New Definitions of Security

In late 2007, the Australian Federal Police Commissioner, Mick Keelty said that climate change, with the threat of water and food shortages and refugees fleeing rising sea levels, would be the greatest security risk of this century. While there is little doubt that large numbers of people will be forced to leave their homes and countries to seek refuge elsewhere because of climate change there is another reality which will occur at the same time. The people most at risk of displacement will be the poorest of the poor and in many instances they can be expected to hang on in their home town until there is no option but to leave, meaning they will have almost no financial resources to take with them. These people will not be able to afford to travel across national borders, and their movement will be primarily by bus, ferry or foot. They will become displaced in their own countries through no fault of their own. Even if we were successful in generating support for a climate refugee quota system, this system would not benefit these people. Therefore it is imperative that Australia also provide funding as part of the adaptation funds identified above to support intra-country relocation, at least in our region.

For Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS), relocation of displaced communities will place an enormous burden on governments if they are not provided with financial assistance. As one example, the cost of relocating and resettling almost 3000 people from the Carteret Islands in Papua New Guinea to Bougainville has been estimated at a minimum of $A5.6 million over seven years.

In terms of broad security concerns, there can be little doubt that Australia will be confronted with many people seeking refuge in future as well as the prospect of internal displacement destabilising some of our neighbours. There are clear security issues associated with this latter issue as displacement can cause a range of responses in communities. Indonesia, as one example, is the world's most populous Islamic nation, with a significant presence of extremist groups. Mike Davis, in his book, Planet of Slums, points out that where governments fail their people when they are suffering or otherwise facing hardship there is room for civil society actors to fill the service provision space not taken, or vacated, by governments. He notes that in the poorest nations it tends to be fundamentalist Islamic and Christian groups taking on these roles. And with service often comes ideology. The implications of this should be clear given the post-9/11 context we live in.

In addition, many communities along large sections of coastline on both sides of the Indian Ocean are still recovering from the devastating tsunami of 2004, which in term raises a vast number of issues around community resilience and ecological protection. For instance, it was widely reported that areas that had been stripped of protective mangrove systems suffered worse impacts from the tsunami. There is a deeper conversation here that is far beyond the scope of this chapter about the evolving idea of environmental security. This is often defined as the relationship between security concerns such as armed conflict and the natural environment. It has become particularly relevant for those studying resource scarcity and conflict in the developing world and has obvious implications for Australia in terms of how we should allocate adaptation funding as well as how to manage our defence forces and the relative skills set, training and equipment we will need to develop as our armed forces are increasingly subsumed into dealing with the various environmental, social and practical humanitarian impacts of global warming.

How we respond to this displacement will speak volumes about us as a nation. We can either choose to continue aggressive border security and punitive policy against those seeking asylum or do our fair share of reducing climate change, funding adaptation and accepting climate refugees through a regulated intake system. The future is ours to choose, but the climate science suggest that time is running out before we need to decide.

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