“Missing in Action”: Former Australian security leaders highlight climate-related security threats; call for rapid decarbonisation

A new report released yesterday by the Australian Security Leaders Climate Group calls on the Australian Government to “prevent devastating climate impacts by mobilising all resources necessary to reach zero emissions as fast as possible,” starting with a comprehensive Whole-of-Nation Climate and Security Risk Assessment.

Missing in Action: Responding to Australia’s climate & security failure, lays out a Climate-Security Risk Action Plan for Australia based on four themes: demonstrating leadership, assessing climate risks, coordination and cooperation across government, and acting and investing with urgency.

The impacts of climate change on security have been well documented: climate-fueled water and food insecurity contributed to armed conflicts in Syria, the Maghreb and the Sahel. The Arab Spring occurred after the spot price for wheat tripled due to reduced wheat supply in Russia and China following extreme climate events. Recent commentary has also highlighted climate-related food and water issues in Afghanistan that have contributed to insecurity in the region over recent decades.

Deepening IMCCS Partnerships Down Under

The International Military Council on Climate and Security is pleased to welcome the Australian Security Policy Institute’s Climate and Security Policy Centre as an institutional partner. Led by Dr. Robert Glasser, the objectives of the ASPI Climate and Security Policy Centre include: evaluating the impact climate change will have on security in the Indo-Pacific region; developing practical, evidence-based policy recommendations and interventions to reduce climate change risks; increasing Australian and regional expertise, understanding and public awareness of the links between climate change and national security, and identifying the implications of these links for key Australian government stakeholders. 

Australia’s Defence Chief: Climate Change a National Security Threat

By Marc Kodack

A recent article published in The Telegraph summarizes the text of a prepared speech by Australia’s Defence Force Chief, General Angus Campbell, which was described as “signed off by all of Defence, including the Chief of the Defence Force, as their official views… on climate change as a national security threat.” The speech was given at an invitation-only event in Australia; thus, it is unclear if the text was presented only as written. In the speech, a reference is made to Australia sending more military personnel to assist with climate-related disasters, both domestic and international, than it had at any one time in Afghanistan to conduct military operations. The speech states that Australia is in “the most natural disaster-prone region in the world” and that “climate change is predicted to make disasters more extreme and more common.” It also warns that the Federal Government’s actions on climate change could “affect relationships with Pacific island nations, who have repeatedly called on Australia to do more to reduce carbon emissions.” In that context, it warns of China filling the gap in leadership left by Australian policy, stating:

IMCCS Leaders in New Australian Documentary on Climate and Security

Breakthrough, an independent Australian think tank, today released Part One of its new climate and security documentary, Home Front. In it, interviewees from the military, business and humanitarian communities describe the myriad security threats driven by a changing climate, ranging from political instability and economic collapse, to sea level rise risks to Australia’s numerous military installations along its significant coastline.

The 15-minute segment also touches on the controversial climate-migration nexus, which if misinterpreted could feed hyper-nationalist narratives and policies that themselves can have a destabilizing effect on security. However, as one interviewee, John Blackburn AO, Former Deputy Chief of the Royal Australian Airforce, wisely notes:

Simply putting up a barrier, and running around with a few Navy ships and contract ships stopping people coming in boats, might work today, it will not work in ten or fifteen years if what we anticipate with climate change happens.

The documentary also features key experts from the International Military Council on Climate and Security (IMCCS), among others.

Sherri Goodman, Secretary General of the IMCCS and
Senior Strategist with the Center for Climate and Security (CCS), notes in the segment that our current response to climate change is not commensurate to its threat profile. Specifically:

In the Cold War, we spent billions of dollars of American GDP to deter and prevent a low probability but very high consequence event of the threat of a bolt out of the blue nuclear attack by the Soviet Union. Today, we face a threat in climate change that is higher probability, and equally high consequence, and yet we are not addressing it with the same alarm and attention.

Dr. Michael Thomas, retired Major in the Australian Army, Participant in the IMCCS and Senior Fellow for Security Sector Education at CCS, highlights the unpreparedness of the Australian Defence Force to deal with cascading, simultaneous disasters resulting from climatic changes, or as he calls it, the “risk of simultaneity.” Full quote:

Consider for example, if we were to have an extreme weather event in the South Pacific, maybe we would have two in the future scenarios. How does the ADF [the Australian Defence Force] actually respond to those two simultaneous events. The military often call this the risk of simultaneity. The ability for the Australian Defence Force to respond to multiple events. Climate change poses such scenarios.

Admiral (Ret) Chris Barrie, former Chief of the Australian Defence Force (Ret), focuses on the connection between climate change and instability, stating:

Instability becomes the term that we use in connection with climate change consequences. But instability means people getting angry and doing something about it.

In all, the interviewees seemed to agree that Australia has a lot more to do in order to comprehensively meet the threat of a changing climate.

To watch the full segment, click here. There’s a short trailer for Part 2 at the end of it.