Climate change a security threat – defence report

By Talisa Kupenga

Climate change has been signalled by the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) as one of the country's greatest security threats, one that is already having adverse impacts here and in the Pacific

The latest NZDF report says global warming will stretch resources and capacity.  Defence Minister Ron Mark says a failure to act will see communities suffer.

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

The Climate Crisis: Defence Readiness and Responsibilities paper warns more frequent environmental disasters threaten key resource security.  In the wider Pacific shortages have already caused violence.

Mark says, "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 the loss of livelihood and climate identity to climate induced-migration, cannot be understated."

The western Pacific Ocean is rising by about three millimetres a year- three times faster than the global average.  Mark says rising sea levels have already submerged coastal rice fields in Papua New Guinea. 

Mark says, "These tribes are just like Māori, they have their taonga tuku iho (inter-generational treasures) they have their tribal boundaries and their ancestral urupa (burial grounds) where they have buried people.  When you start to see people near the coast and their entire village is wiped out and they've been relocated, where do they go?"

Climate Minister James Shaw says, “It is a real concern for us and as Minister Mark says I think we have a sensitivity to that here both because of the connection that Māori have which is quite similar but also because of the Pacific island communities that we have that are based here."

The paper will inform the review of the Defence Capability Plan expected to be released next year.