Cool Intentions: A trivia fundraiser to turn down the heat

Thanks to everyone who made it out to our first ever public fundraiser event. Over 70 people joined us at Young Henry’s to raise money for our next summer of campaigning. We would like to thank our amazing sponsors for this event, Young Henry’s, Funlab, the Belvoir Theatre, Newtown Gym, Hoselink, Double Roasters, Repressed Records and Clayground. We raised over $4,000, double our target for the event!

Thank you to City Hub for the wonderful photos.

If you would like to become a regular supporter of Sweltering Cities, click here.

Locals ask the hard questions of candidates in Lindsay

On Thursday 5 May residents from across Western Sydney gathered in Penrith to ask Lindsay’s federal candidates questions relating to extreme heat, planning, and the environment. Residents shared their concerns for the electorate, which is one of the most heat impacted regions in Sydney, and their ideas for a more sustainable, cooler future. The event was co-hosted by The Australia Institute and Sweltering Cities at the Joan Sutherland in Penrith. 

Woman standing in front of seated people, holding a microphone.
Locals ask questions at Lindsay candidate forum

Three federal candidates were in attendance: Trevor Ross from the Labor Party (left early due to scheduling clash), Pieter-Joris Morssink from The Greens, and Rebekah Ray from the Informed Medical Options Party. United Australia Party candidate Joseph O’Connor was unable to attend but did leave us with a video message to watch where he shared that though he didn’t know much about extreme heat in the area, he did support using solar power. Current MP and Liberal candidate Melissa McIntosh was invited, however, did not attend due to diary clashes. 

Dr Kim Loo, a Western Sydney GP who is on the NSW AMA Council and Chair of Doctors for the Environment NSW, spoke at the event about the health impacts of extreme heat. Dr Loo is the first Doctor in Western Sydney to put extreme heat as a cause of death on a patient’s death certificate.

Dr Kim Loo, wearing scrubs, uses a microphone to speak at an event
Dr Kim Loo

Residents raised concerns about the state of the environment in the area, particularly in regards to increasing urban development. One resident asked the candidates about the Waste to Energy incinerators being planned for Western Sydney. Currently, state and federal governments subsidise the energy incineration industry. Residents raised their concerns about this funding and the subsequent pollution that will be caused by the proposed incinerators in Western Sydney. 

People sitting on rows of seats in a large room

Paul, a Western Sydney resident who works outdoors in the Penrith area, asked about protections for  green spaces and native ecosystems in the area, such as riparian systems and native trees. Green spaces are effective in cooling down suburbs, as they provide shade and mitigate urban heat island effects. Similarly, riparian systems reduce water pollution. This concern was shared by other attendees, including a mother whose daughter was concerned about the lack of green space in the area.

Candidates were also asked about their opinions on developments including the Western Sydney Airport and the Nepean Snow and Ski Resort. Pieter-Joris Morssink and Rebekah Ray both supported improvements to building standards and protecting public green spaces, and pointed to their parties’ respective policies on protecting the environment. Rebekah Ray also shared that she supported a curfew for Western Sydney Airport, which would reduce air and sound pollution. Pieter-Joris Morssink emphasised that The Greens planned to fund these changes through taxing fossil fuel companies.

Students, parents and teachers also asked about funding for public schools and better building standards for public classrooms and playgrounds. Ian, a year 12 student from the Blue Mountains, asked about air conditioning for schools in the area. We heard that “students learn best at temperatures between 22 to 24 degrees” and as a result of extreme heat and lack of air conditioning in classrooms students had trouble focusing. Parents were also concerned about extreme heat in playgrounds. Similarly, a local high school teacher raised concerns about the lack of funding for students mental health and wellbeing. Pieter-Joris Morssink, shared that The Greens would support solar power for schools and other public infrastructure. 

