Climate change poses a ‘direct threat’ to Australia’s national security. It must be a political priority



Climate change is expected to increase the severity of natural disasters in the Asia-Pacific region, straining Australia’s ability to respond through humanitarian missions and fuelling more climate migration.
Vlad Sokhin/UNICEF handout

Chris Barrie, Australian National University

This is part of a new series looking at the national security challenges facing Australia, how our leaders are responding to them through legislation and how these measures are impacting society. Read the rest of the series here.


It is evident from Australia’s increasingly severe droughts and record-breaking heatwaves that time is running out to take action on climate change.

Yet, despite persistent calls from eminent scientists to reduce global dependence on fossil fuels, a call to action has gone unanswered by our political leaders.

And we aren’t just facing an environmental threat alone in Australia – there are significant implications for our national security and defence capabilities that we haven’t fully reckoned with either.

This point was made abundantly clear in a speech prepared for Defence Force Chief Angus Campbell at an event in June, excerpts of which have been recently published by the media. It noted that Australia is in

the most natural disaster-prone region in the world … [and] climate change is predicted to make disasters more extreme and more common.

If the predictions are correct, [climate change] will have serious ramifications for global security and serious ramifications for the ADF [Australian Defence Force].

What kinds of security risks do we face?

Climate change works as a threat multiplier – it exacerbates the drivers of conflict by deepening existing fragilities within societies, straining weak institutions, reshaping power balances and undermining post-conflict recovery and peacebuilding.

This year’s IISS Armed Conflict Survey noted how

climate-related drivers for armed violence and conflict will increase as climate change progresses.

The survey points out that the 2011 uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that escalated into civil war was preceded by the country’s deepest and most prolonged drought on record. One study has found the drought was two to three times more likely to happen due to climate change, and that it helped fuel migration to large cities, which in turn exacerbated the social issues that caused the unrest.

In May 2018, I was among numerous experts who provided evidence to a Senate committee examining the potential impacts of climate change on Australia’s national security.

Increased climate migration and disasters

One of the biggest threats I identified was the possibility of mass migration driven by climate change.

There will be nearly 6 billion people in the Asia-Pacific region by 2050. And if the region has become increasingly destabilised due to climate change, many people will likely be affected by rising sea levels, water and food shortages, armed conflicts and natural disasters, and desperate to find more secure homes.

This is already happening now. Since 2008, it’s estimated that an average of 22.5 million to 24 million people have been displaced globally each year due to catastrophic weather events and climate-related disasters.




Read more:
US military strategists warn that climate is a ‘catalyst for conflict’



And a new World Bank report estimates that 143 million people in three developing regions alone – sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America – could become climate migrants by 2050.

They will migrate from less viable areas with lower water availability and crop
productivity and from areas affected by rising sea level and storm surges. The poorest and most climate-vulnerable areas will be hardest hit.

Australia, with its very low population density, will likely be an attractive place for climate migrants to attempt to resettle. The World Bank has called on Australia to allow open migration from climate-affected Pacific islands, but successive governments haven’t exactly been open to refugees and asylum seekers in recent years.




Read more:
Refuge City, a new kind of city for our times


If we don’t have a plan in place, our estimated 2050 population of 37.6 million could be overwhelmed by the scale of the national security problem.

Other experts agreed. American climate security expert Sherri Goodman described climate change as a “direct threat to the national security of Australia”, saying the region is

most likely to see increasing waves of migration from small island states or storm-affected, highly populated areas in Asia that can’t accommodate people when a very strong storm hits.

Australia would also struggle to respond to worsening natural disasters in our region either caused by or exacerbated by climate change.

As part of the Senate inquiry, the Department of Defence noted an “upwards trend” in both disaster-related events in the Asia-Pacific region and disaster-related defence operations in the past 20 years.

As alluded to in the speech prepared for Campbell in June, we could easily find ourselves overwhelmed by disaster relief missions
due to the severity and scale of future weather events, or due to a series of events that occur concurrently in dispersed locations.

This would stretch our available first responder forces – defence, police, ambulance, firefighters and other emergency services – even in the absence of any other higher priority peacekeeping missions around the world.

