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Australian Defence White Paper on Climate Security Risks

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Australian Royal Navy (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Eddie Harrison/Released)

The Australian Department of Defence just released its 2016 Defence White Paper, a strategic document detailing its priorities. The White Paper notes that: “…the Government is investing in Australia’s defence capabilities to strengthen Australia’s security in the more complex strategic environment Australia will face in the years ahead.” According to the White Paper, one factor contributing to this “more complex strategic environment” is climate change. Below are the passages within the document pertaining specifically to climate change. Not included below are the numerous passages related to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, but it is worth noting that these are important capabilities for addressing climate impacts, enhancing international engagement and managing strategic risks. The 2009 and 2013 Defence White Papers also included sections on climate change and resource scarcity.

Executive Summary:

Instability in our immediate region could have strategic consequences for Australia and we will continue to take a leading role in providing humanitarian and security assistance where required . Within the South Pacific, variable economic growth, crime and social, governance and climate change challenges will all contribute to uneven progress and may lead to instability in some countries (pg 16) .

Chapter Two: Strategic Outlook

Australia’s Security Environment

2 .6  Six key drivers will shape the development of Australia’s security environment to 2035:

  • state fragility, including within our immediate neighbourhood, caused by uneven economic growth, crime, social, environmental and governance challenges and climate change (pg 41).

The threat of terrorism and foreign terrorist fighters

State Fragility

2 .35  The South Pacific region will face challenges from slow economic growth, social and governance challenges, population growth and climate change . Instability in our immediate region could have strategic consequences for Australia should it lead to increasing influence by actors from outside the region with interests inimical to ours . It is crucial that Australia help support the development of national resilience in the region to reduce the likelihood of instability . This assistance includes defence cooperation, aid, policing and building regional organisations as set out in Chapter Five . We will also continue to take a leading role in providing humanitarian and security assistance where required (pg 48).

Our Immediate Neighbourhood

2 .68  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 (pg 55-6).

2 .69  To help countries in our immediate neighbourhood respond to the challenges they face, Australia will continue to play an important regional leadership role . Our strategic weight, proximity and resources place high expectations on us to respond to instability or natural disasters, and climate change means we will be called on to do so more often . We will continue to play that role in close collaboration with New Zealand, France, the United States, Japan and other partners (pg 56).

Chapter Four: The Future Australian Defence Force

Capability priorities

Key Enablers, Defence Bases

4 .69  As previous reviews have highlighted, basing requirements to support the larger and heavier ADF to be introduced over the coming decades will place significant pressure on Defence and civilian infrastructure in Australia . Climate change will also place pressure on the Defence estate, with sea level rises having implications for Navy bases and more extreme weather events more frequently putting facilities at risk of damage (pg 102).

4 .70  Beyond 2025, the Defence estate footprint will need to be further developed to accommodate our new high technology capabilities and ensure that Defence is appropriately postured for future strategic requirements and the implications of climate change . This will involve developing new bases, wharves, airfields and training and weapons testing ranges . It will also include considering the long-term future of some Defence bases, such as Garden Island in Sydney Harbour, as issues such as urban development, encroachment and capacity constraints within existing infrastructure affect the ADF’s ability to safely and effectively execute its mission (pg 102).


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