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.

Read more:
Defence white paper shows Australian forces must safeguard nature too

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.

Read more:
Climate change and security: a wake-up call for Australia

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.


Explainer: what is the List of World Heritage in Danger?

Peter Valentine, James Cook University

The List of World Heritage in Danger has recently come to the attention of Australians, as the World Heritage Committee considers whether the Great Barrier Reef belongs there. What is the list, and what does getting onto it mean?

The World Heritage Convention and the ‘in danger’ list

The World Heritage Convention is an international convention adopted by UNESCO aimed at conserving the world’s most outstanding heritage sites. The convention covers 190 countries that voluntarily participate in it. Identifying potential world heritage places is the responsibility of each participating country.

The World Heritage Committee – a 21-member body established by the convention but with membership elected by the member states – decides which sites make the list (there are currently 1,007). Countries have to protect, conserve, communicate the value of, rehabilitate and transmit the sites to future generations.

The government of Honduras requested the World Heritage Committee place its Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve on the List in Danger because of its reduced capacity to manage the site. Lawlessness in the area led to illegal logging, fishing and land occupation, poaching and the presence of drug traffickers.
Hjvannes/Wikimedia Commons

The World Heritage Committee also publishes a second list: the “List of World Heritage in Danger”.

Normally, for a site to enter this list, its country asks for help to address serious threats. But in cases of urgent need, the committee can inscribe a site immediately and without the agreement of its country. Currently, 46 World Heritage Sites, 20 of which are natural, are on the List in Danger.

The 46 sites currently on the List of World Heritage in Danger.
UNESCO/Google Maps

How are sites added to the list?

The World Heritage Committee gets information about the state of conservation of sites from countries and from advisory bodies such as the IUCN (natural heritage) and ICOMOS (cultural heritage). Where threats have been identified or changes proposed that may adversely effect a World Heritage property, the committee may seek a detailed site examination. This happened on the Great Barrier Reef in 2012.

The Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, the largest barrier reef in the Northern Hemisphere, was put on the World Heritage in Danger List for excessive development. The Great Barrier Reef is under scrutiny for similar concerns.
Asteiner/Wikimedia Commons

Two of the criteria used for placing a property on the list are ascertained and potential danger. Ascertained danger measures imminent threats, such as industrial development, to the site. Potential danger applies to development proposals that could undermine the essential character of the site.

Why list a site as ‘in danger’?

There are some advantages to a country of having a site listed as “in danger”. The World Heritage Committee can allocate funds to respond to the threats, typically under a plan drawn up with the country concerned. And it highlights to the world the threats that exist and encourages donor agencies to help.

For example, all five World Heritage Sites in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have been on the endangered list since 1994, which has generated a large amount of international aid to support their rehabilitation. More than US$50 million has flowed not just from UNESCO but also from non-government organisations and from Belgium and Japan. This is an excellent example of the convention at work.

Countries may seek to avoid listing (and any perceived shame attached to this) and address the concerns internally. This occurred when Ecuador’s Galapagos World Heritage Area was inscribed.

Ecuador initially opposed the listing and asked for time to resolve the concerns internally. This required a constitutional change to empower the federal government to take appropriate action. Much to Ecuador’s credit, this was accomplished.

Few other countries have taken such dramatic action to protect World Heritage. On two occasions when countries have failed to respond appropriately, the committee has taken the radical step to remove sites from both Heritage lists altogether. The first to be removed was Oman’s Arabian Oryx Sanctuary – a victim of the nation’s lust for oil.

Every such removal would be seen as a failure of the convention. The presumption is that a site is rehabilitated and then upgraded to its original standing on the World Heritage list.

While there has been some debate about its efficacy and there are different interpretations about the significance and meaning of listing a site as “in danger”, the process is a very clear first step in the potential removal of a site from the World Heritage List.

The Conversation

Peter Valentine is Associate Professor Environmental Science at James Cook University.

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

Mozambique: Sharks in Danger

The link below is to an article reporting on the threat to sharks along the Mozambique coastline thanks to China.

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Article: Wind Farms and Birds

The link below is to an article reporting on wind farms and the alleged danger they pose to birds. A study has shown no long term damage to birds.

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Coal Ship Runs Aground on the Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef on Australia’s northern east coast off Queensland has been hit by a Chinese Coal Carrier. The ship ran aground on a shoal some 70km east of Great Keppel Island, while it was steaming full ahead, while being off course (possibly taking a short cut). The ship is carrying something like 65 000 tonnes of coal, but the main danger for the reef from the ship is its fuel oil, which has already begun to leak.

The Shen Neng 1 is now in danger of breaking up and causing an environmental disaster, should all of its fuel oil spill into the ocean. There are great fears for the Great Barrier Reef should this happen.

For more see the videos below: