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Climate Change is a Real Security Concern

By Alexey Muraviev 22 October 2015 News No Comments »

Author: Gavin Briggs

Australia’s five prime ministers in five years is a contrast to the relatively stable leadership enjoyed over that same period by our two key security partners: the United States (US) and United Kingdom (UK). Notwithstanding their own domestic political issues, the US and UK have consistently tackled climate change as the serious security challenge it is posing to be.

The instalment of Australia’s latest prime minister could bode favourably to this nation becoming ready to consider a significant security response towards the long-term challenge of climate change.

Much can be learned from the US and UK approach. They have both acknowledged the significance of climate change on national security and incorporated mitigation and adaptation strategies into key policy documents.

This strategic security issue requires a substantial response from our political leaders, government agencies and institutions.

The soon-to-be released Defence White Paper is most likely to address the matter of climate change however it may fall short in comprehensively mapping future courses of action. At a minimum it will need to calculate the potential impact climate change will have on human security, our region, and importantly, the future role of the Australian Defence Force.

The 2009 and 2013 Defence White Papers dealt with the concept of climate change and acknowledged the effect it would have on the security of Australia and the region. In particular, the 2009 Defence White Paper spoke of climate change as a new security concern yet claimed “large-scale strategic consequences of climate change are not likely to be felt before 2030.”

While the strategic forecasting of that statement has well and truly been challenged by an array of credible scientific findings and assessments, it is a vast improvement on Australia’s Defence 2000: Our Future Force when climate change did not even rate a mention.

Climate change has moved from solely being considered an environmental issue. As it has since undergone ‘securitisation’, it is now placed at the centre of US national security and its policy settings. No longer is it consigned to some third-order security concern. The US lists it firmly alongside other first-order security concerns such as terrorism and preventing the spread of WMDs.

In February this year, President Obama released the US National Security Strategy – 2015 and said “Climate change is an urgent and growing threat to our national security, contributing to increased natural disasters, refugee flows, and conflicts over basic resources like food and water.”
It is a similar position in the UK. When British Prime Minister David Cameron came to power in 2010, he released A Strong Britain in an Age of Uncertainty: The National Security Strategy. Cameron was unequivocal when he stated: “Our security is vulnerable to the effects of climate change and its impact on food and water supply. So the concept of national security in 2010 is very different to what it was ten or twenty, let alone fifty or a hundred years ago.”

In June this year, the Centre for Policy Development released The Longest Conflict: Australia’s Climate Security Challenge. It provided a comprehensive assessment of the long-term security issues facing Australia. The report quoted US academic Dr Chris King, who said: “Western societies are poor at long-term security planning. We are not prepared for a Hundred Year War. And that is the scale and breadth of what climate change presents.”

That statement says much about our relative inability and incomprehension in coming to terms with what lies before us. The security challenges may be compounded by the fact that the strategic consequences of climate change could last well beyond 100 years.

In August, NASA claimed that the world will experience one metre sea-level rises over the next 100-200 years. This is concerning when more than 150 million people live and work within a height of one-metre to current sea levels.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), “more than half of the world’s population lives within 60 kilometres of the sea”. They also note the incidence of weather-related natural disasters has trebled since the 1960s, with a trend towards more storms, surge tides, and flooding.

The consequences of climate change will have an adverse impact on national and regional security, and in particular, human security.
Australia needs to heed the actions of its two most important security partners and deal with climate change as a significant, contemporary security challenge. It needs to be elevated alongside the threat posed by the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the murderous actions of non-state terror groups.
While we may regularly change our leaders, climate change is here to stay.


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