Clear and present dan­ger

Con­flict, ex­treme weather and dis­as­ter: the mil­i­tary is on the front line of cli­mate change, re­ports An­drea Vance.

The Timaru Herald - - IN DEPTH -

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.’’

NZ DE­FENCE FORCE

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.

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