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Climate Security on the Australia-United States Ministerial Consultation Table

Members_of_the_Papua_New_Guinea_Defense_Force_prepare_to_embark_aboard_the_Royal_Australian_Navy_landing_ship_heavy_HMAS_Tobruk_(L50)The annual Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN), the “principal forum for bilateral consultations between Australian and the United States,” took place this week in Sydney, and discussion of the security implications of climate change was on the agenda. The consultations included the Australian Ministers for Foreign Affairs and Defence, the US Secretaries of State and Defense, and other senior officials from the countries’ respective diplomatic and defense establishments. According to the Australian government’s website, “The Consultations provide a major opportunity to discuss and share perspectives and approaches on major global and regional political issues, and to deepen bilateral foreign security and defence cooperation.” In this context, discussion of climate -security is important.

The Sydney Morning Herald first reported that climate-security was part of this year’s discussion (h/t  Jake Nicol), noting:

Daniel Russel, the senior official for the Asia-Pacific region in the US State Department, was involved in the talks and said the two governments had ”a good discussion of non-traditional security threats, among which is climate change”.

It continues:

Mr Russel said of the Ausmin talks: ”They exchanged views on the upcoming global conferences regarding climate change and they also touched on the relevance to the force posture agreement in the sense that the Asia-Pacific region is home to lot of wonderful things but, unfortunately, it’s also home to the lion’s share of natural disasters, and a significant component of the rationale and the mission for the rotational [US Marine] presence in Darwin … is to increase the region’s ability to respond to natural disasters.”

While the current Australian government led by Tony Abbot has gotten a lot of attention for its controversial stance on climate change (including its decision to take climate change off the G20 agenda), a closer look at US and Australian security postures shows how the conditions were ripe for the governments to discuss cooperation on the security risks of climate change.

In February of this year, Australia’s Chief of Army noted that the Australian Defence Force needs to consider climate change impacts, and in January of 2013, climate change was incorporated into Australia’s new National Security Strategy.  These actions took place pre-Abbot, but they showed that the career military and national security establishments in the country have been taking climate change risks very seriously. That is difficult for any government to ignore, no matter their political perspective.

U.S. Administration officials have also been vocal about addressing the security risks of climate change. Secretary of State Kerry, Secretary of Defense Hagel, and PACOM Commander Admiral Locklear have all been on the record on the issue. Attention to the security risks of climate change has also been incorporated into numerous U.S. government documents, including important priority  and strategy documents, such as the Quadrennial Defense Review and the National Security Strategy (for a full list see our Climate Security Resource Hub).

In short, given the mutual risks and opportunities climate change presents to both the U.S. and Australian governments, and a history of both nations (including their militaries) taking interest in these shifts, the discussion of climate change during this meeting is not surprising. Whether or not it represents forward momentum towards cooperative climate change resiliency in the region remains to be seen.


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