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The Defence View From Down Under: Climate Change

Australia_Weather-map-WA-28FEB06The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) ran an interesting article recently about a series of briefings in Canberra organized by Australia’s Department of Defence, aimed at assessing climate change risks and implications for the Australian Defence Force (ADF). According to a presenter, Professor Steffen, the Department of Defence “…wanted to get a handle on the idea of tipping elements in the climate system that could cause rapid change that would be very difficult for human societies to deal with…”

Comments by Air Vice-Marshal Neil Hart, the head of the Joint Capability Coordination Division at the Department of Defence, were instructive about the ADF’s view – which focuses on the implications of climate change for “humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and stabilisation operations over coming decades.”

In describing the risks, Air Vice-Marshal Hart noted that

…changes in the global climate system have the potential to “exacerbate existing problems” through flooding of low-lying regions, more frequent and severe natural disasters, and shifting rainfall. This could lead to loss of food production in some areas and “climate-driven large-scale human migration”.

Appropriately, the author also pointed out that the “…commander of the US Navy in the Pacific, Admiral Samuel Locklear, agrees climate change is a real threat to peace. Earlier this year he said climate change was the greatest long-term security threat for his region.” (as as aside, Admiral Locklear defended his assessment in the U.S. Congress, demonstrating how seriously the U.S. military is treating the issue).

The article also highlights opportunities in Australia’s UN Security Council (UNSC) Presidency this September (now), noting that “there have been long-running calls for more formal recognition of the climate threat.” Indeed, one of those calls was forcefully espoused in July 2011 by then U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice. Though the crisis in Syria is likely to postpone any such action for the near term, leadership by the UK, Germany and the U.S. has helped lay the groundwork for greater UNSC attention to the issue. Hopefully, Australia will follow suit.

Note: Credit to Rear Admiral David Titley, USN (ret) for the title of this blog

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