Senate report: climate change is a clear and present danger to Australia’s security


Matt McDonald, The University of Queensland

The Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade yesterday presented its report on the national security implications of climate change.

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.




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The report concludes that:

the consensus from the evidence (is) that climate change is exacerbating threats and risks to Australia’s national security.

Significantly, it also notes that climate change threatens both state and human security in the Australian context. Here are some of the key security implications.

Sea-level rises and natural disasters are key challenges

The report emphasises the risks posed by rising sea levels and an increase in the frequency and intensity of environmental stress (droughts and floods, for example) and natural disasters such as cyclones. In turn, it notes that these could trigger population movements, with people displaced by extreme weather events or rising seas.

This, the report argues, would have significant implications for the Australian Defence Force (ADF). Humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions involving the ADF have increased significantly in Australia and our region in recent years. The report predicts that the ADF will face even more pressure to carry out this type of mission in the future.

In its submission, the Department of Defence pointed out that the ADF was not established to provide these roles. The report recommends the creation of a senior leadership position within Defence to plan and manage disaster relief missions both here and abroad.

Australia, and its backyard, are particularly vulnerable

The report notes that Australia and its region are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Australia’s population is largely clustered in coastal areas, and this is also true of the Asian region generally and the Pacific specifically. Pacific island nations – as low-lying and with limited resources for implementing adaptive measures – are acutely vulnerable to sea-level rises. In the Asian region 40 million people were displaced by natural disasters in 2010-11 alone.

The report argues that Australia’s obligation to its neighbours in the region, acknowledged in recent statements on the Pacific, will create significant pressure on Australia and its defence force to manage the implications of climate change. It recommends sending even more aid to the Pacific region to help build climate resilience.

Defence needs to plan ahead

While the report acknowledges Defence efforts, a key finding is the urgent need for Defence to plan for a climate-affected world.

Future deployments associated with disaster relief and population movement, for example, will require urgent Defence planning to ensure personnel have the right training, resources and equipment. Australia’s forces will need to be trained and equipped for the likely ever-increasing number of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions in particular.

The report notes that Defence acquisition will need to account for temperature rises in future decades. This includes ensuring that equipment is fit for purpose in the long term. It will need to be able to withstand higher temperatures and potentially to run on different types of fuel.

The committee also recommends that Defence establish its own emissions reduction targets regarding energy use.

While more mundane, the management of existing infrastructure and real estate in the context of climate change, already the subject of Defence assessments, is also crucial. Defence is Australia’s largest land owner, and much of its infrastructure and resources will be exposed to higher temperatures and sea levels. The report recommends that Defence release existing risk assessments of assets’ exposure to climate change.




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The issue cuts right across the government

While many of the recommendations are specifically for the Department of Defence, a core theme of the report is the need for a “whole of government” response. Besides adapting to climate change, the government needs to take action to limit the extent of the problem in the first place. This means that all departments, all levels of government, and society as a whole need to work together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The need to commit to mitigation efforts is a surprising, but welcome, finding of the consensus report.

As the report points out, to deal with future disruption both here and abroad, Australia will need to build resilient societies that can adapt to change. This poses challenges to urban planning, aid programs and health services as much as to Defence.

The report makes several recommendations aimed at fostering this type of across-the-board response from the government. Among these are the development of a Climate Security White Paper and the creation of a Climate Security role within the Home Affairs portfolio to oversee domestic responses to climate change. In both cases, these are responses to suggestions in expert submissions that existing measures and responses were partial and uncoordinated.

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.




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It is nevertheless telling that Australia’s Defence establishment – on the face of it a bastion of conservatism – is worried about climate change. In my conversations with Defence officials, two things are apparent.

First, they are increasingly aware of the need to plan ahead to meet the challenges of climate change, including many of those noted above. This reflects the fact that Defence is an area in which long-term planning and threat assessment have always been central.

Second, they are also acutely aware of the toxic politics of climate change in Australia. Given its recent history, even those in Defence who are most convinced of the need to act are concerned about putting their heads above the parapet, so to speak.

The ConversationViewed in this light, it may be that these recommendations – in a consensus report, arising from a Senate inquiry and based on expert advice – provide just the basis for mainstreaming climate consciousness into defence and security planning. In the process, it is possible it’s just this sort of intervention that encourages changes in public debate and broader climate policy orientations. In Australia’s rancorous history of climate politics, stranger things have happened.

Matt McDonald, Associate Professor of International Relations, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

One-third of the world’s nature reserves are under threat from humans



File 20180517 155619 asouxq.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
People transporting gasoline by boat in Indonesia’s Kayan Mentarang National Park.
ESCapade/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

James Watson, The University of Queensland; James Allan, The University of Queensland; Kendall Jones, The University of Queensland; Pablo Negret, The University of Queensland; Richard Fuller, The University of Queensland, and Sean Maxwell, The University of Queensland

In the 146 years since Yellowstone National Park in the northwestern
United States became the world’s first protected area, nations around the world have created more than 200,000 terrestrial nature reserves. Together they cover more than 20 million km², or almost 15% of the planet’s land surface – an area bigger than South America.

