Tallying the risks of climate change – In the News

Two reports released today have flagged the risks of climate change as both a security challenge and a threat to equity.

The Deep South National Science Challenge published a report by University of Otago Associate Professor Lisa Ellis which questioned the ethics behind who will bear the risks of sea level rise and how these risks can be shared more fairly.

Dr Ellis told Newsroom of the town of Jean Lafitte, in the USA’s Louisiana, which has been building expensive infrastructure over the past decade to make the small town too valuable to flood. She called the situation “irrational choice at its most crazy” but said New Zealand coastal property owners are also incentivised to keep investing in areas that might one day be a flood zone. These incentives will become even more perverse if decisions are made about what communities to defend from sea level rise based on the value of the property at stake, she said.

“The rich will get seawalls while the poor get moved. That doesn’t embody who we are as people.”

A joint report from the Ministry of Defence and the Defence Force has called climate change one of the “most significant security threats of our time”. Drawn from eight months of discussions with officials from across the Pacific and academics, the report highlighted water shortages, food insecurity, impacts on public health and climate migration as climate-related impacts likely to heighten security challenges across the region.

The report recommends the military should prepare for an increasing strain from a greater number of humanitarian aid and disaster relief operations.

Massey University’s Dr Anna Powles, from the Centre for Defence and Security Studies, told Stuff that groups like the United Nations had drawn direct links between severe weather events and the rise of terrorism and conflict in Mali and South Sudan.

“I’m not saying we are going to see that in the Pacific to the same degree, but in areas where there have already been conflicts, that are already under pressure and strain and there isn’t necessarily good governance, we may see instances of small-scale instability and conflict.”

The two reports were covered by local media, including:

Newsroom: Playing chicken with the government on rising seas
RNZ: Sea level rise threatens major NZ infrastructure – report

Newsroom: Climate change ‘security threat’ to NZ – report
NZ Herald: Climate change ‘one of the most significant security threats of our time’ – Defence Minister
Stuff: Defence Force: We need to prepare for climate change