A woman uses a microphone to speak at the front of a seated crowd

Overall, the candidates in attendance agreed that extreme heat was an important issue in the electorate and at multiple points we were reminded that in 2020 Penrith was recorded to be the hottest place on earth at 48.9c. Projections by The Australia Institute predict that Western Sydney will experience an average of up to 46 days of extreme heat by 2090. Questions from the event were recorded and will be shared with the major party candidates. Sweltering Cities is proud to advocate for Lindsay’s residents and will continue to work with the community to fight for cooler, equitable and more sustainable cities. 

Read the coverage of the event in the Penrith local paper the Western Weekender below.

Article from Western Weekender on Lindsay candidate forum

2022 Summer Survey Results Released

Read the results here.

The Summer Survey from Sweltering Cities and Healthy Homes for Renters of over 2000 Australians has found that rising temperatures are having a significant toll on community wellbeing including both physical and mental health impacts. It is the largest ever survey on heat, health and homes in Australia. The report released today reveals that hot homes, workplaces and classrooms are reaching baking temperatures leaving communities vulnerable to illness, increasing financial pressure and cascading crises.

  • 66.8% of respondents reported feeling unwell on hot days or during heatwaves. 1 in 8 people had to seek medical care because they were unwell in the heat.
  • People who rent are three times more likely to leave their homes for a cooler location on hot days (30.6% of all respondents, 14.5% of people who own their own home, 47.3% of people who rent.)
  • Over 60% of respondents said that concerns about cost stop them turning on their air-conditioning
  • Respondents overwhelmingly support higher energy efficiency standards for new homes and minimum safe summer temperature regulations for rental properties
  • Over 50% of people believe the way their suburb is built increases heat

The ‘Summer Survey’, an initiative of Sweltering Cities and Healthy Homes for Renters, polled 2147 respondents from 695 different postcodes across Australia between December 2021 and March of this year. 

Sweltering Cities Executive Director Emma Bacon said:

“Rising temperatures are a public health emergency. Communities across the country know that the heat is getting worse and staying cool is getting more expensive. There are simple solutions that can cool our homes and suburbs; now we need governments to take this issue seriously. 

“We were struck by the significant mental health impacts that people reported. Over 100 respondents described depression or anxiety related to sleeplessness, feeling unsafe at home or social isolation when it was too hot for normal activities. 

“The NSW Government has backflipped on a plan to ban dark roofs and cool suburbs, but two thirds of NSW respondents support  ‘Lighter coloured roofs, streets and buildings to reflect heat’.”


These extreme temperatures are a threat to health, says Healthy Homes for Renters spokesperson, Joel Dignam.

“Our homes should provide sanctuary. Instead, when the mercury rises, they are becoming ovens. It’s not good enough, and renters are particularly vulnerable due to lower-quality dwellings. State governments need to introduce minimum standards for rentals, requiring basic measures like ceiling insulation, to help keep rental homes safe and healthy through extreme weather events.”

Turfing out fake grass: Resources on the impacts of synthetic turf on human health and the environment

Fake grass creates and exacerbates urban heat islands, causing detrimental effects on human health, and the natural environment. It can increase land surface temperatures by 40% or more, absorbing heat, warming air temperatures, hardening soil and thus increasing stormwater runoff. 

Microplastics are created both during its production and as it degrades. It kills nutrients in the soil and reduces biodiversity such as insects and birds. It is harmful to human health due to increased heat stress, biological pathogens, toxic chemicals and the ingestion of microplastics. Natural grass sequesters carbon, increases oxygen and keeps our cities safe and cool. 

So why do we keep using fake grass? 

Some say that it is better for the environment as it doesn’t require watering, but unlike real grass, it needs to be cleaned, sprayed with insecticides and fungicides, and regularly upgraded after wear and tear, increasing waste. 

Heatwaves kill more Australians every year than every other natural disaster combined. Now is the time to focus on reducing urban heat islands and greening our public spaces with natural plants that reduce heat. 

Concerned about heat caused by fake grass? Want to see it banned in public spaces in Victoria? Sign our petition

Sweltering Cities thinks it’s time we said goodbye to plastic grass in our public spaces, so we have gathered some resources and information for you here.