Governments establish protected areas so that plants and animals can live without human pressures that might otherwise drive them towards extinction. These are special places, gifts to future generations and all non-human life on the planet.

But in a study published today in Science, we show that roughly one-third of the global protected area estate (a staggering 6 million km²) is under intense human pressure. Roads, mines, industrial logging, farms, townships and cities all threaten these supposedly protected places.

It is well established that these types of human activities are causing the decline and extinction of species throughout the world. But our new research shows how widespread these activities are within areas that are designated to protect nature.




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We assessed the extent and intensity of human pressure inside the global protected area estate. Our measure of human pressure was based on the “human footprint” – a measure that combines data on built environments, intensive agriculture, pasturelands, human population density, night-time lights, roads, railways, and navigable waterways.

Astoundingly, almost three-quarters of countries have at least 50% of their protected land under intense human pressure – that is, modified by mining, roads, townships, logging or agriculture. The problem is most acute in western Europe and southern Asia. Only 42% of protected land was found to be free of measurable human pressure.

Satellite images reveal the human pressure within many national parks. A: Kamianets-Podilskyi, a city inside Podolskie Tovtry National Park, Ukraine; B: Major roads within Tanzania’s Mikumi National Park; C: Agriculture and buildings within Dadohaehaesang National Park, South Korea.
Google Earth, Author provided

A growing footprint

Across Earth, there is example after example of large-scale human infrastructure within the boundaries of protected areas. Major projects include railways through Tsavo East and Tsavo West national parks in Kenya, which are home to the critically endangered eastern black rhinoceros and lions famous for their strange lack of manes. Plans to add a six-lane highway alongside the railway are well underway.

Construction of the standard gauge railway in Tsavo East and West National Parks, Kenya.
Tsavo Trust, Author provided

Many protected areas across the Americas, including Sierra Nevada De Santa Marta in Colombia and Parque Estadual Rio Negro Setor Sul in Brazil, are straining under the pressure of densely populated nearby towns and rampant tourism. In the US, both Yosemite and Yellowstone are also suffering from the increasingly sophisticated tourism infrastructure being built inside their borders.

In highly developed, megadiverse countries such as Australia, the story is bleak. A classic example is Barrow Island National Park in Western Australia, which is home to endangered mammals such as the spectacled hare-wallaby, burrowing bettong, golden bandicoot and black-flanked rock-wallaby, but which also houses major oil and gas projects.

While government-sanctioned, internationally funded developments like those in Tsavo and Barrow Island are all too common, protected areas also face impacts from illegal activities. Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park in Sumatra – a UNESCO world heritage site that is home to the critically endangered Sumatran tiger, orangutan and rhinoceros – is also now home to more than 100,000 people who have illegally settled and converted around 15% of the park area for coffee plantations.

Fulfilling the promise of protected areas

Protected areas underpin much of our efforts to conserve nature. Currently, 111 nations have reached the global standard 17% target for protected land outlined in the United Nations’ Strategic Plan for Biodiversity. But if we discount the supposedly protected land that is actually under intense human pressure, 74 of these 111 nations would fall short of the target. Moreover, the protection of some specific habitat types – such as mangroves and temperate forests – would decrease by 70% after discounting these highly pressured areas.

Governments around the world claim that their protected areas are set aside for nature, while at the same time approving huge developments inside their boundaries or failing to prevent illegal damage. This is likely a major reason why biodiversity continues to decline despite massive recent increases in the amount of protected land.




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Our results do not tell a happy story. But they do provide a timely chance to be honest about the true condition of the world’s protected areas. If we cannot relieve the pressure on these places, the fate of nature will become increasingly reliant on a mix of nondescript, largely untested conservation strategies that are subject to political whims and difficult to implement on large enough scales. We can’t afford to let them fail.

The ConversationBut we know that protected areas can work. When well-funded, well-managed and well-placed, they are extremely effective in halting the threats that cause species to die out. It is time for the global conservation community to stand up and hold governments to account so they take conservation seriously. This means conducting a full, frank and honest assessment of the true condition of our protected areas.

James Watson, Professor, The University of Queensland; James Allan, PhD candidate, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, The University of Queensland; Kendall Jones, PhD candidate, Geography, Planning and Environmental Management, The University of Queensland; Pablo Negret, PhD candidate, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, The University of Queensland, The University of Queensland; Richard Fuller, Professor in Biodiversity and Conservation, The University of Queensland, and Sean Maxwell, PhD candidate, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.