As the Australian Senate launches an inquiry into the national security ramifications of climate change, a report released on Wednesday last week has warned that global warming will cause increasingly regular and severe humanitarian crises across the Asia-Pacific.
Disaster Alley, written by the Breakthrough Centre for Climate Restoration, said that climate change could potentially displace tens of millions from swamped cities, drive fragile states to failure, cause intractable political instability and spark military conflict.
Australia’s political and corporate leaders, by refusing to accept the need for urgent climate action now, are “putting the Australian community in extreme danger,” report coauthor Ian Dunlop said.
“Global warming will drive increasingly severe humanitarian crises, forced migration, political instability and conflict. The Asia-Pacific region, including Australia, is considered to be ‘disaster alley’ where some of the worst impacts will be experienced,” the report said.
“Australia’s political, bureaucratic and corporate leaders are abrogating their fiduciary responsibilities to safeguard the people and their future well-being. They are ill-prepared for the real risks of climate change at home and abroad,” it said.
The senate on Friday last week passed a motion for an inquiry into the threats and long-term risks posed by climate change to national and international security, and Australia’s readiness to mitigate and respond to climate-related crises in the region.
Dunlop, a former chairman of the Australian Coal Association and chief executive of the Australian Institute of Company Directors, said the security effects of climate change were not far-distant future concerns, but happening now.
The ongoing Syrian civil war — which has killed 450,000 people and forced about 5.5 million people to flee the nation over six years of conflict — is attributed, in significant part, to an extended drought, exacerbated by climate change, that left millions of people without food or livelihoods.
“Once these effects start, then they unfold right the way through the system as an accelerant,” Dunlop said. “Natural disasters lead to social pressures, to increasing conflicts, competing claims for scarce resources. These fuel extremist positions, which could be religious, tribal or political, which can lead to mass migrations. We are going to see a lot of people start moving — in our region especially — and to think we stop that by finessing things like ‘stop the boats,’ is frankly naive.”
The global nature of the climate change challenge should force nations to cooperate, Dunlop said.
“Climate change has to become seen as a reason for far greater levels of global cooperation than we’ve seen before. If we don’t see it that way, then we’re going to be in big trouble. This problem is bigger than any of us, it’s bigger than any nation-state, any political party,” he said. “We’re going to be steamrolled by this stuff unless we take serious action now.”
The security implications of climate change have been identified by think tanks, governments and militaries worldwide.
A decade ago, Alan Dupont and Graeme Pearman wrote for the Lowy Institute that the security threat posed by climate change had been largely ignored and seriously underestimated.
In 2013, then-US Pacific Command commander Admiral Samuel Locklear, said the greatest long-term threat in the Asia-Pacific was not military ambitions of another state or the threat of nuclear weapons, but climate change.
In 2015, the US Department of Defense commissioned a report examining the security implications of disrupted climate, and US Secretary of Defense James Mattis has said climate change is a clear and current threat to US troops.
Australia’s defense white paper from last year said climate change would contribute to state fragility, which it identified as one of the six key drivers that are to “shape the development of Australia’s security environment to 2035.”
“Climate change will be a major challenge for countries in Australia’s immediate region. Climate change will see higher temperatures, increased sea-level rise and will increase the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. These effects will exacerbate the challenges of population growth and environmental degradation, and will contribute to food shortages and undermine economic development,” it said.
“Instability in our immediate region could have strategic consequences for Australia should it lead to increasing influence by actors from outside the region with interests inimical to ours. It is crucial that Australia help support the development of national resilience in the region to reduce the likelihood of instability,” it added.
The senate inquiry into the national security threats of climate change is to report in December, but the issue remains politically charged.
Australian Greens Senator Scott Ludlam, in putting the motion before the senate, said the government had failed to apprehend the global security risk posed by climate change.
“As one of the highest per-capita emitters on the planet, Australia must play a constructive role as our region responds to climate change. The government won’t listen to the scientists, and it won’t listen to the renewable energy sector. Maybe it will listen to defense and security experts and the personnel on the front line,” he said.
However, Assistant Minister to the Australian Prime Minister James McGrath said the inquiry was unnecessary.
He told the senate a defense climate security adviser had been established within the office of the vice chief of the Australian Defence Force, as well as an environmental planning and advisory cell within headquarters joint operations command.
Defense is also represented at the government’s disaster and climate resilience reference group, he added.
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