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Localising climate change: heatwave responses in urban households

Isabel Clare Cornes (School of Geography, Faculty of Science, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia)
Brian Cook (School of Geography, Faculty of Science, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia)

Disaster Prevention and Management

ISSN: 0965-3562

Article publication date: 9 March 2018

Issue publication date: 23 March 2018




The purpose of this paper is to provide empirical insights into urban household perceptions and (in)action towards the perceived impacts of climate change, based on a case study in Kensington, Victoria, Australia. This case utilises households as sites of active agency, rather than as passive recipients of climate change or associated governance.


This research trialled an approach to engaging a community in the context of disaster risk reduction (DRR). It involved a two-stage quantitative door-knocking survey (reported elsewhere), followed by a qualitative interview with interested households. In total, 76 quantitative surveys contextualise 15 qualitative interviews, which are the focus of this analysis. The findings are presented comparatively alongside the current literature.


Heatwaves are understood to be the most concerning hazard for the households in this sample who associate their increasing frequency and severity with climate change. However, subsequent (in)action is shown to be situated within the complexities of day-to-day activities and concerns. While respondents did not consider themselves to have “expert” knowledge on climate change, or consider their actions to be a direct response to climate change, most had undertaken actions resulting from experience with heatwaves. These findings suggest there may be an under-representation of DRR, which includes climate change adaptation actions, within the existing research.

Research limitations/implications

While this sample justifies the arguments and conclusions, it is not a representative sample and therefore requires follow-up. It does however challenge traditional approaches to risk management, which focus on awareness raising and education. The research highlights the unique contexts in which households perceive and act on risk, and the need for risk “experts” to consider such contexts.


This research provides empirical evidence of urban household responses to perceived climate change-related risk, an often-neglected dimension of heatwave and adaptation studies in Australia. The findings also suggest promise for the methodological approach.



This research was supported by the University of Melbourne Engagement Grant. The authors would like to thank the residents of Kensington for giving their time to this research, and the Victoria State Emergency Service for their support. The authors would also like to thank Learning Environments at the University of Melbourne for their creation and ongoing work with the CEDRR website. The authors are grateful for the valuable and detailed feedback from the two anonymous reviewers.


Cornes, I.C. and Cook, B. (2018), "Localising climate change: heatwave responses in urban households", Disaster Prevention and Management, Vol. 27 No. 2, pp. 159-174.



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