“The committee notes the consensus from the evidence that climate change is exacerbating threats and risks to Australia’s national security. These include sea level rise, bushfires, droughts, extreme rainfall events, and higher-intensity cyclones.”
~ Quote from Chapter 6, ‘Conclusions and recommendations’, on page 99 in the Senate inquiry report ‘Implications of climate change for Australia’s national security’
In May 2018 an Australian Senate Inquiry Committee delivered an evidence-based answer to whether climate change presents Australians to an existential security risk or not. Their answer was very clear. It does. But they gave no recommendations to what an appropriate response to a threat of such magnitude could be.
Almost a year ago, the Australian parliamentarians managed to agree about one thing around the issue of climate change: They would all like to find out whether climate change presents a threat to Australia’s national security or not. A cross-party Australian Senate inquiry committee started investigating and interviewing witnesses – and in May 2018 they delivered an evidence-based answer: Climate change presents Australians to an existential security risk.
The committee learned that both the American and the Australian defence forces tell us in a very clear language that we now face an existential security risk because of how we have filled – and continue to fill – the atmosphere with our climate-disruptive greenhouse gasses.
Chapter 2 in the inquiry report begins by outlining the recognition of climate change as a current and existential national security risk, and then outlines how climate change is affecting the Australian community and economy, summarising the evidence received by the committee on the threats to Australia’s national security posed by climate change.
Existential national security risk
Many submitters and witnesses made reference to the current and existential national security risk that climate change presents, including Mark Crosweller, who is director-general of Emergency Management Australia, a division within the Department of Home Affairs and the Australian Government lead for disaster and emergency management.
The reports quotes Nick Bostrom, who in his 2013-article titled ‘Existential risk prevention as global priority’ defined an existential risk as “one that threatens the premature extinction of Earth-originating intelligent life or the permanent and drastic destruction of its potential for desirable future development.”
The Australian Council for International Development (ACFID) asserted in its submission that “for Pacific nations such as Tuvalu, Kiribati and Micronesia, climate change is already a genuine existential threat with the capacity to diminish their livelihoods and even erase their states’ territorial footprints.”
The Senate Commission’s terms of reference focus on ‘Australia’s national security’, which Defence defines as including ‘state and human security’ and being “inherently linked to the security of health, water, energy, food and economic systems at the local, national, regional and global level.”
‘Human security’ is a concept that shifts the political focus from states and their security to “the existential threats faced by millions of individuals around the world,” including poverty, food insecurity, environmental degradation, political repression, and ill-health.
Defence impacted by climate change
The Department of Defence outlined in their submission to the inquiry that,
“Direct climate impacts – such as the change in the frequency of extreme weather events, increase in the number of hot days and sea-level rise – can affect Defence bases, operations, capability and personnel. These impacts are relatively well understood and are largely being addresses in concert with other government agencies, allies and industry partners. Climate change is also increasing the demand for Australian Defence Force (ADF) to conduct humanitarian operations both domestically and overseas.”
Furthermore, the Department of Defence said:
“Defence is progressively embedding climate change in its core business functions. Defence now considers the impact of climate change in its policy setting, planning, operations, preparedness capability life cycle management and estate and environmental management.”
The Department of Home Affairs claimed it is leading “a whole of Government approach” to address the future impacts of natural hazards, including the effects of climate change.
Coalition members of the committee
Senator for Western Australia Linda Reynolds CSC, a member of the Liberal Party, is Deputy Chair of the inquiry committee. She is also Chair of the Senate’s Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee. Another inquiry committee member, Senator David Fawcett, who is from South Australia, is also a member of the Liberal Party.
The two Coalition Senators noted that the evidence provided to the committee demonstrates climate change and related regional implications are already part of strategic and national security considerations. And according to their judgement, that would be sufficient – no need to do much further there.
“Climate change is a whole of society risk and should be normalised across all departments, there is no need for a dedicated leadership position, current arrangements are sufficient,” they wrote in an appendix to the report entitled, ‘Additional Comments by Coalition Senators’.
