The Sydney suburbs set to cop record-breaking extreme heat

·Environment Editor
·5-min read

Extreme heat is set to intensify across Sydney’s western suburbs, with a five-fold increase in days above 35 degrees expected by 2050.

Modelling from the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology was analysed by climate researchers at the Australia Institute think tank to better understand what’s in store for the region's 12 federal electorates.

At 58 days a year, they found Penrith, which is located in the seat of Lindsay, could have the highest number of days exceeding 35 degrees.

Sydney's west is set to be worse affected by heatwaves than the affluent east. Source: Getty
Sydney's west is set to be worse affected by heatwaves than the affluent east. Source: Getty

With heatwaves already killing more Australians every year than any other natural disaster, Australia Institute’s Richie Merzian is concerned about worsening health implications.

“What you find with heatwaves is that deaths can last few days; they don't just come in one hit,” he told Yahoo News Australia.

“What happens when homes don't cool overnight is that you don't have any respite from the heat.

“When we have these concrete jungles that we live in, that aren't built for heat, that don't have any real insulation, that don't have the right cooling systems, is you see these numbers rise up.

“It's a dangerous situation, especially when you have an ageing population.”

Climate change set to impact poor more than wealthy

As climate change continues to impact the country, it will be those belonging to wealthier families that are more able to mitigate the impact of extreme weather.

That’s not good news for Sydney’s west, where incomes are on average lower than those in the east.

“If you live on the coast, and you're worried about sea level rise, you could probably afford to sell your place and find somewhere else,” Mr Merzian said.

“If you live in an apartment, in an area that's already as affordable as you can find, and you're just not sure if you have $4000 to buy an aircon, or to run it, then you're in a really tough position.”

New generations will experience fewer extreme weather days than those who preceded them. Source: Australia Institute / Getty
New generations will experience fewer extreme weather days than those who preceded them. Source: Australia Institute / Getty

The research also found because of limited life expectancy, baby boomers are likely to experience less extreme weather than children born today.

Long after they are dead, across the whole of western Sydney there will be an estimated 46 days of temperatures above 35 degrees by 2090 if more isn't done to tackle climate change.

Why Sydney's west is heating up faster than the east

Irresponsible development and poor government regulations mean parts of western Sydney are set to absorb heat faster than other parts of Australia.

Parts of the region are already experiencing temperatures between eight and 10 degrees higher than in the east.

While the Blue Mountains are known to subdue the impact of coast breezes and trap heat, many suburbs also lack the tree canopy needed to counter a phenomena known as the Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect.

Cities particularly susceptible to UHI contain an abundance of dark surfaces like concrete, asphalt and roofing, which absorb solar radiation, hold its heat, and increase a region’s temperature.

Residents turning to shopping centre air conditioning to combat power bill cost

With electricity bills generally higher in the west, researchers found people are already struggling to afford air conditioning.

A survey of 700 people in the region by community organisation Sweltering Cities partnered with Australia Institute found a large number of people had to venture into shopping centres to keep cool.

Researchers also found over 92 per cent of residents want politicians to develop policies to deal with extreme heat.

Mr Merzian has criticised all levels of government for failing to address the issue, singling out the Commonwealth for “not taking climate adaption seriously”.

“We don't have a national adaptation plan, we don’t have a plan for how to deal with these increasing risks in Australia,” he said.

“They’ve left local councils and state governments to figure out how to get by amounts, and that’s why you end up with these ad hoc approaches.”

Governments must do more to keep residents safe from heat waves

Extreme heat, Mr Merzian notes, is not confined to Western Sydney, with Western Australia’s temperature records making global headlines after they toppled 50 degrees.

“Extreme heat is going to be a problem right across the country, and when you couple it with humidity, you can get quite dangerous conditions,” he said.

“We pick Western Sydney, because it's one of the most populated corners of the country and it’s in a heat trap area.

“Unfortunately it doesn't seem to have really sunk in in terms of planning and what we need to keep people safe.”

Call for stronger action to tackle climate change

Despite the horror predictions, this future forecast is not inevitable.

Modelling found that if the federal and state governments take climate change seriously and reduce emissions to 1.5 degrees of global heating, the number of extreme days could fall to no more than 17 a year.

Warning the Commonwealth has not updated its 2030 emissions target for seven years, they said the government must do more to protect its citizens.

"We need stronger climate targets in the short term, and from there, we need to actually lead in telling others to do more as well," Mr Merzian said.

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