Climate risk to national security

A Department of Defence-funded study at Flinders University is examining climate risk and national security, with a recent spotlight on climate resilience issues in the Indo-Pacific region.

A central conclusion of the study is that Australia will struggle to maintain its national security in the face of climate change unless government departments and agencies are well coordinated and can work collaboratively with neighbouring countries in the Indo-Pacific region.

Effective coordination and collaboration will be needed to respond to the kind of threats climate change poses to Australia’s sovereign borders and territories, and to our existing national security provisions.

Led by Dr Cassandra Star, Associate Professor in Public Policy and Research Theme Leader of Democratic Futures at the College of Business, Government and Law, researchers in the Climate and Sustainability Policy Research (CASPR) Group at Flinders include Dr Peter Tangney, Dr Claire Nettle, Associate Professor Joshua Newman and Associate Professor Beverley Clarke who recently gave an update of their Indo-Pacific study in the Australian Defence Magazine.

Australia’s recent bushfires and our current healthcare crisis have tested the resilience of our governments and communities and demanded coordinated responses at national, state and local levels, they say.

In an age of climate change and other global environmental hazards, the need for whole-of-government coordination is likely to become even greater.

Although it has not yet been a principal focus of climate change planning in Australia, ‘climate security’ is fast becoming an important area of study.

With increasing climate extremes, we can expect communities in vulnerable places, particularly in poorer countries, to become displaced from their homes.

As a result, we expect a greater number of migrants seeking both documented and irregular refuge across the Indo-Pacific region.

‘Climate refugees’ will likely increase tensions within and between neighbouring communities, and place increasing pressure on Australia’s Defence and Border Forces.

Extreme climate hazards (including the increased prevalence of vector-borne diseases) can weaken government authority, particularly in countries with already fragile governance systems or high levels of corruption.

Governments lacking public legitimacy become vulnerable when extreme events intensify socioeconomic inequalities, or compromise food and water security or access to health services.

These pressures can increase the potential for conflict within and between countries. Following climate disasters, we also expect organised crime and terrorist organisations to take advantage of civil unrest, often at the expense of vulnerable communities.

Considering the relative stability of our governance structures, we argue that Australia can and should play a leading role in ensuring the peace and security of the Indo-Pacific region.

Our research highlights the importance of the ADF as a key agency for maintaining climate security and enhancing domestic climate adaptation.

Managing climate security in a strategically coordinated way will demand partnership across many government departments; with our international neighbours like NZ, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea; and with indigenous communities.

Governments should also cooperate with the private sector, especially the insurance industry, and with non-government organisations that assist developing countries in South Asia and the Pacific.

In developing countries, managing long-term risks may be constrained in favour of emergency response, or they may be considered secondary to more immediate concerns for developing public health and education services, the authors warn.

Read the summary article in the Australian Defence Magazine.

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