At a Senate Inquiry looking into the implications of climate change for Australia’s national security, experts warned that the country faces potentially “disastrous consequences”, including “revolving” natural disasters and the forced migration of tens of millions of people across the region.
Military and climate experts, including former defence force chief Admiral Chris Barrie (who is now an adjunct professor at the strategic and defence studies centre at the Australian National University) told the Senate Inquiry that Australia’s ability to mitigate the expected impacts of climate change, had been undermined by lack of political fortitude, “Australia’s climate change credentials have suffered from a serious lack of political leadership,” the experts said in a statement.
The Inquiry also heard from other climate experts, who said that the security threats posed by climate change had thus far been underestimated by the Australian Parliament. Others however cautioned against what they referred to as “alarmist” predictions, and said that the focus of any climate change response should be on those most affected by the phenomena, rather than the security concerns of developed countries most able to respond.
Adm. Barrie said that the security threat of climate change was comparable to that posed by nuclear war. “We will suffer great effects from these changes, such as new weather patterns; droughts, sea-level rises and storm surges, because we have substantial urban infrastructure built on the coastal fringe; ravages of more intense and more frequent heatwaves and tropical revolving storms.”
However, the impacts of climate change are most likely to be felt in the Asia-Pacific region, where the effects are predicted to be most severe for the expected 2050 population of seven billion people. Given Australia and New Zealand’s proximity to the region, these projections are also something to be considered. “Historical evidence suggests that under such circumstances mass migration of these people will occur,” said Barrie. “It follows that several tens of millions of people might seek better fortunes in Australia and possibly New Zealand. Our security forces, and all arms of government would be overwhelmed in such a scenario.”
The Australian Defence Force has been examining the potential insecurities caused by climate change for a decade. There is great concern over the vulnerability of military bases to impacts of climate change, as well as the military’s current reliance on fossil fuels.
The Inquiry also heard that climate change has already contributed to conflicts around the world, including in Mali, Yemen and the Arab Spring and civil war in Syria in 2011.