Thursday, June 11, 2009

Defence needs to recognise climate of risk

ABC News Online,

Posted 12 June 2009

Stabilisation missions in the region are costly: our intervention in the Solomon Islands is estimated to have cost over $1 billion. (AAP: Max Blenkin)

The Rudd Government's new 20 year defence blueprint doesn't recognise that our strategic planners need to embrace new thinking, writes Anthony Bergin from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

The new defence white paper acknowledges that potential sources of conflict related to our changing climate may give rise to clashes between states over resources.

The white paper then dismisses the significance of climate security by stating that any large scale strategic consequences of climate change aren't likely before 2030.

Climate change, however, is already a conflict threat multiplier, and is tipping some states to failure and political instability. As Prime Minister Kevin Rudd noted in his national security statement last December, the emerging consequences of climate change now require the formal incorporation of this challenge within our national security policy and analysis process. It's pushing the trend towards stabilisation missions in our region. These operations are costly: Australia's intervention in Solomon Islands is estimated to have cost over $1 billion.

Sea level rises are likely to produce climate refugees with implications for defence involvement in border security, while at home climate change is already leading to more extreme weather events and natural disasters.

Many of our military assets have the flexibility, versatility and endurance for various non-combat tasks. After the Victorian bushfires, for example, the army provided logistic support, emergency shelter and searched for bodies.

In future, our armed forces may be called on to do more to deal with extreme events in Australia. Water bombing to fight fires is a task for the military in some countries. Helicopter squadrons near our capital cities could support emergency services. Military unmanned aircraft could to be used to monitor high-risk fire and flooding areas. There could be much greater access to Defence's remote sensing capability. Our defence reserves could be given disaster response as part of their responsibilities.

Even small rises in temperature can have a significant impact on the performance of certain military systems. New capability requirements should therefore incorporate the impacts of climate change on environmental conditions pertaining to the likely theatres of operation. Helicopter performance, for example, degrades rapidly with rising temperatures and dustier conditions. Naval planners will need to factor in rougher sea states and the impacts of rising sea levels on port infrastructure.

Our defence scientists can help protect us from the adverse security impacts of climate change by applying military scientific resources, in the same way they develop military capability solutions for possible defence emergencies.

In terms of reducing the carbon footprint of its operations, the military should favor energy efficiency so it's not seen as adding to the climate change problem: Defence is by far the Australian government's largest energy consumer.

Most defence vehicles, planes and ships are exempted from emissions standards. These exemptions will come under political pressure over the next 20 years, particularly military aviation and maritime emissions. Defence doesn't have targets to reduce emissions from these fuels. In reducing its own carbon footprint and developing accounting and measures for emissions reductions, the defence force should form partnerships with environment agencies and even non-government organisations. Defence should procure more energy efficient equipment, buildings and services.

Our military need to start planning for the long-term impacts of climate change on its facilities and training areas, some of which are particularly vulnerable to climate change.

Many scientists are predicting a climate emergency unless we change course. The Rudd Government's new 20 year defence blueprint doesn't recognise that our strategic planners need to embrace new thinking and new structures in order to coordinate and implement climate change strategies.

Defence needs to work with other government departments to assess the impact of climate change in our neighbourhood. Our armed forces must ensure it factors climate change into its policy planning, equipment and estate management in preparation for the impacts of climate change. The challenge will be to do this in a way that doesn't compromise our military capabilities.

Dr Anthony Bergin is director of research programs at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) and co-author of the ASPI report, A Change in Climate for the Australian Defence Force.

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