Anthony Albanese to order intelligence chief to examine security threats posed by climate crisis
Anthony Albanese will ask Australia’s most senior intelligence chief, Andrew Shearer, to personally lead a review of the security threats posed by the climate crisis.
The move has been backed by a former Australian defence force chief, retired Admiral Chris Barrie, who warned the government to plan for climate risks including disruptions to trade, more severe drought, and increasing demands on emergency services and the military.
In a document submitted to the UN outlining Australia’s new 2030 emissions target, the Albanese government confirmed it would order “an urgent climate risk assessment of the implications of climate change for national security, which will be an enduring feature of Australia’s climate action”.
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During the election campaign, Labor indicated this work would be jointly handled by Shearer, the head of the Office of National Intelligence, and the secretary of the Department of Defence, Greg Moriarty.
But Guardian Australia has established that Shearer – the most senior member of Australia’s intelligence community – would now take the lead on the project.
The exact scope and terms of reference are currently being drawn up, but the assessment was expected to consider options such as setting up an Office of Climate Threat Intelligence. If created, that office would update the threat assessments on a rolling basis.
The prime minister’s office said the details of the threat assessment were currently “being discussed with relevant departments, including the Department of Defence”.
“Like many governments around the world, the Albanese government does see climate change as a security issue, as well as being a central environmental and economic issue,” a spokesperson for Albanese’s office said.
“The director general of the Office of National Intelligence will coordinate an assessment of the implications for national security of climate change.”
A spokesperson for defence said it would “provide input on defence-specific issues”.
The Australian Security Leaders Climate Group welcomed the government’s pledge and offered to “practically support the government in undertaking the assessment in whatever ways are appropriate”.
Barrie, one of the group’s executive members, said the proposed assessment was important “because a comprehensive assessment of climate security risks has never previously been undertaken in Australia and it should form the basis for any serious climate policy”.
“Unless you understand those risks, policy inevitably will be inadequate,” Barrie said.
“This is what we are now seeing in Australia because of the accelerating physical impacts of climate change, far faster than forecast, and the damage already caused to our communities by drought, bushfires, floods and storms.”
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Barrie said climate threats and costs would affect Australia in many ways, including disruptions to vital import and export markets and supply chains. He also cited increasing demands on the health system, degraded and lost natural systems, and escalating adaptation needs.
“Globally there will be regional conflicts over shared resources, climate-change enhanced famine, breakdown in social cohesion, forced displacement of populations, and state failure, including in our region,” Barrie said.
“At present those risks to Australia are not understood, not properly assessed by governments, and certainly not incorporated into policy.”
Barrie said those risks would “continue to escalate in the absence of far stronger climate action than we have seen thus far, globally and here”.
He accused the previous government of having “seriously eroded the capacity of key climate change research and public institutions, such as CSIRO and the BOM”.
Related: Climate crisis is greatest threat to Australia’s future and security, former defence leaders warn
The executive director of the Lowy Institute, Michael Fullilove, will say in a speech on Wednesday he hopes the recent election “signalled the end of Australia’s climate wars, which destroyed several prime ministers and nearly broke our politics”.
Fullilove is expected to tell the National Press Club in Canberra that he had “long been perplexed by the inconsistent approaches that Australian conservatives and progressives take to the issues of hard security and climate”.
“Many on the right believe that we should lead on security and free-ride on climate. Many on the left believe we should lead on climate and free-ride on security,” Fullilove will say, according to speech extracts distributed in advance.
“But these are both good fights – and I’m in favour of fighting both of them.”
The Greens and independent crossbenchers are calling on the government to commit to a stronger 2030 emissions reduction target and new curbs on fossil fuels, in order to remain consistent with action required to limit warming to 1.5C.
The government has said it will implement the policies it took to the election and seek to legislate the new target when parliament returns late next month.
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The minister for international development and the Pacific, Pat Conroy, said the government was “deeply committed to taking real and significant climate action at home, and to re-establishing Australia as a climate leader internationally”.
Conroy said he planned to travel to the Pacific soon. He noted the Pacific Islands Forum’s Boe Declaration described the climate crisis as the “single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and wellbeing of the peoples of the Pacific”.
The Australian government’s updated climate plans include talking with the Pacific about jointly hosting a future international climate conference.
The government also plans to make an annual statement to parliament about climate policy, progress against national targets and international developments.