Climate Change and Health in the Urban Environment: Adaptation Opportunities in Australian Cities

Urban populations are growing rapidly throughout the Asia-Pacific region. Cities are vulnerable to the health impacts of climate change because of their concentration of people and infrastructure, the physical (geographical, material, and structural) attributes of the built environment, and the ecological interdependence with the urban ecosystem. Australia is one of the most highly urbanized countries in the region and its already variable climate is set to become hotter and drier with climate change. Climate change in Australia is expected to increase morbidity and mortality from thermal stress, bacterial gastroenteritis, vector-borne disease, air pollution, flooding, and bushfires. The cost and availability of fresh water, food, and energy will also likely be affected. The more vulnerable urban populations, including the elderly, socioeconomically disadvantaged groups, and those with underlying chronic disease, will be most affected. Adaptation strategies need to address this underlying burden of disease and inequity as well as implement broad structural changes to building codes and urban design, and infrastructure capacity. In doing so, cities provide opportunities to realize “co-benefits” for health (eg, from increased levels of physical activity and improved air quality). With evidence that climate change is underway, the need for cities to be a focus in the development of climate adaptation strategies is becoming more urgent.