Recommendations for a way forward

The Senate report listed 11 recommendations for action by national security agencies and the government.

Among these were calls for:

  • the government to develop a climate security white paper to guide a coordinated government response to climate change risks

  • the Department of Defence to consider releasing an unclassified version of the work it has undertaken already to identify climate risks to the country

  • the government to consider a dedicated climate security leadership position in Home Affairs to coordinate climate resilience issues

  • and the Department of Defence to create a dedicated senior leadership position to oversee the delivery of domestic and international humanitarian assistance and disaster relief as climate pressures increase over time.

Some of these findings were contested. In their comments, the Coalition senators made a point of saying how well the government has been doing on climate change in the defence and foreign affairs portfolios. Sufficient strategies are in place

to ensure Australia’s response to the implications of climate change on national security is well understood and consistent across the whole of government.

They also considered that a separate recommendation on defence emissions reduction targets fell outside the spirit of the inquiry. They did not support it.

A lack of urgency and response

The findings in the report are a cause for concern. The recommendations lack timetables for action and a sense of urgency.

The Senate committee also admitted its own shortcomings. For instance, it couldn’t adequately examine the potential impacts of climate change on Australia’s economy, infrastructure and community health and well-being due to a lack of substantial evidence on these issues.




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


Furthermore, and most worryingly, it seems the government just doesn’t care enough. It has yet to table a response to the report more than a year later.

A welcome development would be if the government announced a climate change security white paper that clearly spells out where ministers stand on the issue and the specific measures we need to take to prepare for the threats ahead. It would also dispel the concerns of many Australians about our future readiness.

But the Coalition’s response to the Senate report is breathtakingly complacent and smacks of reckless negligence since Australia is on the front line when it comes to climate change and our national security faces undeniably serious risks.

Climate change is already presenting significant challenges to governance, our institutions and the fabric of our societies. It’s time we recognise the potential threats to security in our region, as well.The Conversation

Chris Barrie, Honorary Professor, Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

It takes 21 litres of water to produce a small chocolate bar. How water-wise is your diet?



A small chocolate bar takes 21 litres of water to produce.
Byline: CAROLINE BLUMBERG/ EPA

Brad Ridoutt, CSIRO; Gilly Hendrie, CSIRO, and Kimberley Anastasiou, CSIRO

Our diets can have a big environmental impact. The greenhouse gas emissions involved in producing and transporting various foods has been well researched, but have you ever thought about the water-scarcity impacts of producing your favourite foods? The answers may surprise you.

In research recently published in the journal Nutrients, we looked at the water scarcity footprints of the diets of 9,341 adult Australians, involving more than 5,000 foods. We measured both the amount of water used to produce a food, and whether water was scarce or abundant at the location it was drawn from.

The food system accounts for around 70% of global freshwater use. This means a concerted effort to minimise the water used to produce our food – while ensuring our diets remained healthy – would have a big impact in Australia, the driest inhabited continent on Earth.

Biscuits, beer or beef: which takes the most water to produce?

We found the average Australian’s diet had a water-scarcity footprint of 362 litres per day. It was slightly lower for women and lower for adults over 71 years of age.

A water-scarcity footprint consists of two elements: the litres of water used, multiplied by a weighting depending on whether water scarcity at the source is higher or lower than the global average.

Foods with some of the highest water-scarcity footprints were almonds (3,448 litres/kg), dried apricots (3,363 litres/kg) and breakfast cereal made from puffed rice (1,464 litres/kg).

In contrast, foods with some of the smallest water-scarcity footprint included wholemeal bread (11.3 litres/kg), oats (23.4 litres/kg), and soaked chickpeas (5.9 litres/kg).




Read more:
What’s made of legumes but sizzles on the barbie like beef? Australia’s new high-tech meat alternative


It may surprise you that of the 9,000 diets studied, 25% of the water scarcity footprint came from discretionary foods and beverages such as cakes, biscuits, sugar-sweetened drinks and alcohol. They included a glass of wine (41 litres), a single serve of potato crisps (23 litres), and a small bar of milk chocolate (21 litres).