How fake grass impacts human health and the environment

Synthetic Surfaces in Public Open Space’ a study from the NSW Government.

‘Synthetic Turf carbon footprint, environmental, health, microplastics and biodiversity impacts.’

Literature review by local activist and Climate Action Moreland convenor, John Englart

‘Conveying the benefits of living turf – mitigation of the urban heat island effect’ by Hort Innovation, (2020).

‘Turf wars erupt over the use of synthetic surfaces in parks’ Sydney Morning Herald, October 2021

“Park users and residents seeking natural green space have been able to enjoy the cool, natural surroundings but now will be impacted by synthetic turf, through toxic off-gassing, smells, high fencing and the heat radiating from the synthetic field especially in summer”

Places where fake grass has already been banned

Victoria 

Darebin City Council have banned the use of synthetic turf on nature strips.

In Eynesbury township “Synthetic or ‘fake’ grass is not to be used in areas that are visible to public view” 

South Australia 

Adelaide City Council say that “Artificial turf became popular across Australia during the millennium drought when strict water restrictions were imposed, however it has since been criticised by environmentalists for its adverse impact on biodiversity.”

“Establishing and maintaining nature strips can be an excellent way of getting to know your neighbours, building a strong sense of community, and adding to the biodiversity and beauty of your street.”

City of Marion overruled their own decision to allow fake grass, saying “Many residents were unhappy with the decision, citing the heat generated by artificial turf and its broader environmental impact.”

Tea Tree Gully where “There was clear environmental evidence for not approving fake turf in the future, like a recent council heatmap which identified the hottest surface in the region was artificial turf.”

Public housing high-rise residents suffering in the heat with inadequate infrastructure

Morning tea with heat-affected high-rise residents 

By Elyse Cunningham, Sweltering Cities Community Organiser, Melbourne 

On Monday 28th February, Sweltering Cities Melbourne Community Campaigner joined a  weekly morning tea for residents from some of Melbourne’s over 55’s public housing towers. The purpose of the visit was to discuss their experiences of living in the towers during heatwaves, the effects that the heat has on their livelihoods, and what they would like to see changed. 

Graham, who walks with a cane and travelled to the meeting in a taxi, spoke about how during the recent heatwave he was so exhausted that he was nearly collapsing. There are no ceiling fans in his apartment, and the windows aren’t double glazed. There is also no aircon. When it gets too hot, he avoids cooking as that would make the apartment completely unbearable. 

“If there were thermometers in our apartments that would be good, cause then we would at least know what level of heat we are dealing with”. 

Tower resident Hewit described how on hot days she sits down in the communal garden all day. In the garden many of the seats are old and have no shade. Even though there were some large shady trees, almost all of the seats (except for one purpose-built undercover seating area) are exposed to full sun all day. Hewit explained that she can’t sleep at night on hot days, and is unable to leave her place as she has no family in Melbourne, and wouldn’t feel safe at night on her own.

Resident Peter raised the issue that a lot of these seats also needed to be fixed, and aren’t a comfortable place for residents to go and escape the heat. He also spoke about how the top floors in the apartments get noticeably hotter than the lower floors, and that AC should be provided in those floors to ensure the residents’ safety. He used to sleep down in the community room, but it was closed March 2020 due to covid, and has still not been opened even though restaurants, cafes, bars, sports venues and everything else is open. Though some of the apartments do have a hole for AC piping, these are in the lounge-room, rather than in the bedroom where it would be much more beneficial. To make his apartment more liveable in the heat, Peter has built his own air conditioner window frame to find some relief from the heat (image below). 

All of the residents said that no matter how many times they make complaints, nothing ever gets done. They are always told that it is in the hands of the Department of Housing, and then the case is closed, but nothing ever changes.

Sandra, who used to be on the committee for the development of the Kensington estate, told me that back in 2013, funding for the tenants association was cut. They used to have monthly meetings with the department of housing, and now they hardly ever happen at all. 

