Australia’s defence sector on increasing climate alert

EMERITUS PROFESSOR TONY MCMICHAEL explores the increasing role the Australian Defence Force (ADF) will play in a world impacted by climate change.

Climate change and conflict are two of history's oldest bed-fellows.

The impacts of natural climate change on food yields, river flows and habitable land have long acted as triggers of conflict.

Human-driven climate change is likely to do the same this century, but on a larger and more intense scale - unless, of course, extraordinary international emissions abatement occurs.

No surprise, then, that this year's annual conference of the Australian defence industry, held in Canberra, devoted a session to considering what climate change means for Australia's defence planning, equipping and operational scope. And no surprise that the large audience did not query the basic science of climate change.

Indeed, the defence sector does not have, or want, the luxury of ideological distortion, vacillation or rejection of mainstream science.

That's not how to be prepared for conflict or to defend the home population.

The sector's basic task is to protect the national interest and the population's safety, including assisting with disaster management.

In today's more densely interconnected world that task will broaden as human-driven climate change proceeds.

There will be an expanded role for Australia's defence sector in regional peace-keeping, especially when geopolitical instabilities arise from the mix of climate change, population growth, other large-scale environmental changes (such as ocean acidification, land degradation and emptied aquifers) and widening wealth disparities.

As the tempo of extreme weather events increases in a warming world with an energised atmosphere the need for disaster relief and rebuilding will escalate, both here and within the Asia-Pacific region.