There is an increasing recognition that realistic climate change scenarios predict events that have the potential to significantly impact on all aspects of society. Some developed nations are taking steps to prepare for climate driven, crisis events such as extreme weather disasters and large-scale population displacements. Defence forces are being engaged in this planning, as a function of government that has the capacity to contribute the logistics, communications and manpower if and when required. In Australia, the Australian Defence Force (ADF) may need to further consider its existing policies, doctrine, capabilities and resilience to respond to large-scale and prolonged environmental emergency. When operating within their conventional military roles, ADF personnel are able to mount timely and effective military responses. The direct and indirect effects of climate change, however, may challenge capability with new and unique circumstances and consequences.

The ADF is perhaps the only government function with the capacity to react to the broad range of possible climate change driven crises. These crises may include, but not be limited to, the provision and distribution of humanitarian aid, dealing with civil unrest, controlling mass climate refugee movement, capacity building and damage assessment. These events could occur simultaneously and in domestic and international theatres. Now is perhaps the time for Government to provide the direction and resourcing to the ADF to adequately meet its climate change response obligations.

Key points:

  • Globally, governments are finding it necessary to include military contingency planning in preparation for the possible direct and indirect consequences of a changing climate.
  • Military forces are increasingly having to consider how they may deploy to respond to mass migration of climate-refugees displaced by famine or other, climate related, natural disasters.
  • The Defence White Paper of 2016 defines Australia’s climate change defence position as largely influenced by regional stability, particularly in Southeast Asia and the countries and island States of the Indo-Pacific.
  • Australian Defence Force preparedness for climate related crisis events will depend on timely, high quality information, resourcing and leadership.
  • Defence capabilities, doctrine, training and federal-state responsibilities will need to be considered, including their role within the Australian Emergency Management Framework.
  • Reserve forces may increasingly have a role to play, particularly within Australia. A review of training and deployment, together with legal and call-out implications may need to be considered.
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