They stated that they are supportive of Department of Defence’s continued use of and exploration of alternative energy sources for defence installations, but do not support Defence establishing internal emissions reductions targets in order to reduce its energy footprint.
The community response: energy rebellion
By Mik Aidt
So here we have the military and a group of cross-party parliamentarians talking about climate change. And they come out with this report, which basically says that climate change is an existential security risk, one that is putting us all in danger.
Can the message get any clearer?
This Senate inquiry sends a very firm message to anyone who calls him- or herself a leader in business, government, media, church and council, along with all the artists and people of influence in our society, many of who cowardly continue to ignore the threat – and in some cases even deliberately misguide the community on the issue.
How can these same parliamentarians who have been looking into this then move on and do… nothing!? how can they continue opening up new coal mines, gas and oil exploration fields, fracking zones – continue to subsidise the fossil fuel industry instead of regulating it and eventually banning it?
Where is the response that says: “This is is terrible – we will have to take immediate action on this.”?
Personally I’ve had enough of the cowards and the laggards. It’s time for a community rebellion against the climate criminals on this planet. Our response must be to stop the dangerous air pollution, starting with ourselves. No more procrastination on this matter of urgency.
The good news is that the uprise is happening. And that politicians who haven’t understood this will wake up one morning very soon and find that they have lost the election. The story is changing very quickly now.
“It’s about creating a better future. And we are sick and tired of waiting for Big Business or Government to bring the solutions for us. We have seen how that is going back and forth, and it’s getting worse and worse and worse. So our partnership here is to get people together, leverage people power and do it ourselves.”
~ Alex Georgiou, CEO, ShineHub, in The Sustainable Hour
“Decarbonisation is the great task of our generation, and we will be one of the first countries in the world to accomplish it, if not the first.”
~ Carlos Alvarado, Costa Rica’s new president
Comments and responses to the report
This is an emergency – it needs leadership, not waffle
“The report recognises climate change as an existential threat, but then shrinks from addressing it,” wrote Ian Dunlop
“Australian politicians again fail the community by refusing to confront the Existential Risk of Climate Change
Today the Senate Inquiry into the Implications of Climate Change for National Security released its final report.
We hear a great deal about our national security these days, which is used to ratchet up constraints upon the community in myriad ways, some justified, others not. For example, fears of terrorist activity, undue foreign influence, activist civil society speaking the truth to power, and much more.
But the big failure of the political class is its continuing refusal to address the greatest national security threat of all, which is human-induced climate change.
To its credit, the report recognises climate change as an existential threat, but then shrinks from addressing it.
This is an emergency – it needs leadership, not waffle.”
~ Ian Dunlop
“What does all this mean? Potentially, not much. Recommendations of Senate inquiries are just that, and governments have the right to politely ignore or dismiss them. This is more likely to happen to reports proposed by the opposition or, as in this case, by the Greens. When the inquiry was announced in mid-2017, the government described it as unnecessary. In its response to the report, Coalition senators generally indicated that they felt existing arrangements were sufficient. It is nevertheless telling that Australia’s Defence establishment – on the face of it a bastion of conservatism – is worried about climate change.”
~ Matt McDonald, Associate Professor of International Relations, The University of Queensland
» The Conversation – 18 May 2018:
Senate report: climate change is a clear and present danger to Australia’s security
“The report makes several findings and recommendations, noting at the outset that climate change has a range of important security implications, both domestically and internationally. Tellingly, none of the expert submissions questioned the rationale for this inquiry, nor the claim that climate change challenges Australian national security.”
“At least Australia’s Department of Defence isn’t in any denial.”
