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Why we need inclusive action when tackling climate change

In the wake of Opposition Leader Peter Dutton’s decision to abandon Australia’s 2030 target to reduce greenhouse emissions by 43 per cent, we look at the intersection of disability and climate change and call for inclusive action.

 

In recent years, the dual crises of climate change and social inequality have become increasingly intertwined, revealing the stark vulnerabilities of marginalised communities. Among these, people with disability often face unique and amplified challenges that demand our urgent attention. Understanding and addressing the intersection of disability and climate change is crucial for creating a truly inclusive and resilient society.


The vulnerability of people with disability to climate change

Climate change exacerbates existing inequalities and people with disability are particularly at risk. Several factors contribute to this heightened vulnerability:


  1. Communication barriers: Emergency information and climate alerts are frequently disseminated in formats that are not accessible to all. For example, individuals with visual or hearing impairments may not receive critical updates in a timely manner, hindering their ability to take protective actions. Others may not understand complex language and instead rely on Plain English or Easy Read communications, neither of which are provided.

  2. Health impacts: Many people with disability have underlying health conditions that can be aggravated by climate-related events such as extreme heat, poor air quality and natural disasters. Access to healthcare and life-sustaining treatments can be disrupted during such events, further endangering lives.

  3. Socioeconomic barriers: People with disability are more likely to experience unemployment, [CP1] [SA2] making it harder to recover from climate-induced disasters. Limited financial resources restrict their ability to rebuild homes, replace lost belongings, or relocate to safer areas.

  4. Mobility and evacuation challenges: During emergencies such as floods and fires, evacuation procedures often fail to accommodate individuals with mobility needs. Places of shelter and refuge may not be fully accessible and transport options may be inadequate, leaving people with disabilities stranded in dangerous situations.


Inclusive climate action: What needs to be done

To effectively address the intersection of disability and climate change, policies and initiatives must be inclusive by design. Here are some key strategies:


  1. Integrating disability into climate policies: Governments and organisations must ensure climate policies explicitly consider the needs of people with disability. This includes incorporating accessibility standards into disaster plans and ensuring all climate action strategies are inclusive.

  2. Accessible communication: Emergency alerts and climate-related information should be provided in multiple formats, including Braille, sign language and Plain English. Using technology, such as mobile apps with accessible features, can also enhance the sending of crucial information.

  3. Community engagement: People with disabilities must be actively involved in the planning and decision-making processes related to climate action. Their lived experiences provide valuable insights into developing effective and inclusive strategies.

  4. Inclusive infrastructure: Building climate-resilient infrastructure must include accessibility considerations. For example, evacuation centres should be equipped with ramps, handrails and accessible bathrooms. Public transportation systems must be designed to accommodate individuals with a range of disabilities.

  5. Economic support and resilience: Providing financial assistance and resources to people with disabilities can enhance their ability to survive, manage and recover from climate impacts. This includes ensuring access to affordable and appropriate housing, healthcare and employment opportunities.


United Nations framework

The UN’s Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction emphasises the importance of disability inclusion in disaster risk management. It encourages members to adopt policies and practices that protect vulnerable populations, including those with disability.


As politicians grapple with how best to tackle this global crisis, we must ensure no one is left behind. By recognising and addressing the unique challenges faced by people with disability, we can create a more inclusive, resilient and equitable future for all.


Inclusive climate action is not just a moral imperative, it is essential for the sustainability and well-being of all Australians.

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