Climate and security



Dale Hess, Victoria Regional Meeting

This article is based on a talk given at the QPLC webinar on 30 April, 2022

National security has been a key issue in the federal election. The government tells us, “We are seeing escalating strategic competition occur in our region and globally, particularly with an increasingly assertive China.” The government warns us that the rules-based international order is “under threat”.

How does the government respond to this challenge? It responds by defining security through a military lens. Under the heading of “protecting our interests in an uncertain world” the recent budget outlines three main areas for priority:[1]

  • Investing in our strategic partnerships, i.e. military alliances, including the establishment of AUKUS and support for Ukraine.
  • Expanding and equipping the Australian Defence Force. (Increasingly Australia is being drawn into the United States military and foreign policy system with consequential loss of sovereignty)
  • Keeping Australians safe, with investment in our cyber capability, Operation Sovereign Borders and the prevention of terror threats and serious crimes. (Australia’s policies of following the United States into wars creates refugees.)

Implicit in this response is the government’s commitment to the goal of Australia becoming one of the world’s top ten arms suppliers.

Another way to look at the current situation is to adopt a more inclusive viewpoint of security. The Commission for the Human Future at the Australia National University (ANU) has identified 10 catastrophic threats facing humanity in its report, Surviving and Thriving in the 21st Century.[2]

Let’s consider one of these threats, climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its comprehensive 6th Assessment Report.[3]  But climate change is being ignored in the federal election.[4] This suits both the Coalition and Labor.

The IPCC report for Working Group I is the work of 234 climate scientists who examined and reviewed more than 14,000 publications. They predicted hotter temperatures, more dangerous fire weather, more droughts and floods, higher sea levels.[5] We can see these effects in the recent floods devastating Queensland and NSW,[6] the massive bushfires of 2019-2020 burning up to 19 million hectares,[7] and the 2017-2019 drought in the Murray-Darling Basin and NSW.[8]

The IPCC has prepared a regional report for Australasia, and I invite you to read it.[9]  I will mention just two points:

  •  Australian land areas have warmed by around 1.4°C and Aotearoa/New Zealand land areas by around 1.1°C between ~1910 and 2020.
  •  Global emissions must peak by 2025 to keep warming at 1.5°C.

There are wide-ranging consequences:

  •  The IPCC predicts there will be increased stress on the ecosystems, towns, cities, infrastructure, health, and the economic sector, including agriculture, finance, and tourism.[10]
  •  According to the Australian Climate Council, climate change will reduce security in our region and increase the risk of conflict and Australia will not find lasting national security without adequately addressing it.[11] Their report on climate and security states:
    •  “Australia’s failure to address climate change is already leading to a loss of our geopolitical influence, particularly in the Pacific.
    •  Pacific Island Countries as well as Bangladesh, China, Vietnam, India and Indonesia face significant threats from sea level rise, which is likely to increase displacement and forced migration…”

What can be done? There are actions and policies that need to change.

The Budget is reducing spending in agencies tasked with investing in renewable or low emissions technologies. Australia is spending public money in ways that exacerbate climate change, including handing out billions of dollars in fossil fuel subsides.”[12]

The IPCC study indicates that as a first step, Australia must at least halve our emissions (below 2005 levels) by 2030. “To have a 50% chance of keeping global warming to 1.5℃ by century’s end, global CO₂ emissions must halve in a decade, reach net zero in the 2050s and go net negative thereafter.

Methane emissions would also have to halve by 2050 in these scenarios.

Halving global emissions by 2030 is viable and achievable, the IPCC says. But it requires an immediate step-change in climate policy across all sectors, countries and levels of government.”[13]

I invite Friends to read the new vision of security by American Friends Service Committee and Friends Committee on National Legislation, called Shared Security[14].

Both Washington and Canberra base their “national security paradigm” on an “us vs them” strategy. Enemies must be identified and destroyed. The AFSC and FCNL suggest new policies are needed, ones based on integrated problem-solving approaches that advance human dignity. They urge adoption of a new “human security” model that focuses on safety and wellbeing for individuals and communities rather than nation-states. This approach recognises non-traditional challenges, such as environmental stress and economic and public health crises.

