Thirty of Australia’s leading minds from Defence, academia, policy think tanks and other government bodies have joined together for discussions over the last two days for Australia’s first climate security summit.
The roundtable members wrestled with many issues of fundamental importance to Australia’s national security including the risks posed by climate change to geopolitical stability, the challenges faced by the Australian Defence Force in providing humanitarian assistance in response to more frequent and extreme severe weather events and how the ADF can best prepare for the considerable strategic risk and uncertainty posed by climate change.
Increasing temperatures, rising sea levels, changing rainfall patterns and more frequent and severe extreme weather events are heightening the risk of conflict and increasing the displacement of people.
One of the primary areas of discussion was the steps that need to be taken to align Australia’s defence preparedness with allies such as the US and UK.
Summit co-chairs, former ADF chief Admiral Chris Barrie (Ret.) and the Climate Council’s Professor Will Steffen, joined by key summit participants Rear Admiral David Titley (Ret.) and Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti (Ret.), issued the following co- chair statement:
1. The Australian Government should take immediate and significant steps to mainstream climate change into defence planning.
- Governments in the UK and US have taken significant legislative and strategic steps to ensure that climate change is integrated into defence planning. The US has mandated that their military forces address the risks of climate change as a routine part of all mission planning.
- In Australia, comparatively less action is being taken by the Government to ensure that the ADF is prepared for the security risks posed by climate change.
- The upcoming Australian Defence white paper must address the security implications posed by a changing climate.
- Security is a whole of government task and therefore the challenge needs to be viewed more broadly than the ADF.
2. Climate change is exacerbating tensions in areas with existing global instability, increasing the risk of conflict and changing the nature of ADF missions.
- The impacts of climate change can exacerbate other stresses, like poverty, economic shocks and unstable institutions, to make crises worse, particularly in countries with poor governance or existing instability.
- For instance, increasing extreme weather events can reduce the availability of food. Extreme weather and water scarcity contributed to soaring food prices, which saw food riots erupt across Africa and the Middle East in 2008. Rising food prices in 2011 have also been identified as one of the factors that destabilised the Middle East, leading, for example, to the “Arab Spring”.
3. The Australian Defence Force is already under pressure from climate change.
- Australia and the Asia-Pacific region are particularly vulnerable to climate change. The ADF is increasingly called upon to deliver humanitarian assistance in response to the rise in the frequency and severity of extreme weather events and their impacts both at home and in the region. In serious cases the ADF coordinates with civilian disaster relief organisations in Australia and with a range of military and civilian organization in other countries to provide assistance.
- Extreme weather could also affect the ADF’s readiness and capability by disabling critical military and civilian infrastructure at times when rapid mobilisation is needed. Defence property (military bases) are also at risk from sea- level rise and extreme weather.
- Rising temperatures and more frequent and intense heatwaves have implications for the health of Australia’s military personnel when undertaking training and conducting military exercises.
4. Limiting the security consequences of a changing climate requires strong action by countries like Australia.
- Global emissions must start tracking strongly downward this decade if there is to be a chance of keeping the warming of the planet to below 2°C, and thereby limit the severity of climate change and its implications for security.
- The upcoming COP21 conference in Paris is a crucial turning point that must build momentum towards rapid and deep decarbonisation of the global economy over the coming decades.
- We must adapt to the inevitable changes that are already occurring while working hard to minimise the long-term changes, some of which could be massive, abrupt and disruptive.
The bottom line is clear and compelling: Climate change is far more than “just” an environmental issue; it fundamentally changes our relationship with food and water, which is essential for our well-being and for the viability of nearly all other forms of life. We have collectively built and optimized all of human civilization for the relatively stable climate that has existed for thousands of years, starting at the end of the last ice age. That climate is now changing rapidly.
As noted by Brigadier-General King (Ret), the Chief Academic Officer at the US Army’s Command and General Staff College “[Climate change] is like getting embroiled in a war that lasts 100 years….There is no exit-strategy.”
This statement is signed by the Australian Climate Security Summit co-chairs:
Professor Will Steffen
Admiral Chris Barrie (Ret.)