She supports more funding for the tenants association so that there can be more consultation between the governments and tenants. 

Terry, another resident, proposed that there should be a big garden on the roof of the buildings. This would provide a cooling effect, could be used to grow food, and would likely have a positive effect on residents’ mental health with access to increased green space. 

Sweltering Cities is proud to advocate on behalf of the residents, and hope that in the future we can make these towers more safe, sustainable and equitable. 

February 2022 Melbourne Online Community Meeting

By Elyse Cunningham, Sweltering Cities Community Organiser, Melbourne 

Last Tuesday night, the 22nd of Feb, Sweltering Cities held our first 2022 Melbourne community meeting online with over 30 attendees. we heard from some powerful key speakers followed by a broad insightful discussion of extreme heat impacts across Melbourne.

Our first speaker was Chris who has lived in Sunshine for 14 years. She spoke about the physical effects that heat has on her body, including muscle pains and heat rash, which ends up being detrimental to her mental health as she is unable to go for walks outside. As this article shows, there is not enough tree cover in much of Melbourne’s West. Chris also spoke of the beautiful gum trees that used to line her street which were torn down and replaced with ornamental pear trees that don’t provide any shade at all.  

On top of this, Non-natives require more water, so it is more wasteful to maintain those trees. In Sunshine at the shops today, she saw only two groups of people, both of which were huddled under trees that had been concreted right to the trunk. “Heat isolates people”, she says, “especially the most vulnerable”, although Chris and her elderly mother can walk down to Kororoit Creek where there has been good green landscaping by Friends of Kororoit Creek, even the 6-7 minute walk can be difficult in the heat. 

Our next speaker was Margareta Windisch; a Western suburbs resident, and social worker, who is completing her PhD research on heatwaves and gendered social vulnerability.

Margareta has observed how this issue has become a lot more prominent over the last few years, and that there needs to be more heat shelters, including at universities. She referred to an article in the Lancet which shows that heat wave deaths are significantly under reported.

Urbanisation will continue and the problem of hot cities will grow globally, with access to cooling becoming a matter of life and death. In urban environments, heat overnight is a huge health issue, and air con units only exacerbate the problem by heating up outside areas. 

Margareta also stressed that heat waves are a political issue, the least responsible are the most impacted. Advice from authorities is always to go somewhere cool, but public spaces become privatised and access is limited, and there is no funding for heatwaves. 

Margareta is especially interested in how older women, who rent and/or live in public housing, are dealing with hot weather and their ability to access cooling. 

for more information you can contact Margareta on 9925 3051 or via email at margareta.windisch@student.rmit.edu.au

Andrea from Walk on Moreland and Climate Action Moreland kicked off the discussion. She recalled the Cooling Communities study by the Australian Energy Foundation (F.K.A Moreland Energy Foundation), which overwhelmingly found that the ability to cool without AC comes down to cross-ventilation, and that we are “still building hot boxes in which people are locked into using air conditioning”. 

This was backed up by a comment from Katherine who highlighted that there needs to be more education for homeowners. 

Liam from the Brotherhood of St Laurence told the group that natHERS has a bias for black roofs within their 6 star energy rating software for houses. Because Melbourne is predominantly a winter heating climate, it gives you an advantage if you have a dark roof as you need less heating and measured against historical standards homes are projected to have slightly better energy gain throughout that time of year. This is a recognised problem within the industry, however the government is slow to move on these things as energy policy has been slow to move 

Andrea from the Centre for Just Places, Jesuit Social Services, reiterated that the notion of social isolation is a huge problem, and it relates also to how we plan our spaces. 

For older people or people in public housing there needs to be low cost or free spaces that are cool spaces. 

Afterwards, we heard from Jocelyn, who has been involved with Werribee River Association. She touched back on the black roofs situation, saying she heard they are looking to make changes to natHERS and ask whether we can do anything to support or push certain changes to make housing better? Emma Bacon of Sweltering Cities answered that the National Construction Code, which are the federal standards for all buildings, is currently being reviewed and that Sweltering Cities along with Renew are working on this issue. 

