The first responsibility of a government is to safeguard the people and their future well-being.
The ability to do this is threatened by climate change, whose accelerating impacts will also drive political instability and conflict, posing large negative consequences to human society which may never be undone.
This report looks at climate change and conflict issues through the lens of sensible risk-management to draw new conclusions about the challenge we now face.
• From tropical coral reefs to the polar ice sheets, global warming is already dangerous.
• The world now faces existential climate-change risks which may result in “outright chaos” and an end to human civilisation as we know it.
• These risks are either not understood or wilfully ignored across the public and private sectors, with very few exceptions.
• Global warming will drive increasingly severe humanitarian crises, forced migration, political instability and conflict.
The Asia–Pacific region, including Australia, is considered to be “Disaster Alley” where some of the worst impacts will be experienced.
• Building more resilient communities in the most vulnerable nations by high-level financial commitments and development assistance can help protect peoples in climate hotspots and zones of potential instability and con ict.
• Australia’s political, bureaucratic and corporate leaders are abrogating their duciary responsibilities to safeguard the people and their future well-being.
They are ill-prepared for the real risks of climate change at home and in the region.
• The Australian government must ensure Australian Defence Force and
emergency services preparedness, mission and operational resilience, and capacity for humanitarian aid and disaster relief, across the full range of projected climate change scenarios.
• It is essential to now strongly advocate a global climate emergency response, and to build a national leadership group outside conventional politics to design and implement emergency decarbonisation of the Australian economy.
This would adopt all available safe solutions using sound, existential risk-management practices.
Forward by Sherri Goodman
In April 2017, I was invited by Breakthrough to visit Australia and talk to elected representatives, key government officials and business leaders, researchers and analysts, and at public meetings, to advance awareness of the capacity of climate change to amplify global conflict and instability, social and economic disruption, humanitarian crises and forced migration.
Working at the highest level in the United States on these issues for more than two decades, I have come to understand that these impacts have already placed the internal cohesion of many nations under great stress, including in the United States, as a result of a dramatic rise in migration, changes in weather patterns and water availability.
The flooding of coastal communities around the world, from low-lying Pacific Islands to the United States, Europe, South Asia and China, has the potential to challenge the very survival of regional communities and even some nation states.
My tour to Australia was also an opportunity to discuss what needs to be done.
Internationally, we must establish methods to better forecast potentially disruptive climate changes – such as severe drought – well in advance.
Only then can we develop the capacity for reducing risks through building global and community resilience and strength before we encounter full-on crises.
We also need to rethink refugee governance to better support the climate refugees who will comprise an increasing proportion of the refugee mix.
Current governance structures are simply inadequate.
Strengthening the resilience of vulnerable nations to the climate impacts already locked into the system is critical; however this will only reduce long-term risk if improvements in resilience are accompanied by strong actionable agreements to stabilise the climate.
Climate change is a threat multiplier to humanity that demands
a whole-of-society response.
If Australia recognises this reality
it would be placed, inter alia, at the leading edge of innovation and competitiveness in the advanced energy economies that are rapidly evolving in China and elsewhere in Asia.
Responding effectively to climate change requires greatly increased co-operation globally, regionally and among Australian institutions, to build more resilient communities.
Australia is at an inflection point in its approach to climate, energy and security.
It is time to act with clarity and urgency.
Sherri Goodman is former US Deputy Undersecretary of Defence for Environmental Security, Founder and Executive Director of the CNA Military Advisory Board, and a Senior Fellow at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
Ian Dunlop is a senior member of the Advisory Board for Breakthrough. Ian was an international oil, gas and coal industry executive, chairman of the Australian Coal Association and chief executive of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. From 1998-2000 he chaired the Australian Greenhouse Of ce Experts Group on Emissions Trading. He is a member of the Club of Rome.
David Spratt is Research Director for Breakthrough and co-author of Climate Code Red: The case for emergency action (Scribe 2008). His recent reports include Recount: It’s time to “Do the math” again; Climate Reality Check and Antarctic Tipping Points for a Multi-metre Sea-level Rise.
The authors thank Nic Maclellan for his advice on the Paci c scenario and climate nancing in this report.
Press link for full report: Breakthrough