The Climate Crisis: Defence Readiness and Responsibilities

  • Hon Ron Mark

Thank you very much for coming today.

Climate change is having an adverse impact across our immediate neighbourhood, and at home.

This government is committed to ensuring New Zealand does its part to address climate change. This means both contributing to mitigating climate change itself, and working with our international partners to respond to the intensifying impacts climate change will continue to bring.

I would like to thank New Zealand’s Minister for Climate Change, James Shaw for being here today with me to highlight this important issue—climate change intersecting with security.

At the 2018 Pacific Islands Forum, the leaders of our neighbourhood, including New Zealand, affirmed that “climate change presents the single greatest threat to the livelihood, security and wellbeing of Pacific people”. 

The effects of climate change that we’re already seeing in the region, as well as the increasing intensity to come, demonstrate the crucial timing of this declaration.

The region is facing increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events leading to a range of environmental impacts such as coral bleaching, decreasing fish stocks and increased soil salinisation—all have flow-on economic, cultural and social consequences.

New Zealand is a Pacific nation.

I remain proud that the coalition Government’s Strategic Defence Policy Statement elevates our ability to act in the Pacific to our top set of priorities, placing it at the same level as our own territory. 

Defence will be called upon to address a range of challenges alongside other agencies in our communities, across the nation, and – together with our partners – in the Pacific and the world.

Climate change is at the forefront of these challenges. The risk of concurrent and more extreme weather events is increasing, impacts are increasingly affecting livelihoods, and climate migration is already happening. 

Our Pacific Island partners are disproportionately impacted. The western Pacific Ocean is rising at about three times the global average rate of around three millimetres annually.

Today we are releasing a new Defence Assessment, titled The Climate Crisis: Defence readiness and responsibilities.  It reinforces that climate change is one of the greatest security challenges of our time.

The key messages are clear.

Climate change will exacerbate water shortages, food insecurity, and impact public health—further challenging areas around the world with limited resources or weak governance.

The effects of climate change will challenge Defence, in terms of responding to more frequent and more intense events in our region.

Understanding and accounting for the security impacts of climate change will be a critical component of our planning efforts in the years to come.

The links between climate change and conflict are indirect but demonstrable.

When the effects of climate change intersect with a complex array of environmental and social issues, they can be significant contributors to both low-level and more violent conflict. This can include violence between communities, disputes over land and resource competition. 

The importance of managing the social impacts of climate change – from water and food insecurity, and loss of livelihood and cultural identity, to climate-induced migration – cannot be understated. 

When not well managed, these social impacts of climate change have the potential to heighten security concerns in the Pacific and extending into both maritime Southeast Asia and South Asia and further afield.

Climate change is a challenge that Defence needs to be ready for.

The impacts of climate change will require more humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, more search and rescue missions, and potentially stability operations.

This means more frequent and concurrent Defence Force commitments.

Defence must also do its part, in terms of adopting more environmentally sustainable and responsible practices. 

This assessment puts us on a path to elevate and expand some of the good work that’s already underway, from our camps and bases to the ways we train.

Implementing new initiatives takes time and does come with a cost. This assessment will be followed by a joint Defence implementation plan in 2019. 

The Defence Force also has a role in supporting scientific research on climate change in Antarctica and other deployments.

So with this assessment, we look forward to advancing the conversation on the security implications of climate change in New Zealand and with our partners, and in setting ourselves on a path to enhanced environmental sustainability.  

We look forward to continuing to learn from our Pacific friends and strategic partners to continuing to strengthen our shared resilience through strong partnerships.