Australia must adopt a “wartime mobilisation” response to the climate emergency, former security leaders have told a review of the country’s defence policy.
The Australian Security Leaders Climate Group is calling for “a fundamental reframing of Australia’s defence and security strategy” away from geopolitical rivalry.
The group – whose members include the former Australian defence force chief Chris Barrie and former air force deputy chief John Blackburn – argues the country must push for unprecedented global cooperation on the climate crisis.
Despite the US and Australia vowing on Wednesday to “drive stronger global action to address the climate crisis”, the security leaders insist the issue is still being treated as an afterthought rather than a top-order threat.
The ADF faces ever-growing demands to respond to disasters at home and in the region, the group warns in a submission to the defence strategic review being conducted by former ADF chief Angus Houston and former defence minister Stephen Smith.
“Global inaction has resulted in climate change becoming an immediate existential threat to humanity and, together with nuclear war, is the greatest threat to the security of Australia and its people,” the submission says.
“Addressing that threat requires an emergency response, akin to wartime mobilisation.”
The submission says the crisis “could only be resolved by a collective determination to step up climate action to an emergency level … in which climate mitigation becomes the first priority of climate and politics in Australia and around the world”.
“Such a mobilisation will mean economic disruption and large-scale social and political change, but this can no longer be avoided; the alternative, of escalating climate impacts and self-sustaining warming, will be far worse,” it says.
“In these circumstances, the defence sector has the experience and capacity to be a significant contributor to enacting such a mobilisation. Defence should ensure it is well prepared for such a task.”
Ian Dunlop, an executive member of the group and former chair of the Australian Coal Association, said the mobilisation would start with being “crystal clear” on the risks.
“You would then have to say: look, we are now faced with something we’ve never been faced with before; we are going to have to pull together a comprehensive national approach to this with the best possible expertise we can find,” Dunlop said.
“We’ll have to recognise there is one thing that matters and that is getting emissions down quickly here and globally.”
Dunlop said responding to natural disasters was addressing the symptoms, not the cause, and much faster emissions cuts were needed.
The group’s submission takes aim at the “continued political willingness to expand Australia’s fossil fuel industry despite the fact that this will make similar future events even worse”.
“Australia needs an effective defence capacity to protect its own territory and to respond to regional disruption, but hard choices will have to be made in order to shape the economic environment to prioritise effective climate mitigation and resilience.”
Australia should press for cooperation on the climate crisis with “the other G20 nations who are responsible for 80% of global emissions, and particularly leading powers such as China and the USA”, the group says.
The Albanese government has ordered the Office of National Intelligence to complete a climate threat assessment – but the group is concerned this is limited to global risks, not domestic ones.
Australia and the US agreed at the Ausmin meeting on Wednesday to “strengthen efforts throughout this critical decade to keep a limit of 1.5 degrees temperature rise within reach”.
The allies plan to share assessments and advice on the national and regional security risks posed by climate change.
The foreign affairs minister, Penny Wong, said the change of government in Australia had resulted in “an enhanced emphasis” on climate within the alliance.