On 14 June 2017, the Australian Senate referred the implications of climate change for Australia's national security to the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee for inquiry and report. The Committee has received 70 submissions and held two public hearings. In May 2018, the long-awaited inquiry was released. The enquiry examined the likely impacts of extreme weather on military infrastructure, the economy and the wider region. Conclusions are straightforward: Climate change is a current and existential national security risk to Australia, and Australia does not have an overarching climate security strategy.
According to the inquiry, Australia lies in the region most vulnerable to the impact of a changing climate, including security threats, resulting from both the onset of long term trends and increased extreme weather events. Climate change is affecting the Australian community and economy, and influencing regional instability, population movement, and demands for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
As regards the national security perspective, climate change is exacerbating threats and risks Australia has been already exposed to such as sea level rise, bushfires, droughts, extreme rainfall events, and higher-intensity cyclones. In this context, American Rear Admiral David Titley (retired) told the committee the 'rapidly changing climate may create, accelerate and exacerbate already unstable situations throughout the world'. Climate change has potential to disrupt a “stable world order” on a scale rarely seen. According to David Titley, future conflict may result from food and water scarcity and, pressures on social welfare.
The inquiry has made following recommendations:
1) The committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government commits to providing ongoing adequate funding for climate science and research organisations.
2) The committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government develop a climate security white paper, or similar planning document, to guide a coordinated whole of government response to climate change risks.
3) The committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government develop a National Climate, Health and Well-being Plan based on the Framework for a National Strategy on Climate, Health and Well-being for Australia.
4) The committee recommends the Department of Defence consider releasing an unclassified version of the work undertaken by Defence to identify climate risks to its estate.
5) The committee recommends the National Aerial Firefighting Centre undertake a cost benefit analysis to assess whether leasing arrangements or government ownership of firefighting aircraft will provide the best value and support to firefighters and communities in the future.
6) The committee recommends that the Commonwealth Government consider the need for a dedicated climate security leadership position in the Home Affairs Portfolio to facilitate coordination on climate resilience issues, including disaster risk reduction, infrastructure planning, community health and well-being, and emergency management.
7) The committee recommends that the Department of Defence create a dedicated senior leadership position to assist in planning and managing the delivery of domestic and international humanitarian assistance and disaster relief as pressures increase over time.
8) The committee recommends that national security agencies increase their climate security knowledge and capability by encouraging participation of staff in available courses.
9) The committee recommends the Commonwealth Government extend the National Partnership Agreement on Natural Disaster Resilience and review after the new funding arrangements are well established and data is available on the funding available for mitigation activities.
10) The committee recommends that the Department of Defence establish emissions reductions targets across stationary and operational energy use, and report against these in its annual report.
11) The committee recommends the Commonwealth Government provide further funding for international climate adaptation and disaster risk reduction measures, in addition to the existing aid budget, to the extent that financial circumstances allow.