“This is why we need to criminalise Ecocide with harsh sanctions that operate with retrospective effect. Unfortunately the spectre of jail time down the track to punish Ecocidal decisions that are being made now is one of the few levers available to ensure that today’s compromised politicians start behaving responsibly.” ⚖️
~ Andrew Laird, barrister, Anglesea
Disconnect between evidence and recommendations
There is a disconnect between the evidence presented to the Australian Senate inquiry committee and the recommendations that emerged from it, several commentators noted
“Existential risk management requires brutally honest articulation of the risks, opportunities and the response time frame. At the moment we are knowingly locking in an existential disaster without being prepared to articulate that fact … at least this Senate inquiry report is significant for having broken the ice, but it should be so much more.”
~ David Spratt, Research Director for Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration
“What this inquiry has brought home to me is that when people choose to engage with the climate science, without any partisan or ideological blinkers, they quickly understand the seriousness of the challenge and decide to act. We have seen that the Australian Defence Force is changing how it does things because it is taking climate change seriously, but we have a government that is doing nothing to reduce emissions to actually reduce the threat of climate change itself.”
~ Peter Whish-Wilson, Greens Senator
» The Guardian – 18 May 2018:
Climate change an ‘existential security risk’ to Australia, Senate inquiry says
“Threat is not a possible future one but one endangering Australia now, parliament told.”
Main recommendations are procedural
It’s worth reading David Spratt’s Climate Code Red blog on this. Here’s a quote:
“The main recommendations are procedural: the needs for a climate security white paper (which would at least keep the government’s eye on the subject); the development of a national climate, health and well-being plan; the release of Defence assessments of the climate risks to its facilities; the bureaucratic elevation of the issue by the creation of a dedicated climate security leadership position in the Home Affairs Portfolio and a dedicated senior leadership position in the Department of Defence.
It also recommends that national security agencies increase their climate security knowledge and capability, an oblique recognition that these agencies are embarrassingly deficient in climate and security analytical capacity, in part due to their kowtowing to the government’s demotion of climate issues.
There is a recommendation for additional money and foreign aid to “provide further funding for international climate adaptation and disaster risk reduction measures, in addition to the existing aid budget, to the extent that financial circumstances allow”. This stands in stark contrast to repeated cuts to Australia’s foreign aid, including in last week’s budget, and to the reduction in climate action overall.
The inquiry is right to recognise climate change as an existential risk. In this sense, it is ahead of the large climate advocacy organisations, the national security agencies and the Australia academic community, who are laggards in articulating such risks. Indeed, it was Mark Crosweller, the Director General of Emergency Management Australia, Sherri Goodman the expert witness from the US, and the former senior Shell executive and emissions trading advisor to the Howard government, Ian Dunlop, who put the issue of existential climate security risks on the inquiry’s agenda.
At present, the 2015 Paris Agreement commitments by various nations, if implemented, would result in planetary warming of more than 3°C by 2100, and when carbon-cycle feedbacks which are now becoming active are taken into account, the resultant warming is around 5°C of warming. Scientists say warming of 4°C or more could reduce the global human population by 80% or 90% and the World Bank reports “there is no certainty that adaptation to a 4°C world is possible”.”
» Climate Code Red – 17 May 2018:
Senate report recognises climate change as existential risk, but fails to draw the obvious conclusions
“The first responsibility of a government is to safeguard the people. But the accelerating impacts of climate change will drive increasingly severe humanitarian crises, political instability and conflict, posing large negative consequences to human society which may never be undone. The Asia–Pacific region is considered to be “Disaster Alley” where some of the worst impacts will be experienced. Australia’s political, bureaucratic and corporate leaders are abrogating their fiduciary responsibilities and are ill-prepared for the real risks of climate change. In this striking new Breakthrough report we look at climate change and conflict issues through the lens of sensible risk-management to draw new conclusions about the challenge we now face.”
~ Breakthrough report: ‘Disaster Alley – Climate Change, Conflict & Risk’
» American Security Project – 1 November 2012:
Climate Security Report
“When we get the story right, we move quickly.”
~ Jeremy Rifkin, economist
» SBS – 7 March 2018:
Inside one man’s radical solution to the impending climate change apocalypse
“We need a “third industrial revolution” to stave off mass extinction.”
» Watch on SBS On Demand
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