Food scarcity, land disputes: New Zealand Defence Force issues alarming climate forecast

The New Zealand Defence force has issued a stark warning about the effects of climate change and how it will be forced to adapt to increased disasters. 

The Climate Crisis: Defence Readiness and Responsibilities defence assessment explores the implications of climate change for New Zealand Defence Force operations. 

The assessment, released on Thursday by Defence Minister Ron Mark and Climate Change Minister James Shaw, identifies climate change as one of the "most significant security threats of our time", and one that is already having adverse impacts.

"Earlier this year the Government's Strategic Defence Policy Statement recognised climate change will have a big impact on Defence operations, particularly in the Pacific," said Mr Mark. 

"It proceeded to highlight that disruptive weather patterns are causing an increased frequency and intensity of weather extremes such as cyclones, rainfall events, droughts, and flooding from sea level rise."

Implications for Defence:


The effects of climate change will challenge the Defence Force, as the military will be stretched to cope with a growing number of tasks in response to climate-induced impacts globally, the report says. 

"The increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events - such as storm surges, and increased intensity of tropical cyclones combined will shorten recovery periods."

A major security challenge for New Zealand will be managing the politics of climate change, the report adds. 

Globally, disagreements in relation to climate change--such as in relation to the Paris Agreement--could influence broader relationships between states as well as affecting collective responses.

In June last year, US President Donald Trump sparked international controversy by withdrawing the United States from the Paris climate accord, putting the world superpower at odds with almost every other country on the planet. 

Climate migration has already caused some community-level conflict within the Pacific, the report says. 

"Across the region, there have been instances of communities being split up for relocation, some being moved to areas with different cultures without prior consultation with the host communities, and others being moved into already crowded areas. 

"In such cases, there have been reports of low-level conflict over land - sometimes deadly - and reports of increased violence against women and children. When not well managed, climate migration has the potential to heighten security concerns."

Rising sea levels already have Pacific island nations thinking about alternative ways to house their people.  

At the 2018 Pacific Islands Forum, leaders affirmed that climate change "presents the single greatest threat to the livelihood, security and wellbeing of Pacific people." 

Climate scientists have supported this. 

The October 2018 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) notes that without "unprecedented" changes to energy systems, land management and transportation, global warming is likely to reach 1.5degC above pre-industrial levels between 2030 and 2052.

The implications of the world warming to this 1.5degC mark are grave, the Government report notes, but "considerably less severe" than if warming above pre-industrial levels reaches 2degC or 3degC - "a real possibility without ambitious global action for change".

Security impacts of climate change include:


  • Heat waves
  • Sea level rise
  • Rising temperatures
  • Climate migration
  • Land disputes
  • Loss of jobs
  • Water and food scarcity
  • Ocean acidification

Pacific Island countries are "disproportionately affected", the report says, even though they only account for approximately 0.04 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. 

The region, it says, is facing "dramatic climate effects stemming from rising temperatures, including sea level rise, increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events such as tropical cyclones and storm surges, changing rainfall patterns and prolonged droughts".

The Pacific Ocean is warming and increasing in acidity, while surface waters of the Southern Ocean have warmed and become "less saline". This is affecting aquatic ecosystems, leading to degraded fish stocks. 

Research published in December 2017 indicated the possibility of Antarctica warming up, noting that increased El Niño conditions in the tropical Pacific may bring warming to western portions of East Antarctica. 

This could lead to sea level rise, further increasing risks for coastal communities in the Pacific.

NIWA meteorologist Ben Noll told Newshub last month there was now an 80 percent chance that an abnormal El Niño weather event will hit New Zealand over summer.