Australia And Climate Change Security Threat

Australia is not accepting the need for urgent action on climate change, according to the report “Disaster Alley” released by the Breakthrough, the National Centre for Climate Restoration in June. The release of this report occurred not long after the Senate launched an inquiry into the implications of climate change for Australia’s national security.  The report outlines how climate change has the potential to displace tens of millions of people, put fragile states at further risk of failure, cause political instability and spark conflict. The report is named “Disaster Alley,” as that is how the Asia Pacific region is referred to in this context, inclusive of Australia, as this will be the region where some of the worse impacts of climate change will be felt. Co-Author of the report Ian Dunlop argues that by refusing to act on climate change now, Australia’s leaders are “putting the Australian community in extreme danger.” Evidence of climate change leading to political instability and conflict can already be seen today. The continuance of the Syrian civil war is attributed in large part to an extended drought in the region, which has been intensified by climate change. “Once these effects start, then they unfold right the way through the system as an accelerant… 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 naïve,” stated Dunlop. Admiral Samuel Locklear, former commander of the United States Pacific Command (PACOM) has stated that it climate change is the biggest security threat in the region.

As a country with the highest rates of emission per capita, Australia is not taking enough action on climate change, which poses a huge security risk to not only the nation, but other countries in the Asia-Pacific region. Australia has currently set is emissions reduction target at 26-28 percent by 2030, which is far below global standards. The Climate Change Authority (CCA) recommended target is 40-60 percent as a fair contribution to keeping global warming below the 2 degrees Celsius threshold. Climate Action Tracker has criticized the Australian government, saying that “Australia’s current policies will fall well short of meeting” its Paris agreement target, that the Emissions Reduction Fund “does not set Australia on a path that would meet its targets,” and “without accelerating climate action and additional policies, Australia will miss its 2030 target by a large margin.” Members of parliament, such as Liberal National Party members Fiona Nash and George Brandis, believe that the science on climate change is ‘not settled.’ Australia is really lagging behind on its responsibility to reduce emissions.

Australia absolutely needs to initiate serious action on climate change if we are to prevent security risks and humanitarian disasters in our region. Australia’s 2016 defence white paper stated that “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.”

The “Disaster Alley” report argues that “Australia’s political, bureaucratic and corporate leaders are abrogating their fiduciary responsibilities to safeguard the people and their future well-being.” In order to safeguard the Australian people and their future wellbeing, the Australian government must make climate change action a pillar of both its foreign policy and its defence strategy. The Asian region could see as many as 150 million climate refugees according to Professor Alan Dupont of the Lowy Institute for International Policy. Australia may take more action in reducing carbon emissions to mitigate the consequences of global warming and the instability that will arise because of it. The report recommends that a ‘climate and conflict task-force’ be established to “develop risk-management techniques and policy-making methodologies appropriate to the challenge.” This is an essential step as, Australia as a nation needs to be prepared for the long term effects that climate change will have in our region and do all it can to mitigate those consequences. Let us hope that the submissions to the Senate inquiry will translate into some tangible outcome that will help Australia taking the front foot in tackling climate change.