Climate change and security: the challenge for the ADF (part 2)
6 Nov 2015|

One prediction of where rising sea levels will end up at Cottesloe Beach, Perth Western Australia.

In the first part of this post, I stressed how the ADF currently lags well behind other Western militaries in recognising the urgency of addressing climate change and security.

In a recent Climate Council report of which I was a co-author, ‘Be Prepared: Climate Change, Security and Australia’s Defence Force  we noted that climate change presents two types of risk to the ADF: capability risks and geostrategic risks.

On capability risks, we see the potential for coastal flooding and heatwaves to disable military infrastructure and thus undermine defence preparedness and readiness as well as undermining defence sustainment, perhaps through the effect of extreme heat on the health of our troops.

These effects can be ameliorated through sound forward planning. We also have a totally fossil fuel-based defence force which means that energy security measures, through efficiency and storage measures, should become ‘business-as-usual’ for our military.

With the addition of new, capable platforms to the force structure such as the Canberra Class ships, we have enhanced our platform capability for undertaking humanitarian assistance and disaster recovery (HADR) missions. But this kind of work is also manpower-intensive as our deployed forces often have to deal with traumatised victims of natural disasters.

When we look at the ADF, the personnel ceiling of which was set at about 55,000 full-timers in 1992, we may ask whether we have sufficient personnel in the present force. By my estimates on the same basis that we arrived at 55,000 in 1992, we should have 78,000 in the force this year and by 2040, 130,000 personnel in the ADF.

As growth in the Asia Pacific region reaches towards 7 billion people and the Australian population heads towards 40 million, we may see the effects of all these risks and vulnerabilities placing serious limitations on defence force assistance to the civil community (DACC) tasks in Australia and our ability to help in HADR tasks in our region.

Turning to geostrategic risks, we may also fail to provide the kind of leadership other countries in our region expect.

In the report we deliver a comparative analysis of the military actions taken in Australia, the US and the UK (table below, also available on p66). This table summary shows that on three counts we are up there with these allies. But, there are nine other areas where we’ve done nothing like our allies as far as we can find, and on another six counts we estimate that the ADF has taken limited action on key issues.

Comparison Table_edited-1

Leadership in both the US and UK has driven their military forces to take action to integrate the potential disruptions from climate change into core defence planning processes. In both countries it was the lawmakers who spearheaded the charge.

For example, we know that US Pacific Command sees rising sea-levels to be a significant threat to people in geographically vulnerable locations.

The integration of climate-related risks management into planning processes has led to a range of specific measures designed to facilitate early responses to disaster situations and provide US leadership throughout the region as well as capturing lessons learned into a comprehensive data base.

In New Zealand, a progressive NZDF took on these issues as core planning drivers as early as 2011.

The Australian Defence Force should try to catch up to our friends and allies. This will take political leadership as well as strong commitment from our senior officers. There’s much at stake for our reputation in our region and in the Australian community.