08 December 2021

Morrison’s lack of climate action puts national security at risk, former defence chief says

by Michael Mazengarb, first published at RenewEconomy,

A former Australian defence force chief has warned that a lack of strong climate policies and the Morrison government’s failure to properly assess the implications of a warming planet is putting the country’s national security at risk.

“Climate change remains the most significant threat to our security, and we must now act accordingly with the necessary scale and speed of action,” former Australian Defence Force chief Admiral Chris Barrie said, speaking on behalf of the Australian Security Leaders Climate Group (ASLCG).

“It is perplexing that a government that claims to be strong on security issues is weak, and even silent, on the greatest threat to the future security, safety and well-being of all Australians.



But Barrie welcomed the commitment by federal Labor in its newly launched climate policy package to undertake a strategic climate security threat assessment.

In its ‘Powering Australia’ plan, Labor said that an Albanese government would commission the Director-General of National Intelligence and the secretary of defence to undertake an urgent climate risk assessment.

“The Australian Labor Party are facing up to the threat that climate change poses to our future safety and well-being, but the Government remains missing in action on climate-security risks,” Barrie said.

“Our closest allies, including AUKUS partners the USA and UK, have recognised and are acting to mitigate the impacts of climate change on the security of their people and on peaceful relations between nations, yet our own government is falling behind.”

The Australian Security Leaders Climate Group (ASLCG) is a network of national security policy professionals and former defence leaders.

Barrie served as chief of the Australian Defence Force between 1998 and 2002 and the ASLCG published an assessment earlier in the year that argued that the Morrison government had been “missing in action” on climate security risks.

At the time, the group said that worsening impacts of climate change would amplify instability in parts of the world as conflict over diminishing resources, including water and food, become more frequent. Australia’s economy was also at direct risk of worsening drought and increasing severity of bushfires, the group said.

“Australia has a record of being ill-prepared at a national level for predictable climate threats such as extreme bushfire seasons and heatwaves, extreme drought and the water crisis in the Murray-Darling Basin, increasing aridification and loss of reliable croplands, and coastal inundation,” the report said.

“There is no evidence that there has been a systematic analysis of how severe climate disruption across the Asia–Pacific could impact supply chains and the Australian economy, for example.”

Barrie said on Monday the group welcomed Labor’s announcement on Friday that it would undertake the climate risk assessment and establish an Australian National Prevention and Resilience Framework, integrating climate concerns into defence force planning.

“It is encouraging that, as part of Labor’s recently announced climate policies, they have adopted key climate and security recommendations from ASLCG’s policy proposals, including committing to an urgent climate risk assessment, which the Group has been strongly advocating for,” Barrie said.

Extracts from Labor’s Powering Australia climate policy

Released on 3 December 2021  

Restoring National Leadership

An Albanese Labor Government will end this Government’s divisive approach and increase cooperation with the states and territories on energy reliability and affordability.

Labor will:

  • restore the role of the Climate Change Authority, while retaining decision-making and accountability by Government, including a new annual report to Parliament.
  • bid to co-host a future Conference of the Parties in Australia with Pacific partner countries and constructively and ambitiously participate in international forums
  • reinstate the position of Climate Change Ambassador in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
  • ensure large businesses provide Australians and investors with greater transparency and accountability when it comes to their climate-related plans, risks and opportunities
  • commission the Director General of National Intelligence and the Secretary of Defence to lead the development of an urgent climate risk assessment.

Treating climate change as a security threat

All Australians are feeling the impacts of climate change.

The 2020 Defence Strategic Update made this clear, noting climate change plays a part in extreme weather events in Australia, and the intensity and frequency of such disasters will test Australia’s resilience and Defence planning.

Climate change has serious ramifications for global security and the Australian Defence Force, including the potential to increase strategic competition in the region.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute says “Australia urgently needs to build the capability in Defence and other key agencies to recognise the strategic impacts of climate change and to position those organisations to respond”.

The Australian Security Leader Climate Group argues that Australia has repeatedly ignored the risks and is ill-prepared for the security implications of devastating climate impacts at home and in the Asia-Pacific, the highest-risk region in the world.

ABC’s 7:30 reported that a former Department of Defence official faced political pressure when analysing climate threats, being repeatedly told by the government not to use the term “climate change” in their work because it was “politically unacceptable”.

Our Allies and partners have identified this threat and are taking action.

Labor will:

  • Commission the Director General of National Intelligence and the Secretary of Defence to lead the development of an urgent climate risk assessment
  • Build an Australian National Prevention and Resilience Framework.

This would integrate with the Defence Force Posture Review announced by Labor.

Regular climate risk assessment will then become an ongoing feature of Australia’s security and economic wellbeing.

Powering Australia may be found here PDF