Clear and present danger
Conflict, extreme weather and disaster: the military is on the front line of climate change, reports Andrea Vance.
The Defence Force will be stretched beyond capacity as global warming brings humanitarian disasters and violent conflict to the South Pacific.
That’s the alarming conclusion from a report published yesterday by the Government. It says climate change is now ‘‘a threat in its own right’’.
The joint Defence Ministry and Defence Force paper warns that extreme weather patterns will threaten water, food and energy security. Shortages often spark violence.
‘‘Climate change will be one of the greatest security challenges for New Zealand Defence in the coming decades,’’ the report says. ‘‘The links between climate change are indirect but demonstrable . . . [the impacts] will require more humanitarian assistance, and disaster relief, stability operations and search and rescue missions.’’
It goes on to predict: ‘‘The Defence Force may be faced with more frequent and concurrent operational commitments, which will stretch resources and may reduce readiness for other requirements.’’
The largest temperature changes will take place between the equator and New Zealand, and will deliver intense and frequent rain storms, tropical cyclones and prolonged droughts.
As this weather slams into New Zealand, critical infrastructure is likely to be damaged, requiring a military response. Estimates put five airports, more than 2000 kilometres of road and 46km of rail, as well as almost 45,000 residential buildings, at risk from rising seas.
Pacific island countries are among the most vulnerable in the world and, as one of their closest neighbours, New Zealand is expected to respond when natural disasters strike.
Low-lying Pacific island nations will be inundated, it warns, as the western Pacific Ocean is rising by about three millimetres a year – three times faster than the global average.
Eight islands in Micronesia and the Solomon Islands have already been immersed.
A Massey University report, He Waka Eke Noa [The canoe we are all in, without exception], recently noted: ‘‘Climate change is already impacting infrastructure across the Pacific, report warns. ‘‘The security implications of climate change are further magnified in areas dealing with weak governance or corruption.’’
The Massey report, produced from a workshop with diplomats, scientists, defence and security experts and academics in May, reaches a similar dystopian conclusion.
‘‘The human security implications of climate change could lead to insecurity as a consequence of displacement, the breakdown of traditional power structures, and the placing of governments and systems under duress.’’
It puts access to food, water and land as the top three ‘‘climate stressors’’ that could trigger security problems.
Anna Powles, of Massey’s Centre for Defence and Security Studies, says the United Nations and other non-governmental organisations have charted direct links between severe weather events and the rise of terrorism and conflict in Mali and South Sudan.
‘‘I’m not saying we are going to see that in the Pacific to the same degree, but in areas where there have already been conflicts, that are already under pressure and strain and there isn’t necessarily good governance, we may see instances of small-scale instability and conflict.’’
A Medium Heavy Operational Vehicle, loaded with food aid and shelter boxes, is driven off a landing craft on Vanua Balavu Island in Fiji, after tropical cyclone Winston in early 2016.