“There’s literature on the challenges that climate change presents for national security going back to the 1980s, but that was much broader and speculative,” says Associate Professor Cassandra Star. “Now it's much clearer what some of those challenges are likely to be.”
Associate Professor Star leads the Climate and Sustainability Policy Research (CASPR) group at Flinders and, while she is a scientist by original training, in the multi-disciplinary world of climate change research her work is concentrated on the interface between politics and the policy process, and the subsequent impact of these dynamics on policy formulation.
Associate Professor Star is particularly interested in environment movements, what makes their advocacy less or more effective and how they attempt to influence the policy process.
The other side of her work advises policy makers on the best approaches to deal with a heating planet. Part of that is helping anticipate and understand the broader impact of the disruptions we can expect as the climate changes and the challenges of making good policy to respond to those impacts.
Associate Professor Star is currently working on a program of research with CASPR colleagues, funded by the Department of Defence, which she calls the Climate Resilience Project.
While climate-related defence challenges in the Northern Hemisphere centre on issues such as the potential for ice-free winter navigation of the Arctic Ocean, in the Australian neighbourhood they are more about the situation as nations in the Pacific face potential oblivion.
The project seeks to understand climate resilience in the Indo-Pacific, and what our neighbours might do to improve their climate resilience. It provides guidance to other institutional partners and players about how preparations can be strengthened ahead of a warmer future to minimise political and security impacts.
“Obviously the role for Defence in terms of national security isn’t about prevention – that’s someone else’s job – it is about response. So one of the challenges is about how to prepare for problems while making the best of government’s resources and institutional capacity.”
Associate Professor Cassandra Star
One of Associate Professor Star's key concerns is what might flow from the destabilisation which follows environmental disasters in the Pacific Ocean. There are clear implications for both the human cost and the security ramifications for Australia and its interests.
“If you look at what might be the first five countries to disappear, those five are all in the Pacific,” says Associate Professor Star. “But countries will become unviable before they physically disappear due to saltwater intrusion into their fresh water.”
Those changes to the political status quo in the region will require our own government departments and agencies to be well coordinated and ready to co-operate with our regional neighbours.
Closer to home, the bushfires that burned across Australia at the end of last year have also focused attention on the expectations of Defence and its resources – demands that Associate Professor Star expects will only increase.
“The likelihood is that those Defence resources won't necessarily increase even as the military is likely to be called on in a greater way, more often in our region, whether that's around border security, or natural disasters in countries in our region – or even just that more people will be travelling to Antarctica where the Australian Navy is the rescuer of last resort.”
All this means an increasing need to lean on the Australian Defence Force.
“We’ve seen that with COVID, as with the bushfires. These are the same kinds of events which the scientific evidence indicates that we need to expect more of.”
Associate Professor Star says it is vital for our political leaders to start thinking about climate impacts in a strategic way through the lens of safety and security for Australia and our region.
“It's no longer really a theoretical ‘this could happen in the future’ kind of thing. It is a reality and it is now a question of what will be the implications for Australian national security and how can we be prepared? What can we do now to try and minimise some of these impacts?”
Article published on 13 November 2020
A 375-million-year-old fish fossil is casting new light on our own evolution, and on the complex history of the earliest vertebrates.Learn more
Bushfires, droughts, failing crops and rising sea levels – the litany of disasters arising from climate change are all too familiar.Learn more
Waste can be valuable in ways that we don’t yet realise. It just takes a visionary to see it.Learn more
You consent to the use of our cookies if you proceed.