A second dimension is the idea of “global security” which replaces the traditional notion of the primacy of state sovereignty, with a focus on building more cooperative and effective international institutions. This approach strengthens international law and cooperative problem-solving at a global level.

Combining human security and global security approaches results in “shared security”, a concept which recognises the interdependent nature of our world and the need for both global and local solutions for today’s problems. It rejects the militarised and fear-based underpinnings of current policies, and instead upholds human dignity, and helps resilient communities solve problems non-violently.





[1] Leigh Tonkin, 2022, ‘The budget gives an insight on how Ukraine war and global uncertainty might affect Australia. This is what we learnt’, ABC News 30 March 2022.

[2] John Hewson, et al., Surviving and Thriving in the 21st Century, Canberra: Australia National University, March 2020.  These threats include the threat of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, global warming and human-induced climate change, pandemics of new and untreatable disease, the rising food insecurity and failing nutritional quality, the decline of natural resources, particularly water, the collapse of ecosystems and loss of biodiversity, chemical pollution of the Earth system, including the atmosphere and oceans, human population growth beyond Earth’s carrying capacity, the advent of powerful, uncontrolled new technology, and national and global failure to understand and act preventatively on these risks.

[3] David Karoly, 2021, ‘Monday’s IPCC report is a really big deal for climate change. So what is it? And why should we trust it?’, The Conversation. Brendan Mackey, et al., 2022, ‘New IPCC report shows Australia is at real risk from climate change, with impacts worsening, future risks high, and wide-ranging adaptation needed’, The Conversation. Frank Jotzo, et al., 2022, ‘IPCC says the tools to stop catastrophic climate change are in our hands. Here’s how to use them’, The Conversation. Thomas Wiedmann, et al., 2022, ‘IPCC finds the world has its best chance yet to slash emissions – if it seizes the opportunity’, The Conversation.

[4] Bernard Keane, 2022, ‘Climate is being ignored, especially by the ABC — and the loudest voice is of denialists’, Crikey.

[5] IPCC ARG WGI Regional Fact Sheet Australasia, n.d.,; ‘Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis’. Climate Council.

[6] Conal Hanna, 2022, ‘Floods in Queensland and NSW: what we know about areas affected, and what’s likely to happen next’, The Guardian 28 February 2022.

[7] ‘Australian Bushfires’. WWF Australia.

[8] ‘Previous Droughts’, Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

[9] IPCC ARG WGI Regional Fact Sheet Australasia, Op. cit.

[10] Brendan Mackey, et al., 2022, Op. cit.  Olivia Willis, 2019, ‘The health impacts of climate change and why calls for action are growing louder’, ABC News 6 July 2019.

[11] Climate Council, 2021, Rising to the Challenge: Addressing Climate and Security in our Region.

[12] Emily Sakzewski, 2022, ‘Spending on key climate change agencies is set to fall’, ABC News 29 March 2022, Climate Council, 2021, Rising to the Challenge: Addressing Climate and Security in our Region.

[13] Thomas Wiedmann, et al., 2022, ‘IPCC finds the world has its best chance yet to slash emissions – if it seizes the opportunity’, The Conversation.

[14] American Friends Service Committee and Friends Committee on National Legislation, 2013, Shared Security Reimagining U.S. Foreign Policy.  


Related Posts


The Paradox of Power

The Paradox of Power by Brendan Caulfield-James | 6 Dec, 2020 Brendan Caulfield-James, Victoria Regional Meeting The greatest achievement of humanity is not its works of art, science or technology, but the recognition of its own...

Read More

Studying to Create God in Our Own Image?

Ivan Himmelhoch, Victoria Regional Meeting It is always profoundly humbling to visit a person in a hospice at the end stage of their life’s journey. Such encounters have also made me reflect very deeply as to why that...

Read More
Share This