Next we heard from Kyle who addressed the regional differences in how heat impacts peoples lives, and touched back on the issues of inequality when it comes to heat, as generally people from lower socio-economic and disadvantaged backgrounds are forced to move out of cities and into peripheries where there is greater risk of bushfires. 

“We need legislation for housing rather than just national standards because developers won’t do it alone”. Kyle’s final point was the lack of recognition of the systemic nature of this issue, and that it is looked at as an individual issue, rather than states and territories having structurally retreated from the provision of social and public housing. 

We then heard from Paula, the founder of Wyndham Wildlife Gardens who talked about the endemic rise of plastic grass over real grass that is occurring in the West. Synthetic turfs can exacerbate the urban heat island effect and get extremely hot on warm days. 

Finally we heard from Wildaliz from TreeChange who look at tech and science solutions, and citizen community science projects to help design programs for addressing urban heat. Their email is info@projecttreecharge.com if you have ideas for collaboration on urban heat climate adaptation citizen science. 

Thank you to everyone who attended the meeting. We’re excited to continue working with this knowledgeable and passionate community. 

Here are some more links that were shared over the course of the discussion: 

The effects of heat on residents of Melbourne’s age 55+ public housing towers, Shared by Sweltering Cities

Cooling and Greening Melbourne Interactive Map shared by John Englart from Climate Action Moreland

Tree planting in Melbourne’s west, shared by Liam Cranley, Brotherhood of St Laurence’s energy equity and climate change team. 

Recent changes to the Victoria Planning Provisions (which appear to address apartment cross ventilation), Shared by Kath 

School Microclimates, shared by John Englart 

Melbourne City’s cool routes mapping tool, Shared by John Englart, 

Walden 7 architecture project, Shared by Bernie Barrett, from Healthy Homes for Renters

Google’s environmental insights explorer, shared by Glenn 

Literature review on the Harms of synthetic turf, Written and shared by John Englart 

Make a submission to the NSW Design and Place State Enviro Planning Policy review

About the Design and Place SEPP

The new Design and Place State Environmental Planning Policy (DP SEPP) 2021 and supporting guides are part of a broader review of all SEPPs. The DP SEPP will apply to all of NSW and spans places of all scales, from precincts, large developments and buildings, to infrastructure and public space (other than specified exclusions).

The Government says that it aims to simplify and consolidate how to address the need for sustainable and resilient places and deliver good design in NSW.

There are some good things in the draft like cool roof measures, more trees and improved energy efficiency standards. However we think there are some clear areas where we could do more, like measuring home energy efficiency against future climate projections and going beyond trees to tackle the urban heat island effect on a range of fronts.

The Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils (WSROC) represents local councils across Western Sydney. WSROC are leaders in policy and advocacy work related to extreme heat and we have borrowed the resources below with their permission. For more information on WSROC’s excellent Turn Down the Heat program go here.

The NSW Government is seeking feedback on the draft documents by 28 February.

Two ways to provide feedback

  1. Add your comment to our submission

We’re making a submission to the NSW Government’s Design and Place State Environmental Planning Policy review. We support measures to reduce urban heat islands, build safer healthy and affordable homes, and raise the minimum standards for energy efficiency.

We’ll include the results of the 2021 Summer Community Survey and community stories from across NSW. We will also add your comments if you would like to include experiences or ideas that the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment and the Planning Minister should consider.

  1. Provide feedback directly to the Department of Planning

You can find the documents on exhibition and submit feedback here: https://www.planningportal.nsw.gov.au/design-SEPP-2021

Scroll down the page to upload your submission or to respond via the comment box.

This is a template letter that you can use to help make your submission. Adding personal experiences and details make your submission more effective, so we encourage you to copy, paste or edit as you wish.

