CHRISTIAN DOWNIE. The security threat from climate change

The Turnbull Government’s decision to continue to back coal is not just bad economics, it also makes no sense from a national security perspective as the worsening impacts of climate change threaten international stability.  

Is climate change a national security threat?

Over the last decade nations around the world, including our key allies, have begun to focus on the growing security risks posed by climate change.

In the US, the Pentagon has issued a series of reports identifying climate change as an immediate threat that must be addressed.

In the UK there has been growing recognition that the risks posed by climate change must be incorporated into defence planning

And in Australia, multiple reports over the years have come to the same conclusion. That is, that climate change is a legitimate national security threat that must be taken seriously.

What are the risks?

The reason for this is simple. As global temperatures spin out of control, climate change acts as what has been termed a ‘threat multiplier’, or to put it more simply, climate change makes things worse; indeed much worse.

Take water security as an example. Fresh water is crucial to the survival of all nations. Yet around the world communities are struggling to secure enough fresh water. In fact around 98% of water on the planet is salty, only 2% is fresh and can be used for drinking, farming and washing.

Climate change will make these struggles harder. For example, warming causes polar ice melt into the sea, which turns fresh water into salt water. But perhaps more importantly, warming also causes shifting rainfall patterns. The IPCC special report on climate change adaptation estimates that around one billion people in dry regions may face increasing water scarcity.

Food security is another example. As climate change increases the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events it will have adverse impacts on our capacity to secure food. More droughts, fires and floods, for example, will destroy crops and critical farming infrastructure.

It is not just food and water. Energy will also be affected. Extreme weather events are likely to lead to disruption in global energy markets and the destruction of critical energy infrastructure, for example, affecting electricity generation.

Indeed it was more than a decade ago that the International Energy Agency called for countries to “start undertaking a systematic review of the energy security implications of their climate policy initiatives and vice versa.”

Of course all these risks, and there are many more, will increase instability around the world, especially in our region. Extreme weather events, lack of water, food, and other basic necessities will lead to increased conflict and refugee flows.

This was precisely the conclusion reached the by the Pentagon in 2015 when it stated “that climate change is an urgent and growing threat to our national security, contributing to increased natural disasters, refugee flows, and conflicts over basic resources such as food and water. These impacts are already occurring, and the scope, scale, and intensity of these impacts are projected to increase over time.”

Our response

In the face of all these risks, which are costly and forever mounting, the easiest and cheapest thing to do would be to reduce our emissions, and encourage other nations to do the same.

If defence planners around the world now recognise the risks posed by climate change, it is beyond belief that our political leaders look the other way.

And yet if the Turnbull Government’s behaviour over the last few weeks is anything to go by the governments plan is to put more carbon into the atmosphere not less. As others have pointed out, the decision to continue to support coal is bad economics. But it also makes no sense from a national security perspective.

More carbon in the atmosphere equals less security. A simple equation that even the most simple of political leaders should understand.

But the longer they don’t, and the longer our leaders frustrate the transition toward cleaner energy, the greater the threat to our water security, food security, energy security; and ultimately our national security.

Christian Downie is a Vice Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of New South Wales and a Visiting Fellow at the Australian National University.


John Laurence Menadue is the publisher of Pearls & Irritations. He has had a distinguished career both in the private sector and in the Public Service.

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2 Responses to CHRISTIAN DOWNIE. The security threat from climate change

  1. Avatar John Ward says:

    Misleading and Deceptive leaders and The climate change misinformation campaign

    The Guardian May 2015
    The president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim MD, PhD recently stated that it was crazy that governments were still driving the use of coal, oil and gas by providing subsidies. “We need to get rid of fossil fuel subsidies now,” he said.

    In July 2016, Nicholas Stern estimated that tackling climate change would require investment of 2% of world GDP each year. The IMF indicates, that if governments stopped world fossil subsidies $5.6 Trillions per year, it would benefit world GDP a year by 3.8%.

    How did the fossil fuel industry react to this knowledge in 1980?
    The innocuously titled “Global Climate Science Communications Plan,” written with the direct involvement of fossil fuel companies including ExxonMobil (then Exxon) and Chevron, details a plan for dealing with climate change that explicitly aimed to confuse and misinform the public.

    Why did Governments and Fossil fuel collude?
    There is collusion to effect World Government subsidies of $5.6 Trillions per annum (according to the IMF calculations), to create the illusion of low costs and reliable coal generated electricity, and to manage, resist and delay the growing threat of investment in renewable energy as competition, to the dominance of the fossil fuel sector.

    There certainly has been a ‘climate hoax that continues today.’ It is the four decades’ long campaign by the world’s largest fossil fuel companies to deceive the public by distorting the realities and risks of climate change.

    Why do taxpayer funds subsides the Fossil fuel Industry while Coal and Oil giants pay virtually no tax.
    Malcolm Turnbull has been subsidising the fossil fuel industry with (the IMF estimates) $1,712 per Australian a year or $41 billions of taxpayer funds.
    This includes exploration funding for Geoscience Australia and tax deductions for mining and petroleum exploration.
    The IMF calculates that Australians subsidisations to the Fossil Fuel Industry account for hidden adverse costs spread out across the states and the ATO, that ultimately, permanently come out of taxpayers’ pockets.

