesday 12 January.
This clearly needed to happen as heat stress and heat related mortality is a substantial issue that has been poorly adressed in the past.
Heat related deaths greatly outnumber any other natural disaster, including bushfires. (See Coates, L. et al 2014)
The issue is also a bit tricky as the danger period for heat related deaths often overlaps and is concurrent with major bushfire threats. In the past the bushfire threat has been addressed but with little or no communication on the concurrent heat health impact. It is clear both issues need to be handled and communicated to the public at the same time.
Climate Action Moreland wrote to the Minister for Health and Minister for Emergency Services in May 2015 highlighting the heat health problem, issues in communicating the threats and surge capacity issues. We recieved responses to our letters, although we were not completely happy with the answers. (see below)
It was gratifying to see on Tuesday 12 January Paul Holman from Ambulance Victoria, along with Emergency Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley, elevating the heat health risk to respect the heat to the same level as the bushfire risk.
This needed to happen.
Perhaps our letters in May 2015 to the relevant Ministers stimulated a more forthright response. We’d like to think so.
We are all going to need to change social behaviours to accommodate the increasing temperatures and extreme heat events with global warming.
There is so much inertia in the climate system that mitigation of carbon pollution alone will not solve the problem. We need to work also on substantial adaptation. Some of that will be upgrading buildings, increasing the availability of shade and water. Increasing resilience of infrastructure such as the electricity and transport systems for higher heat tolerances.
We also need to increase our social resilience: to change some of our social processes, expectations and individual behaviour to adapt to extreme heat.
For more background information on climate change and extreme heat events in Melbourne, see Climate change and heatwaves in Melbourne – a Review, published in February 2015.
Moreland Council on heat events and moderating urban heat island
Climate Action Moreland was active in supporting Moreland Council heatwave response strategy in 2014. Council has also committed in September 2014 to increasing tree canopy to combat Urban Heat island Effect in Moreland.
These are positive steps from our local Government, but will need monitoring and tweaking to ensure good outcomes. I have particularly heard complaints of inappropriate plantings of too many small native bushes rather than enough native or exotic trees which will provide essential canopy shade in the future.
State Heat Health Alert needs reviewing
Climate Action Moreland has also looked at Victoria’s Heat Health Alert System and current research into statistical threshold points for heat related morbidity (illness) and mortality. We believe the most recent research shows the current trigger temperatures for heat health alerts are set a little too high and need to be reviewed to take into account the latest scientific and health statistics research.
Research by Loughnan et al (2013) shows the statistical threshold point in Melbourne for increase in mortality of 3-13 per cent is at a daily average (Tmean) of 28C.
Currently the trigger point for a health heat alert for the Central region, including Melbourne, is a daily average temperature (Tmean) of 30C.
Whether a review process happens into the Heat Health Alert is currently an opaque process.
See our letters to the two relevant State Government Ministers and their responses:
Letter to Minister for Emergency Services Jane Garrett – 14 May 2015
Response from Minister for Emergency Services Jane Garrett – 25 June 2015
Letter to Minister for Health Jill Hennessy – 14 May 2015
Response from Minister for Health Jill Hennessy – 25 August 2015
Coates, L., Katharine Haynesa, James O’Briena, John McAneneya, Felipe Dimer de Oliveiraa, (2014) Exploring 167 years of vulnerability: An examination of extreme heat events in Australia 1844–2010. Environmental Science and Policy. Volume 42, October 2014, Pages 33–44 Full Paper
Loughnan, M.E., Tapper, NJ, Phan, T, Lynch, K, McInnes, JA (2013), A spatial vulnerability analysis of urban populations during extreme heat events in Australian capital cities, National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, Gold Coast, 128 pp. (Full Paper)