TEMPLATE LETTER FOR FEEDBACK

RE: Addressing urban heat islands through the Design and Place SEPP

To whom it may concern, 

I am writing in response to the draft Design and Place SEPP.

Heat impacts 100 per cent of Sydney’s population every summer. I have personally felt the impacts of heat during summer and am concerned that poorly designed development will worsen my quality of life due to increased urban heat island effect. 

During summer, heat can make it difficult to sleep, work, study and generally enjoy time outdoors. Heat also causes the community stress due to energy bills, loss of sleep, worsened medical conditions, and disruptions to public transport that leave people stranded in dangerous conditions, unable to get home to family or pets that depend on them.

I call on the NSW Government to show leadership to tackle the challenges of rising temperatures by planning and building communities that keep residents safe in a hotter climate and extreme heat events. The Design and Place State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) is an important opportunity to set best practice standards for reducing and adapting to the impacts of heat. 

I would like to stress that solutions should prioritise passive cooling. Many people do not have air-conditioning or cannot afford to run it. Those who can afford air-conditioning are still vulnerable to power outages, or outdoor temperatures exceeding the operational threshold of their air-conditioning unit. For this reason, well-designed homes are essential for ensuring safety during extreme heat. 

I support WSROC’s submission to the Design and Place SEPP, and in particular, their support for measures to address the urban heat island effect and reduce heatwave risk. 

I have included specific feedback in the next sections:

General comments 

I commend the NSW Government for the strong recognition of heat as an issue, and the focus on addressing the impacts of heat through planning and development. I particularly support the following proposed Design and Place SEPP guidance and targets relevant to urban heat, including: 

  • New cool roof standards 
  • Improved targets for energy efficiency and thermal performance in BASIX 
  • Stronger targets for deep soil areas and canopy cover 
  • The requirement to shade glass façades 

However, there are also important gaps and missed opportunities in the draft SEPP and its supporting guidelines. The Urban Design Guide (UDG), in particular, should set up a strong set of principles for addressing urban heat, however: 

  • Resilience should be central to the planning and design process. Where resilience is mentioned, in the UDG it is lacking a strong framework or clear set of guiding principles. 
  • Urban heat is mainly covered under the “natural systems” theme, where the role of trees is well supported with strong principles, clear guidance and specific targets. However, this rigour is lacking when it comes to other measures that could reduce the impacts of urban heat. Other measures beyond trees (e.g. street orientation, cool materials) are not supported by strong principles, guidance, targets nor a clear approach to assessment. 

Further comments follow on each part of the proposed SEPP and its supporting documents,  where relevant to urban heat.

BASIX

  • I support the increase in BASIX energy and thermal comfort targets. Ensuring we reduce energy consumption as well as keeping people safe in their homes is important as the climate warms and the urban heat island effect increases. However, these targets will need to be reviewed every few years to remain up-to-date.
  • I am relieved that trade-offs to thermal performance are not allowed. Using air-conditioning to compensate for poor design creates urban heat, increases the likelihood of power outages, and disadvantages people who cannot afford energy costs. 
  • I would like to stress that we cannot solely rely on air-conditioning to keep people cool. I encourage the Government to introduce thermal autonomy design standards which will be important to ensure homes are designed to keep people safe even when energy is not available or affordable. 
  • I support the proposed update to BASIX climate data but believe we should go further and use future climate projections to assess new homes. It is important that homes and buildings are designed to keep people comfortable and safe for years to come. 
  • I encourage the NSW Government to review the water module in BASIX, so that it is no longer purely focused on water efficiency but also for reducing the impacts of heat. This includes encouraging more rainwater harvesting, sustainable landscape irrigation, and other water use for keeping cool. 

Deep soil and tree canopy

  • I strongly support the improved deep soil and tree canopy targets. Trees and green space are important to address the impacts of heat. However, to ensure quality green space, improved guidance on tree selection and a more rigorous methodology to estimate future canopy cover will be required.

