Six in 10 young Aussies worry about climate change, many experience extreme weather events first-han

Six in 10 young Aussies worry about climate change, many experience extreme weather events first-hand

17 April 2024

Young people in Australia are experiencing first-hand the "profound and distressing" impacts of extreme weather events and six in 10 are worried about climate change, a new Orygen and Mission Australia report has found.   

Analysis of data from the 2023 Mission Australia Youth Survey showed that in the past year, more than one in 10 young people in Australia (13 per cent) had been personally impacted by floods, bushfires, landslides, destructive storms or heavy rain, droughts and other extreme events.  

Orygen Senior Biostatistician and Environmental Epidemiologist Dr Caroline Gao said these climate events were causing an array of adverse outcomes.  

"The impacts are profound and distressing. They range from impacts on health and wellbeing to educational interruptions, housing issues, financial hardship, barriers to social engagement and trouble accessing essential services,” Dr Gao said.  

In line with last year’s findings, the report found that 60 per cent of those surveyed had some level of concern about climate change, with just over 20 per cent being ‘very’ or ’extremely’ concerned. 

Dr Gao said young people were calling for direct involvement in developing climate disaster response policies and practices.  

“This report is a call to action for policymakers, communities, and organisations to come together to safeguard the mental health and wellbeing of Australia’s young people in the face of climate change,” Dr Gao said. 

“As extreme weather events continue to rise in frequency and intensity, it is imperative that we listen to the voices of young people, understand their concerns, and take decisive action to support their wellbeing and future.” 

The findings were based on the survey responses of 19,501 Australian young people aged 15–19 years.   

Young people impacted by extreme weather events reported higher levels of psychological distress, with approximately 30 per cent experiencing such distress, compared to 24 per cent among those not impacted by extreme weather events.   

“It is particularly concerning that adversities were disproportionately faced by vulnerable groups, including First Nations young people, those in lower socioeconomic areas, and individuals with disabilities,” Dr Gao said.  

One 16-year-old female respondent who experienced an extreme weather event in New South Wales said: “online school reminded me of lockdown which isn't a time I look too fondly back on, so I was affected mentally by that … [We] were isolated from the rest of the world, trapped”.  

A 17-year-old female from Queensland, said: “the floods were very stressful as it got really close to my house. There were financial worries which impacted my mental health. School was closed for a while.”  

Despite facing challenges from extreme weather events, young people were able to identify a variety of resources and supports that helped them cope with their aftermath, such as: better cooperation across the community; receiving assistance from family, friends and non-profit organisations; technology to stay connected; and their own personal coping strategies.  

The report called for a multi-faceted approach to policy reform, emphasising the importance of engaging young people in disaster recovery planning and implementation.   

The report’s recommendations were to:   

  • engage young people in the development of future disaster recovery strategies, planning and implementation;  
  • ensure access to housing and financial supports;  
  • increase mental health support for impacted communities; 
  • enhance capacity building for trauma-informed responses in local mental health workforce;  
  • extend local workforce supporting young people;
  • and  enhance of disaster resilience and climate change education.  

“Our findings illustrate the urgent need for comprehensive strategies that not only address the immediate aftermath of extreme weather events but also bolster long-term resilience and support for young people,” Dr Gao said.   

Mission Australia Executive of Practice, Evidence and Impact, Marion Bennett, said young people across Australia spoke up about how climate change and the rise in extreme weather took a toll on various aspects of their lives. 

“Our report reveals that young people in Australia whose home or community were impacted by climate disasters, particularly those in lower socio-economic areas, experienced heightened psychological distress and greater financial pressures and housing instability. This echoes what our frontline staff at Mission Australia see among the vulnerable young people we support in our community services and housing across the country,” Bennett said. 

"Young voices resonate with a clear message: they demand tangible measures to combat the impacts of climate change, while urging Australia to step up and mitigate the harm they endure.  

"We call on governments to strengthen support systems, extend homelessness and housing assistance as well as financial aid, particularly in the aftermath of natural disasters. Immediate post-disaster housing, easily accessible financial assistance, better access to rental subsidy programs and tailored youth housing options like Youth Foyers are crucial.” 

Bennett added that governments must also ensure that mental health services were more accessible to all young people across Australia.  

“Most importantly, decision makers should work hand-in-hand with young people to come up with solutions that address their specific concerns about climate-induced mental health challenges, housing instability and financial uncertainty,” Bennett said. 

The full report is available for download here.