Australia’s military has warned of a rise in international conflicts and an influx of refugees as the effects of climate change start to bite.
Defence chief Angus Campbell has also reportedly warned that China could take advantage of rising sea levels to occupy abandoned islands in the Pacific.
The ABC has obtained internal Australian Defence Force briefing notes from last year under Freedom of Information, which also predict that the military might have to increase patrols in Australia’s northern waters to deal with “sea-borne migration” sparked by rising sea levels in the Indo-Pacific.
One document warns that climate change could “exacerbate the potential for conflict” and contribute to “state fragility and the undermining of economic development in our immediate region”.
Former Defence Force chief Chris Barrie told the ABC that Australia would be seen as the “land of opportunity” for many people affected by climate change.
In 2018, Admiral Barrie warned a mass migration of climate refugees might one day “overwhelm” ADF attempts at border control if Australia fails to respond to the threat of climate change.
“I think the time for action is now urgently upon us,” he told SBS.
The ABC says the ADF admits in the documents that it “does not currently have an overarching strategy or policy to specifically address the risks posed by climate change beyond the 2016 Defence White Paper”.
But Foreign Minister Marise Payne said Australia was focused on tackling climate change in the region, pointing to the signing of the Boe Declaration at the recent Pacific Islands Forum.
The declaration recognises climate change as the greatest risk to life and security in the Pacific.
“We are very focused on our engagement on climate in the region,” she told ABC’s Radio National on Monday.
The government is also helping pay for projects in the Pacific through a multibillion-dollar fund.
“Which will stream climate adaptation and resilience through its investment in energy, in transport, in communications and in water, reflects the priority we place on these issues,” Senator Payne said.
The minister recently met Fiji’s attorney-general and finance minister to look at financing infrastructure projects for the island nation.