Rainwater tank requirements for apartment buildings

  • I support the requirement to provide rainwater tanks in apartment buildings. In addition, rainwater storage should be connected to irrigation or other outdoor uses because implementing sustainable irrigation opportunities will be important to mitigate the impacts of heat. 

Urban design guide (UDG)

  • While the UDG includes some good principles that address heat, tree canopy has been given greater emphasis and greater weight than other objectives. I recommend that a wider range of targets are included to ensure that trees are not the only measure reliably included in new development to address urban heat. Green cover, shade and water retention in the landscape could all be supported with quantitative targets. 

The planning system plays a critical role in delivering safe, liveable communities that support good quality of life. I hope you will ensure that our city remains a place that people want to live and work in future. 

Sincerely, 

Name

Address

email

This feedback template

This template is provided by WSROC to assist community members and stakeholders with preparing a response to how urban heat is addressed in the draft Design and Place SEPP. 

We are hoping that consistency in feedback, will achieve a greater chance of change and improvement. 

This template is based on a review of the following documents on public exhibition:

  • Design & Place – Overview 
  • Draft Apartment Design Guide 
  • Draft Urban Design Guide 
  • Sustainability in Residential Buildings (BASIX Overview) 
  • Proposed BASIX Higher Standards document 
  • Proposed requirements for BASIX in 2022 – Cost Benefit Analysis (ACIL Allen 2021) 
  • Proposed Design and Place SEPP Cost Benefit Analysis (Deloitte Access Economics 2021) 

WSROC reviewed these documents focusing on urban heat and on the range of strategies and potential planning measures recommended in the Urban Heat Planning Toolkit.

The template letter on the next page is for guidance only, and each person should review what they would like to include, and/or edit accordingly. 

New HEATWATCH report for Western Sydney

HeatWatch: Penrith Could Face Nearly Two Months of Extreme Heat Per Year

Extreme heat days over 35 degrees are projected to increase five-fold in Western Sydney, where areas such as Penrith could experience up to 58 days (almost two months) of extreme heat per year.

This landmark HeatWatch report is by the Australia Institute Climate & Energy Program is in partnership with Sweltering Cities. HeatWatch uses CSRIO-BoM modelling to show how areas of Western Sydney will experience more extreme heat more often due to climate change.

Key Findings:

  • Of the 12 federal electorates covering the area of Western Sydney, the seat of Lindsay, which includes Penrith, is projected to have the highest number of days over 35C.
  • Under a high-emissions scenario, Lindsay could experience temperatures of over 35C for up to a month per year by 2050. 
  • By 2090, this is projected to increase to a staggering 58 days per year. However, this increase could be limited to less than 22 days per year if emissions are reduced.
  • Alarmingly, annual figures for Lindsay are already outstripping these future projections. Data shows there were 44 days over 35C recorded in both 2018 and 2019, exceeding the projected average for 2090 of 42.5 days – 70 years ahead of time.
  • More than 9 in 10 (92.5%) Western Sydney residents surveyed agree that politicians and political parties should have specific policies on dealing with extreme heat. Unfortunately, current federal and NSW Government policies are more likely to exacerbate rather than mitigate extreme heat conditions in Western Sydney.
  • Western Sydney is among the most heat affected regions of Australia, its inland position at the foothills of the Blue Mountains prevents the cooling impact of a coastal breeze and works to trap heat.
  • As a result, some suburbs of Western Sydney are already experiencing temperatures between 8C and 10.5C hotter than Eastern Sydney.
  • This disproportionately impacts the health of residents, worsening sleep, lowering productivity and exacerbating underlying health conditions.
  • Under a high emissions scenario, extreme heat days over 35C are projected to increase five-fold in Western Sydney, to a staggering 46 days of extreme heat (over 35C) per year by 2090, which is within the lifetimes of young people living today.
  • However, state and federal government action in line with international efforts to curb rising emissions could help limit the number of extreme heat days to less than 17 days per year.

