Those who experience economic disadvantage are disproportionately facing issues of climate justice. Particular challenges include housing insecurity as more extreme weather events occur. Incarcerated people are likewise extremely vulnerable to weather impacts and are likely to be collateral damage.

In the international literature on climate change there is an emerging concern that the negative effects of climate change will be disproportionately experienced by those who are economically and socially disadvantaged, further widening the gap between them and more advantaged population groups. However, the relationship between climate change impact and social disadvantage remains little investigated. This study has sought to contribute to this gap by adding to the small body of empirical knowledge of the vulnerability and adaptive capacity of disadvantaged groups in Australia in the face of impending adverse impacts of climate change.

National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, 2013

People on low incomes

Low-income communities already have higher rates of many health conditions, are more exposed to environmental hazards and take longer to bounce back from natural disasters. Low income areas are often predominantly made up of First Nations communities or people of colour.


Recent ABS statistics show a 42% increase in people over 65 paying unaffordable rents in Australia since 2011. This includes 132,301 people whose rent is more than 30% of their income.

Anglicare’s 2023 Rental Affordability Snapshot revealed that just 0.4% of available housing stock in Australia is affordable and appropriate for a single person on an Age Pension.

There are also significant logistical challenges, even for people who aren’t on low income and renting.

  • Landlords are usually unwilling to approve modifications that they make for their own homes, such as insulation and ensuring the house isn’t drafty.
  • Renters are often unable to make changes to their gardens, such as growing trees for shade or food.
  • In many ways renters are denied the ability to self adapt to conditions of extreme heat or cold.

Women without Homes

More low-income women are going to find themselves struggling later in life. High housing costs and low retirement savings mean that they have fewer resources to cope with unexpected shocks such as losing their job or deteriorating health.

Older women—those aged 55 and over— are the fastest growing cohort of homeless Australians between 2011 and 2016, increasing by 31%. It is likely this trend will continue given the ongoing shortage of affordable housing, the ageing population and the significant gap in wealth accumulation between men and women across their lifetimes.

Australian Human Rights Commission

The real rate of female homelessness is likely to be higher than the census suggests, because women tended not to report themselves as homeless unless they are sleeping rough.


Incarcerated people are extremely vulnerable to weather impacts. This will obviously have mental impacts, on top of the physical discomfort, and leads to a higher likelihood of frustration and conflict.

Extreme heat

One example locally is Broome Prison (Yawuru nation). There is no climate control in the general prison area. During the wet season in December, the temperature regularly tops 40 degrees. Daily averages are 34 maximum, and 26 degrees minimum. January and February have humidity at 67%.

In one high-profile case in 2009, Marcia Powell, a 48-year old inmate at Arizona’s Perryville Prison, was baked to death in the midday sun.

When summer is torture

Being left behind

There are numerous horror stories of people being left behind, not cared for and receiving inhumane treatment when extreme weather events have hit, in the United States and elsewhere. Some of the extensive climate impacts on incarcerated people are well outlined in this detailed infographic.

Women in prison