Climate change is a collective responsibility in a Multicultural Australia

06 October 2022
Our work creating inclusive communications campaigns allows us the opportunity to work with inspiring community leaders. None are more inspiring than Victorian Multicultural Honour Roll Inductee Dr Harpreet Singh Kandra. In this guest post, he explores the need for an inclusive response to the threat of climate change. 
Dr Harpreet Singh Kandra
Dr Harpreet Singh Kandra

Our work creating inclusive communications campaigns allows us the opportunity to work with inspiring community leaders. None are more inspiring than Victorian Multicultural Honour Roll Inductee Dr Harpreet Singh Kandra. In this guest post, he explores the need for an inclusive response to the threat of climate change. 

Australia’s multicultural communities must be included in our fight against climate change, if we hope to prevail.

The results of the recent Federal election show that clearly the electorate is expecting more action on climate change, and that policy makers need to understand this well.

And the results of the 2022 ABS census reveals that we are becoming a more culturally diverse nation. The proportion of Australian residents born overseas (first generation) or have a parent born overseas is now 51.5 per cent.

In our fight against the changing climate and its effects, it is imperative to include our “culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD)” communities.

The changing climate will effect everyone, regardless of race, but can CALD communities be involved effectively without our appreciation of how well they understand and own this multifaceted problem? Remember, changing climate will potentially have similar effects on everyone irrespective of their race, just like the pandemic.

To understand how we can set climate change as a priority across communities, I engaged with my network of 30 community leaders from diverse backgrounds: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burma, China, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Serbia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, South Sudan, Vietnam.

Discussions with these well versed CALD community leaders provided insights that could assist in creating a force to fight the climate and of course facilitate adaptation to the changing climate. Most CALD community members relate climate change only to the extreme weather they experience in a season or emergencies like drought or flood. They cannot connect with or visualise what may happen in a few years from now, or the complexity of the problem and/or what the next generation(s) may face.

Community leaders expressed concern that social interactions between within their community focusses mainly on topics such as pandemic, cost of living, politics in their respective countries, education of their kids, their financial sustainability and so on. Climate change and its impacts are seldom debated, and usually only when triggered only by a disaster or an increase in energy or commodity prices. This clearly reflects a reactive piecemeal approach!

Most CALD community leaders felt that understanding of climate change and its impacts in their communities was low to average (2-3 on a scale of 5)! Consequently, these communities have very low understanding of what role they can play in abating climate change. Most think that planting trees is the only doable intervention for mitigation.

Another worrisome aspect is that most communities I spoke with do not understand that we need to adapt to the changing climate, so they need to invest in household water and energy security.

Certainly, food for thought for policy makers and practitioners. But what’s at the root of these observations?

Environment and climate change is not a priority for most first-generation immigrants. For whom time is always a scarce and personal financial security and settling down in a new country often takes precedence. CALD community members don’t see their role in averting climate change and feel they have limited capacity to make a change.

One community leader remarked that some community members think that, since environmental conditions like air and water quality in Australia were far better here than in their parent country, there was no environmental problem to be worried about to begin with!

On the other side of the globe, community members from Kenyan heritage were more informed of the prevalent issues because of the environmental work done by Wangari Muta Maathai, Noble Peace Prize Winner (2004).

Nevertheless, what is promising is that the youth in these communities, as pointed by most of the respondents, are more aware. Unfortunately, they have a limited role to play in the lifestyle decisions of their families, which restricts their ability to bring in desired shifts.

Regardless of the mixed degrees of awareness, interest or ownership, there is unanimous agreement that we need to stimulate our CALD communities about climate change and what role they can play; build a sense of responsibility; and provide them with tools of knowledge to act. The conversations also made it clear that some cultural practices of sharing and resource conservation were worthy of wider replication and community forums can drive action in that direction. One community leader suggested that any recommended lifestyle changes should be discussed with the entire family.

Interestingly, some suggested that community centres such as places of worship can play a big role in stimulating discussions on climate change and become centres to demonstrate interventions to reduce carbon/water and energy footprints. Another opined that working to abate climate change was nothing less than offering a prayer for our future generations.

A community member pointed that new immigrants often live in houses with poor energy efficiency so this needs to be factored in the way rental markets operate currently.

Undoubtedly, integrating multicultural communities in this war on climate change has been ignored on many levels and needs to be addressed. We need to invest more in generating awareness on this pressing subject and partner with our youth to action learnings in respective households and sharing better practices from each other’s household. Remember ‘Child is the father of man’.

In this crusade against uncertain climate ‘United we stand, divided we fall’.


Dr Harpreet Singh Kandra is a research professional, Chartered Engineer and Water engineering and management lecturer at Federation University Australia. A longstanding volunteer, he was a 2019 Australian of the Year for his work in the Cardinia Shire Council and 1st inductee in the Victorian Multicultural Honour Roll in 2022.