The science of climate change is too doubtful to dramatically change Australia’s national defence plans, according to a key adviser on the Australian Defence Force’s recent White Paper.
While the white paper acknowledges for the first time climate change is a potential security risk, it says large-scale strategic consequences of climate change are not likely to be felt before 2030.
A key adviser on the white paper, Professor Ross Babbage, says he is not convinced that climate change exists at all.
“The data on what’s really happening in climate change was looked at pretty closely and the main judgment reached was that it was pretty uncertain – it wasn’t clear exactly what was going on,” he said.
“When you look at that data, it really does suggest that there hasn’t been a major change in the last decade or so and certainly no major increase.
“So the sort of judgments that were required have to be fairly open at this stage.”
However Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has frequently put forward the opposite view, and other security analysts believe Defence should not be debating the basic science of global warming.
Anthony Bergin, from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, says the ADF’s judgement goes against most scientific conclusions.
“There was no supporting evidence presented in the Defence White Paper for the judgement that there would be no strategic impacts of climate change for 30 years,” he said.
“It seems to run counter to most of the scientific judgements that are now concluding that impact of climate change is indeed faster and more severe than previous estimates.”
In the US and the UK, security agencies and the military are providing resources to prepare for potential new climate conflicts over water, food and refugees as well as increasingly frequent natural disasters.
They are also moving to ensure defence equipment will function in more extreme weather conditions.
Sydney University’s Professor Alan Dupont says the CIA in the US had the right approach.
“They accepted the scientific forecasts of the IPCC as their starting point because they thought they were not qualified to contest the scientific issues. And I would have thought the same applied to our own defence department.”
At the internationally respected Royal United Services Institute in London, Dr Tobias Feakin, the director of national security says the Australian white paper is out of step.
“Climate change is already happening, so to press pause on considering it as a strategic issue, I think, could be a mistake,” he said.
“The time cycles for buying equipment rotate in about 20-year cycles so you need to begin to make the decisions now to purchase the kinds of equipment that you’ll need for climate change world.
“So to not actually acknowledge the kind of changes that we will be seeing then, I think will be quite short-sighted.”
Because of long lead times and high expense, Professor Babbage says Defence moves cautiously when it comes to adopting new planning scenarios.
“At this stage there isn’t really the case to fundamentally change the direction of the Defence Force as a consequence of what we are so far seeing in terms of climate change, given the uncertainties that we still see in the data sets.
Professor Babbage says Defence considered a variety of climate scenarios and judged Australia’s current defence capabilities and force structure would cope.
He points out that Prime Minister Rudd, as chairman of the National Security Council, signed off on the white paper’s conclusions.
ABC News, 9 October 2009