Morrison’s lack of climate action puts national security at risk, former defence chief says

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A former Australian defence force chief has warned that a lack of strong climate policies and the Morrison government’s failure to properly assess the implications of a warming planet is putting the country’s national security at risk.

“Climate change remains the most significant threat to our security, and we must now act accordingly with the necessary scale and speed of action,” former Australian Defence Force chief Admiral Chris Barrie said, speaking on behalf of the Australian Security Leaders Climate Group (ASLCG).

“It is perplexing that a government that claims to be strong on security issues is weak, and even silent, on the greatest threat to the future security, safety and well-being of all Australians.”

But Barrie welcomed the commitment by federal Labor in its newly launched climate policy package to undertake a strategic climate security threat assessment.

In its ‘Powering Australia’ plan, Labor said that an Albanese government would commission the Director-General of National Intelligence and the secretary of defence to undertake an urgent climate risk assessment.

“The Australian Labor Party are facing up to the threat that climate change poses to our future safety and well-being, but the Government remains missing in action on climate-security risks,” Barrie said.

“Our closest allies, including AUKUS partners the USA and UK, have recognised and are acting to mitigate the impacts of climate change on the security of their people and on peaceful relations between nations, yet our own government is falling behind.”

The Australian Security Leaders Climate Group (ASLCG) is a network of national security policy professionals and former defence leaders.

Barrie served as chief of the Australian Defence Force between 1998 and 2002 and the ASLCG published an assessment earlier in the year that argued that the Morrison government had been “missing in action” on climate security risks.

The ASLCG Executive, Ian Dunlop, Cheryl Durrant, Major Michael Thomas (Retd), Admiral Chris Barrie AC (Retd) and Air Vice-Marshal John Blackburn AO (Retd). (Supplied).

At the time, the group said that worsening impacts of climate change would amplify instability in parts of the world as conflict over diminishing resources, including water and food, become more frequent. Australia’s economy was also at direct risk of worsening drought and increasing severity of bushfires, the group said.

“Australia has a record of being ill-prepared at a national level for predictable climate threats such as extreme bushfire seasons and heatwaves, extreme drought and the water crisis in the Murray-Darling Basin, increasing aridification and loss of reliable croplands, and coastal inundation,” the report said.

“There is no evidence that there has been a systematic analysis of how severe climate disruption across the Asia–Pacific could impact supply chains and the Australian economy, for example.”

Barrie said on Monday the group welcomed Labor’s announcement on Friday that it would undertake the climate risk assessment and establish an Australian National Prevention and Resilience Framework, integrating climate concerns into defence force planning.

“It is encouraging that, as part of Labor’s recently announced climate policies, they have adopted key climate and security recommendations from ASLCG’s policy proposals, including committing to an urgent climate risk assessment, which the Group has been strongly advocating for,” Barrie said.

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