“Missing in Action”: Former Australian security leaders highlight climate-related security threats; call for rapid decarbonisation

A new report released yesterday by the Australian Security Leaders Climate Group calls on the Australian Government to “prevent devastating climate impacts by mobilising all resources necessary to reach zero emissions as fast as possible,” starting with a comprehensive Whole-of-Nation Climate and Security Risk Assessment.

Missing in Action: Responding to Australia’s climate & security failure, lays out a Climate-Security Risk Action Plan for Australia based on four themes: demonstrating leadership, assessing climate risks, coordination and cooperation across government, and acting and investing with urgency.

The impacts of climate change on security have been well documented: climate-fueled water and food insecurity contributed to armed conflicts in Syria, the Maghreb and the Sahel. The Arab Spring occurred after the spot price for wheat tripled due to reduced wheat supply in Russia and China following extreme climate events. Recent commentary has also highlighted climate-related food and water issues in Afghanistan that have contributed to insecurity in the region over recent decades.

The dangers that climate change impacts pose to international peace and security are real and present. In vulnerable countries, climate-fueled water and food insecurity have intersected with political  instability, leading to the collapse of governments and civil war..

The ASLCG report says a failure of leadership and inactions by Australian governments has left the nation ill-prepared for the security implications of devastating climate impacts at home and in the Asia Pacific, the highest-risk region in the world. 

The report emphasises the need to address the fundamental causes, primarily by rapidly decarbonising the economy, and not be distracted by political focus on the symptoms rather than the cause. 

As the latest IPCC report demonstrates, we are likely to underestimate the scale and scope of the security risks posed by climate change because they have not been fully assessed by governments. Climate-security risks will multiply, and Australia must be better informed and prepared by urgently undertaking a comprehensive Whole-of-Nation Climate and Security Risk Assessment, a task which has never been undertaken in this country.

The report highlights how water inflows into Australia’s food bowl of the Murray-Darling Basin have reduced by 40 per cent since 2000, and warns of greater domestic water insecurity in future. Climate impacts on agriculture have the potential to significantly threaten food production in Australia. 

Australia’s supply chains are precarious, being a distant island in a hyper-connected global economy. In a global emergency where supply chains are disrupted, domestic oil supplies would last only weeks. If that coincided with extreme climatic impacts, as may well occur, civilian and military capacity to provide disaster relief would be severely compromised

The report details how Australia’s military resources are already being used and stretched in climate-related disasters, such as during the Black Summer fires in 2019-20, which were worse than projections of fire severity for the year 2100.

Climate change is already placing great pressure on the Australian Defence Force to pick up the pieces in the face of accelerating climate impacts. Higher levels of warming will stretch them beyond their capacity to respond. Australia must start to contribute fairly to the global effort to limit these impacts.

Writing in the foreword, Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti CB RN (Retd), Professor of Climate, Resource Security at University College London, says the responsibility for emissions reduction “sits squarely on the shoulders of all governments but perhaps more so on those of Australia, for not only is the Australian continent particularly vulnerable to climate change, but the country is one of the world’s largest exporters of fossil fuels.”

The report can be downloaded at https://www.aslcg.org/missinginaction

Written By: Admiral Chris Barrie AC (Retd) Former Chief of the Australian Defence Force, Executive member of the Australian Security Leaders Climate Group
The Australian Security Leaders Climate Group is a non-partisan network of Australian security and policy professionals working to reframe the climate debate and make climate an immediate security priority in Australia through assessing the full level of risk posed by climate change, and building resilience for local and global protection. The group is also an institutional partner of the International Military Council on Climate and Security.


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