NZ Defence launches attack on climate change

By Shannon Jenkins

June 14, 2019

Climate change will “test the security and resilience of our community, our nation, the South Pacific, and the world,” New Zealand’s Minister of Defence, Ron Mark, said.

The New Zealand Ministry of Defence has highlighted the security threat of climate change in their new Defence Capability Plan.

It describes climate change as “one of the greatest security challenges for New Zealand defence in the coming decades”.

“The Pacific region, including New Zealand, will continue to be impacted by the intensifying impacts of climate change,” it said.

Our neighbour nation clearly views climate change as an issue that moves across sectors, acknowledging the relationship between well-being and environment in its recent well-being budget.

READ MORE: New Zealand’s well-being budget is a major policy innovation

The paper argues that climate change will have economic and cultural consequences that “intersect with a complex array of environmental and social issues”, which can give rise to low-level and more violent conflict.

The  New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) will face a growing number of tasks if it ignores the strengthening links between climate change and security, the paper said. 

They need to be ready in order to respond to events of “decreasing predictability” and increasing frequency. 

Impacts of climate change on ocean and marine life, particularly in the Pacific and Southern Oceans, could lead to fishing vessels operating in new areas.

This includes international waters and New Zealand’s expansive search and rescue area.

Growth of the New Zealand Army to 6000 personnel, and improved capacity through the planned sealift and airlift capabilities, will ensure NZDF is prepared to respond.

Improved aerial surveillance and maritime domain awareness will also ensure that it is better informed about the implications of climate changes as they happen.

An increase in the number of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations, increased likelihood of stability operations, and a larger number of search and rescue missions occurring across a broader geographical area are key issues, according to New Zealand Defence.

READ MORE: Coal and Defence leaders demand “drastic” climate action

They also identified a number of security, environmental and social impacts, which could lead to economic and political implications:

Security impacts

  • Rising temperatures
  • Melting ice
  • Sea level rise
  • Ocean acidification
  • Intensifying cyclones
  • More or less rainfall
  • Floods and droughts
  • Heatwaves

Environmental impacts  

  • Coral bleaching
  • Decreasing fish stocks and marine life
  • Coastal erosion
  • Increase in soil salinity
  • Unproductive land (non cultivable and eventually uninhabitable land)

Social, economic and political impacts

  • Loss of livelihood
  • Water and food scarcity
  • Increase in malnutrition
  • Loss of jobs/education opportunities
  • Loss of cultural identity
  • Damage to community infrastructure
  • Climate migration security implications
  • Human security challenges
  • Health-related crises
  • Resource competition (food and water security)
  • Violence from mismanaged adaptation or migration
  • Land disputes magnified by weak governance

Despite the Australian military supporting a shift to more sustainable options, and a former Chief of the Australian Defence Force calling for action, it seems that New Zealand has beat us to the bullet again.

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