Publications

Heating up the planet: climate change and security

13 June 2006   |   Lowy Institute Papers   |   By Prof. Alan Dupont and Graeme Pearman

This is a path-breaking examination of the potential implications for national and regional security that stem from the emerging non-traditional security challenge ‘climate change’ – especially for Australia and its Asia-Pacific neighbourhood. It analyses the impact of temperature increases and sea level rise for food, water, energy, infectious diseases, natural disasters and environmental refugees and asks whether scientists may have underestimated climate change risks.

'Climate change is fast emerging as the security issue of the 21st century, overshadowing terrorism and even the spread of weapons of mass destruction as the threat most likely to cause mega-death and contribute to state failure, forced population movements, food and water scarcity and the spread of infectious diseases.'

Key Findings
The world is facing a prolonged period of planetary warming unprecedented in human history.
Protecting and stabilising our climate is a legitimate objective of Australian national security policy.
Sensible risk management indicates that policy-makers need to take the issue of climate change more seriously than they are at present

Full Text

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    The world is facing a prolonged period of planetary warming, largely fuelled by modern lifestyles. Crucially, however, there is no united consensus about appropriate strategies for dealing with the consequences of climate change, primarily because there is no agreement about its seriousness for international security. Compressed within the space of a single century, global warming will present far more daunting challenges of human and biological adaptation.

    A principal conclusion of this report is that the wider security implications of climate change have been largely ignored and seriously underestimated in public policy, academia and the media. Climate change will complicate and threaten Australia’s security environment in several meaningful ways.

    Regionally, where climate change coincides with other transnational challenges to security, such as terrorism or pandemic diseases, or adds to pre-existing ethnic and social tensions, then the impact will be magnified. However, state collapse and destabilising internal conflicts is a more likely outcome than interstate war.

    For a handful of small, low-lying Pacific nations, climate change is the ultimate security threat, since rising sea levels will eventually make their countries uninhabitable.

    Far from exaggerating the impact of climate change it is possible that scientists may have underestimated the threat. Abrupt climate change could push the planet’s fragile and already stretched ecosystem past an environmental tipping point from which there will be no winners.