“Western Sydney already has a serious problem with extreme heat. This will only be exacerbated as global warming drives up the frequency and intensity of extreme heat events,” said Richie Merzian, Climate & Energy Program Director at The Australia Institute.

“Heatwaves are already the biggest killer of all natural disasters in Australia. If these increases are allowed to occur, kids in Penrith today could see dangerouly hot days quadruple by the time they retire.

“Fortunately this is not inevitable. CSIRO projections show that if we take action and reduce emissions in line with the Paris Agreement, we can avoid most of these heat impacts,” Mr Merzian said.

“People we speak to want greener suburbs, homes that are safe and stay cool in the heat, and support for our most vulnerable residents. Extreme heat is a public health emergency and increasing temperatures will put even more people at risk,” said Emma Bacon, Executive Director of Sweltering Cities.

“Not all communities feel extreme heat the same. Many people worry about whether they can afford to turn on the aircon because they’re concerned about electricity bills, or are forced to find relief in shopping centres. Many workers sweat it out at work under heavy PPE, or struggle to teach or learn in hot classrooms,” Ms Bacon said.

The new Australia Institute report ‘HeatWatch: Extreme Heat in Western Sydney’ by Hannah Melville-Rea and Rhiannon Verschuer can be found here.

Open letter: NSW needs to be more ambitious to reduce extreme heat

MEDIA RELEASE: Experts, community leaders, local government leaders and NGOs call for more ambition in NSW to tackle urban heat emergency

November 3rd 2021

Experts, community leaders, local government leaders and civil society have signed onto an open letter calling for the NSW Government to lead Australia in reducing the impacts of extreme heat on our communities and building climate change resilient cities. Over 20 experts, leaders and organisations have signed onto the open letter to the NSW Premier, Planning Minister and Minister for Western Sydney that is being launched publicly on today. 

“The current Design and Place State Environmental Planning Policy review is a huge opportunity to be as ambitious as possible for more energy efficient homes and more liveable and equitable communities,” said Sweltering Cities Executive Director Emma Bacon. 

“People in our hottest suburbs are dreading the summer. They’re anxious about how they can stay safe with their families during heatwaves, how they’ll pay electricity bills for cooling, and how they’ll be able to work in the baking heat of summer. 

“Sweltering Cities has worked with experts, leaders and organisations who all support more ambitious action to reduce urban heat in NSW to develop this letter. We believe that NSW can be more ambitious in reducing urban heat, delivering climate mitigation and adaptation, and supporting communities in our sweltering suburbs.”

“We need to stop building urban heat islands and commit to higher standards for healthier, greener, more sustainable suburbs. The next few years must be transformational years for reducing extreme heat in NSW.

“Today we’re writing to the NSW Premier, Planning Minister and Minister for Western Sydney asking for them to meet with a delegation of signatories to discuss the urgent need to build more climate resilient cities and consult with the community for local solutions to extreme heat.” said Ms Bacon. 

Barry Calvert, President of the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils said: 

“Heat impacts all parts of our city – heath, energy networks, transport, telecommunications, economy, worker productivity and our environment – and Western Sydney is suffering the worst effects. WSROC has been working with councils on guidance for planning cooler suburbs, community heat preparedness, and extreme heat management, but we need the state government on board to take the next steps.”

Dr Kim Loo, Riverstone GP and member of the NSW Australian Medical Association Council said: 

“I can see the impact of extreme heat on the health of my patients. Increasing inequality is deepening the health divide in Australia. Too often health is a distant consideration when we’re developing planning, energy or infrastructure policies. The social and environmental determinants of health can be addressed through better policies that prioritise community safety and climate action.”

Heatwaves aren’t a day at the beach: heat related illness and resources

Heat waves and extreme heat can cause heat related illnesses from heat rashes to heat stroke. Existing medical conditions can be exacerbated by heat include heat disease, diabetes, respiratory or circulatory illnesses or mental illnesses. There is lots of information about how heat impacts our health. We’ve collected some resources for you here:

Top image created by the Climate Commission.