These foods don’t only add to our waistlines, but also our water-scarcity footprint. Previous studies have also shown these foods contribute around 30% of dietary greenhouse gas emissions in Australia.

Sheep drink from a dried-up water storage canal between Pooncarie and Menindee in western NSW. Water shortages along the Murray Darling Basin have devastated ecosystems and communities.
Dean Lewins/AAP

The second highest food group in terms of contributing to water-scarcity was fruit, at 19%. This includes whole fruit and fresh (not sugar-sweetened) juices. It should be remembered that fruit is an essential part of a healthy diet, and generally Australians need to consume more fruit to meet recommendations.

Dairy products and alternatives (including non-dairy beverages made from soy, rice and nuts) came in third and bread and cereals ranked fourth.

The consumption of red meat – beef and lamb – contributed only 3.7% of the total dietary water-scarcity footprint. These results suggest that eating fresh meat is less important to water scarcity than most other food
groups, even cereals.

How to reduce water use in your diet

Not surprisingly, cutting out discretionary foods would be number one priority if you wanted to lower the water footprint of the food you eat, as well as the greenhouse gas emissions of production.

Over-consumption of discretionary foods is also closely linked to weight gain and obesity. Eating a variety of healthy foods, according to energy needs, is a helpful motto.

Aside from this, it is difficult to give recommendations that are relevant to consumers. We found that the variation in water-scarcity footprint of different foods within a food group was very high compared to the variation between food groups.




Read more:
Curious Kids: why can’t we just build a pipe to move water to areas in drought?


For example, a medium sized apple was found to contribute a water-scarcity footprint of three litres compared with more than 100 litres for a 250 ml glass of fresh orange juice. This reflects the relative use of irrigation water and the local water scarcity where these crops are grown. It also takes more fruit to produce juice than when fruit is consumed whole.

Two slices of wholegrain bread had a much lower water-scarcity footprint than a
cup of cooked rice (0.9 litres compared with 124 litres). Of the main protein sources, lamb had the lowest water-scarcity footprint per serve (5.5 litres). Lambs are rarely raised on irrigated pastures and when crops are used for feeding, these are similarly rarely irrigated.

Consumers generally lack the information they would need to choose core foods with a lower water-scarcity footprint. Added to this, diversity is an important principle of good nutrition and dissuading consumption of particular core foods could have adverse consequences for health.

Workers process punnets of strawberries at a Queensland strawberry farm.
Dan Peled/AAP

Perhaps the best opportunities to reduce water scarcity impacts in the Australian food system lie in food production. There is often very large variation between producers in water scarcity footprint of the same farm commodity.

For example, a study of the water scarcity footprint of tomatoes grown for the Sydney market reported results ranging from 5.0 to 52.8 litres per kg. Variation in the water-scarcity footprint of milk produced in Victoria was reported to range from 0.7 to 262 litres. This mainly reflects differences in farming methods, with variation in the use of irrigation and also the local water scarcity level.

Water-scarcity footprint reductions could best be achieved through technological change, product reformulation and procurement strategies in agriculture and food industries.

Not all water is equal

This is the first study of its kind to report the water-scarcity footprint for a large number of individual self-selected diets.

This was no small task, given that 5,645 individual foods were identified. Many were processed foods which needed to be separated into their component ingredients.




Read more:
Climate explained: what each of us can do to reduce our carbon footprint


It’s hard to say how these results compare to other countries as the same analysis has not been done elsewhere. The study did show a large variation in water-scarcity footprints within Australian diets, reflecting the diversity of our eating habits.

Water scarcity is just one important environmental aspects of food production and consumption. While we don’t suggest that dietary guidelines be amended based on water scarcity footprints, we hope this research will support more sustainable production and consumption of food.

The author originally disclosed that he undertakes research for Meat and Livestock Australia. His disclosure has been updated to specify that the above research is among the projects to which the MLA has contributed funding.The Conversation

Brad Ridoutt, Principal Research Scientist, CSIRO Agriculture, CSIRO; Gilly Hendrie, Research scientist, CSIRO, and Kimberley Anastasiou, Research Dietitian, CSIRO

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.