That's when people start to die
This extreme temperature of 47°C is definitely on the cards unless we see the careful development of green areas in the new suburbs of the south-west growth area – as this research shows.
Current research tells us how important it is for our suburbs to have parks, trees and water bodies to keep temperatures cooler during the day and in the evening.
But they're not just good for those super hot days. Parks, trees and water courses help at the other end of the extreme scale - floods.
Last year when a big east coast low hit Sydney, Picton’s main street was inundated by a flood that cost that small town millions and damaged local businesses. Research tells us Australia can expect plenty more flash flooding events like that and heavy downpours not just from east coast lows but from summer thunderstorms as well.
It turns out, after talking to researchers specialising in flood events in urban areas at last week’s Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society’s annual conference, the hard surfaces we find in urban drainage systems make floods worse. They increase the power, speed and damage of these events.
The solution? Once again its parks and green areas that soften the impact, reduce water levels quickest, improve drainage and diminish the damage caused by flooding.
And there are other bonuses. As Harrington Park and a host of other leafy suburbs filled with parks right across Sydney show - parks and green areas significantly bolster land and house values.
So it bothers me that parks and water bodies do not seem to be a significant part of many of the new suburbs springing up in the south-west growth area.
It also bothers me that when I go to Camden Council’s website and do a search for “extreme weather”, “climate” or “global warming” I get very few hits – mostly single words in other documents - and not one single report or study on the impacts of extreme weather and how it may change in Camden with climate change. That research is out there and regional information can be found at CSIRO and through the NSW and ACT NARCliM climate model.
Where is Camden Council’s planning strategy to adapt to the expected increase in extreme weather events?
Where is a document highlighting the importance of parks and water bodies because of their key role in reducing the impact of extreme weather events? It seems when parks are mentioned its just about amenity and green areas not the important role they play to our health and infrastructure.
And it is not like the extreme events produced by climate change are a problem for tomorrow. It’s a problem with direct impacts now.
Heatwave records in Australia are now being broken at a rate of 12:1 compared to cold records – a clear and well-predicted sign of human caused climate change.
That additional heat can be fatal for people with heart, renal (kidney) and lung conditions. In Melbourne the 2009 heatwave that preceded the Black Saturday bushfires killed 374 people – far more than the 129 killed by the fires themselves. In fact the coroner had so many bodies before the fire that the overflow had to be stored in universities, hospitals and funeral parlours.
If you want to get a real sense of how big heatwave impacts can be, the European heatwave of 2003 killed nearly 20,000 people alone in France and 60,000 right across Europe. The Moscow heatwave of 2011 killed 11,000 people.
At the same time recent research shows that the strongest east coast lows - which regularly dump more rain on the Sydney catchment than any other single weather event - may increase in intensity though not in number. That means the strongest events will be even stronger. We all saw what last year’s east coast low did to Sydney’s beaches and Picton’s main street.
That is why I was surprised at last week’s council meeting when the ALP councillors voted to support a subdivision on flood prone land. The potential maximum flood-level, needs to be seriously considered by councillors in light of how extreme events are changing. When the Liberal vote led to the rejection of the subdivision at Araluen Pl, Camden South (ORD02), I thought it was a good decision. (I’m not so sure about the decision for a residential development beside a quarry at Spring Farm, but that’s a story for another day).
But as extreme weather events grow more frequent, it is time Camden Council created a public document that focuses on the council’s plans for adapting to climate change.
Within that document there needs to be a specific recommendation that new suburbs must have enough area set aside for parkland, trees and water bodies to reduce urban heat and improve flood drainage.
If the document exists, it needs to be given more prominence. If it doesn’t, Camden Council and its officers have a responsibility to our growing community to create a new document that shows clear processes that can help us adapt to the extreme events we are already experiencing.
It's vital part of any plan for the future, especially when more than 300,000 residents and new businesses intend to call our region home.