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Did you know shelter and climate change are related?

How our mission for housing equality positively impacts the environment 

By Jenny Ringland
Green + Simple 
Of all the issues to care about in the world, the climate crisis is undeniably the most alarming to ever face humanity. 
What you might not know, (or might not have thought about much) of climate change and its effects – pandemics, extreme weather events and global warming – is the impact is not universally felt. It’s an issue we all have to deal with, but it impacts people and communities around the world in dramatically different ways.

Habitat for Humanity International is driven by the vision of a world where everyone has a decent place to live. Today we are faced with an unprecedented global housing challenge, which is further exacerbated by an unprecedented climate challenge. In the more than 70 countries around the world where we work, climate change is having far-reaching impacts.

The millions of families Habitat partners with are often among the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, which include increasingly common and severe weather events such as hurricanes, floods, wildfires, tornadoes and droughts.

Each year on the first Monday of October the United Nations acknowledges World Habitat Day, to reflect on the state of our habitats and on the basic human right to adequate shelter.

“The day is intended to raise a voice and remind everybody that 1.6 billion people in the world lack access to safe shelter,’’ says Habitat For Humanity Australia CEO Nicole Stanmore.

This year’s theme was about accelerating urban action for a carbon-free world.
In other words, this year the UN focussed more than ever on the climate crisis and its intersectional relationship with housing inequality.

“It’s about highlighting the effects of climate change, because when you think about cities, they produce 70 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions, and the reason they produce so much is because of construction of buildings and housing and the related energy consumption, waste management and transport,’’ says Nicole.

It’s also about highlighting that while housing inequality exists, the climate crisis can’t be solved.
“If people’s housing needs are not met, they can’t even think about the next step, which is reducing emissions. I think as human beings we have a very important role to make sure that people have access to safe and affordable housing,’’ says Nicole.

“The World Bank talks about 30 million people being displaced in the last couple of years because of climate change. So that’s 30 million additional people that don’t have safe housing. But with rising sea levels, with the prevalence of bush fires, tsunamis, cyclones, we know that number will rise. The lack of housing is just going to be compounded and we know that climate refugees will continue to be displaced.”

Which is where Habitat for Humanity comes in. In 2020, in spite of COVID we successfully built 5 million houses in the Asia Pacific region. And although our international volunteer program is currently on hold until the borders reopen, there are local projects opening up for volunteers, and there is always the option of donating.

“Those volunteering activities, which have opened up again in QLD and are about to open up in Sydney, are to repair and paint crisis accommodation for women suffering domestic violence or to help survivors of bushfire, help them in their recovery,’’ says Nicole.

The main connector between what we do and addressing the climate crisis is our advocacy for sustainable construction methods, which when multiplied on the large scale in which they roll out shelter has a profound impact.
“We believe that housing can be affordable and that it also can be sustainable, and that we all have a part to play in that,’’ says Nicole.

In fact according to a UN environment programme report “pandemic recovery packages provide an opportunity to push deep building renovation and performance standards for newly constructed buildings, and rapidly cut emissions.”
It goes on to say: “Green recovery packages can provide the spark that will get us moving rapidly in the right direction (of a carbon positive world),”

“Moving the buildings and construction sector onto a low-carbon pathway will slow climate change and deliver strong economic recovery benefits, so it should be a clear priority for all governments.”

Habitat for Humanity’s work continues around Australia, through its home building and bushfire recovery programs, and in more than 70 countries around the world