Australia’s Climate Security – U.S. Expert on Climate Change and National Security Roundtable



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On April 7, the Centre for Policy Development, together with the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute at the University of Melbourne (MSSI), delivered a roundtable on Climate change and national security with special guest Dr Sherri Goodman, a leading global expert on this subject and one of the interviewees for CPD’s 2015 report The Longest Conflict. Dr Goodman was joined by Cheryl Durrant, Director of Preparedness at the Australian Department of Defence (ADF) as well as Rob Sturrock, CPD Policy Director and lead author of The Longest Conflict.

Climate Change and National Security

On Climate change and national security

Climate change has ramifications for all aspects of our lives, yet the security impacts remain largely undiscussed in Australia. This is despite the fact that climate security has risen to prominence globally in the past decade. Events such as natural disasters, extreme weather, rising sea levels and resource shortages pose a direct threat to countries around the world. Yet climate change also interacts with pre-existing problems within societies. Climate-driven phenomena such as declining natural resources, reduced crop yields, rising food prices and increased morbidity can act as accelerants for instability and conflict.

Australia – which finds itself in the region most exposed and vulnerable to climate change – lacks a rigorous, fulsome policy dealing with our climate security challenges at home and abroad.

It was within this context that Dr Sherri Goodman came to Australia to discuss climate security and to improve awareness of the issue. Dr Goodman is a former US Deputy Undersecretary of Defence for Environmental Security, a life member of the Council of Foreign Relations and key contributor to a series of landmark US reports on climate security by the non-profit research body CNA. She was in Australia to help promote the award- winning documentary The Age of Consequences which focuses on the security impacts of climate change.

Our experts discussed how thinking on these issues has evolved in Australia, the U.S. and globally:

  • Sherri Goodman provided an overview of the key points from The Age of Consequences, as well as insight into how the debate has evolved in the U.S. and globally since the early 2000s. Sherri also reflected on her engagements in Australia over the week.
  • Rob Sturrock gave an appraisal of Australia’s efforts on climate security in recent years, including how the issue was framed in the 2016 Defence White Paper, and what policy responses the country requires.
  • Cheryl Durrant provided an update from the Department of Defence on how it is undertaking climate preparedness and ensuring that the Australian Defence Force is ready for a new operating environment in the future.

This was followed by a wide-ranging discussion on Climate change and national security with a diverse and expert audience. Participants included: 

Cath Smith (HESTA), Damon Gameau (Filmmaker), Dr Helen Szoke (Oxfam), Gemma Henderson (The Boston Consulting Group), Ian Dunlop (CPD),  James Bentley (NAB), Joanne Saleeba (HESTA), John Brenan (Hamer Family Fund), John Wiseman (Melbourne Sustainable Society Insitute), Kelly O’Shanassy (Australian Conservation Foundation), Luke Taylor (Breakthrough), Peter Khalil (Member of Parliament), Sam Hurley (CPD), Sarah Barker (MinterEllison), Sarah Brenan (Hamer Family Fund), Stephanie Campbell (Melbourne Sustainable Society Insitute), Sue Mathews (Mullum Trust), Vanessa Petrie (Beyond Zero Emissions), Susie Byers (Lead Organiser Political and Community Campaigning, CPSU), Steve Skala (Vice Chair, Deutsche Bank), Terry Moran (CPD), Tim Baxter (Melbourne Law School).

Climate change and national security roundtable In the Media

Australia could be on the frontline of a new wave of “climate refugees” displaced by extreme weather events, droughts and rising seas, a US expert on the national security impacts of climate change has warned. Sherri Goodman, a former US deputy
Australia is sleepwalking into a new and uniquely 21st century security challenge -- the far-reaching impacts of climate change. It is unlike any previous security challenge we've come across. We're living with this threat now, and will be for generations.