    Tony Abbott addressed the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), “I want to assure you,” he said, “that the coalition will repeal the carbon tax, abolish the Department of Climate Change, abolish the Clean Energy Fund. ”
    That was his intent, instead the Legislature twice refused to allow the Executive’s Bill to Abolish the CEFC, to become law.

    The Executive attempted for two years to alter the CEFC investment mandate, to undermine the purposes of the Act; by revoking a provision of the CEFC Act 2012. The fact is any change to the CEFC Act 2012. Must be to the original Act. Altering the CEFC Act to achieve the executive’s purpose can only be done by going back to the Senate.

    What is the CEFC?
    The CEFC was set up by the Gillard government in 2012.
    It mobilises capital investment to facilitate increased flows of finance into the clean energy sector in renewable energy, low-emission technology and energy efficiency in Australia.
    The corporation operates like a traditional financer, working with co-financers and project proponents to seek ways to secure financing solutions for the clean energy sector.
    It focuses on projects and technologies at the later stages of development which have a positive expected rate of return. 
    In support of the CEFC, Responsible Investment Association Australasia stated:
    A testament to this model is that global trend by many countries to put in place such public finance institutions to help catalyse investment flows into low carbon assets, including the UK Green Investment Bank, Germany’s kfW, China’s Development Bank, the US Department of Environment’s Loan Program Office, the New York Green Bank, California Clean Energy Fund, European Investment Bank and many of the multilateral development banks such as the Asian Development Bank.[22]

    LNP Ministers have schemed with Coal and Oil corporations, to support Coal electricity generation and attack Alternative Energy, by remove all possible funds supporting from the CEFC.
    Treasurer Hockey created a disruption so great that the alternative energy collapsed by 88%, reflecting a similar executive incursion into the Car Manufacturing sector. Prime minister Turnbull caused similar disruption during the 2016 election campaign by pledging a total amount $6.5 billion, left in the CEFC account to other LNP causes.

    As the PM ‘reallocate funds’ by disrupting and ignoring the directly expressed objectives of the Act. ‘The CEFC invests to increase the flow of finance into the clean energy sector.’
    Also ignored were the CEFC Constitutional functions for purpose relating to external affairs powers (section 51(xxix) of the Constitution), i.e., giving effect to Australia’s obligations under the United Nations Climate Change Convention, by investing in the development of renewable energy and low-emission technologies that could reasonably be
    expected to control, reduce or prevent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases.

    Recently, the Cabinet created a third investment directive to modify the intent of the CEFC Act and in doing so has exceeded its authority, ignoring the need to return to the Parliament to get required authority from the Legislature in doing so committing Misfeasance by benefitting the Coal & Oil energy sector, but causing a deficit to the Alternative energy sector of an 88% collapse in investment.

    Ministers Hunt and Cormann have claimed the power to issue new Investment Mandates is implied in section 64(1) the Act, yet they continuing to ignore the express limits placed on them by the Legislature, directing, how and where the CEFC does or does not invest its resources.

    The level of, malfeasance and misfeasance and corruption in Federal and State Governments will someday be addressed by courts as a matter of urgency. The High Court and Federal Circuit Courts, are ultimately the only Judicial bodies with the constitutional authority to address these executive levels of wrongdoing

    The fundamental rule of interpretation is that a statute is to be expounded according to the intent of the Parliament that made it, and that intention has to be found by an examination of the language used in the statute as a whole.
    It is abundantly clear, the Parliament that produced the Clean Energy Finance Corporation Act 2012, intended the Act not be easily diverted or altered by new directives inimical to its purposes.

    The Rule of Law
    The High Court is given jurisdiction in matters in which a writ of mandamus or prohibition or an injunction is sought against an officer of the Commonwealth. This jurisdiction cannot be altered or taken away by Parliament. It confers on the High Court the power, by making certain forms of order that historically followed judicial review of executive action, to compel officers of the Commonwealth to act according to law. The expression ‘officer of the Commonwealth’ includes the Prime Minister and Ministers, and all public servants. The effect of the provision is, no one is above the law. Thus government officials must exercise their powers according to law. If they do not, then, in the last resort, the High Court may order them to do so The Constitution, which is the basic law, itself declares that the government must obey the law, and gives the High Court the jurisdiction to compel such obedience.
    That jurisdiction cannot be removed or modified except by constitutional amendment.
    Parliament, if acting within the limits of the powers assigned to it by the Constitution, may change the law.
    The executive government must obey the law. That is what the rule of law means.”

  2. Avatar Henry Haszler says:

    For what it’s worth I made a generically similar point in my Dip Econ [La Trobe] thesis in 1991. Didn’t publish so no credits there.

    Anyway, my point concentrates on sea level rise as just one manifestation of climate change and is: Do the Abbotts, Turnbulls, Trumps and all their stupid [sorry but they are] climate science denier mates think that the Bangladeshis, for example, will just stand there while the sea rises up their ankles, knees,thighs, waists …..drowning their homes, families and crops and DO NOTHING? Of course they won’t. They will move and when they do they will put pressure on others and that will eventually lead to conflict.

    I have already seen references to the drought in Africa – extreme weather conditions are more likely under climate change – being thought responsible for some of the tensions there.

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