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Australia military head warns of Pacific climate instability

by Staff Writers
Sydney (AFP) Nov 3, 2010
Australia's military chief has warned that his troops are likely to be sent to the Pacific more often and on bigger missions as small island states become increasingly unstable due to climate change.

The Australian Defence Force (ADF) has been deployed to the Solomon Islands and East Timor in recent years to enforce law and order, also assisting in a 2009 relief operation in Samoa after a devastating tsunami killed 143 people.

Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston said these types of operations would probably be more frequent in the future, The Age newspaper reported Wednesday.

"It is highly likely the ADF will be engaged in disaster relief and stabilisation operations in the south Pacific into the future," the paper reported him as saying in a lecture last week at the University of Canberra.

"With the effects of climate change compounding existing pressures, future operations will be more frequent and more intense than those currently underway in East Timor and the Solomon Islands."

Houston said that rising sea levels caused by climate change would worsen social problems on the islands, many of which are poor and underdeveloped, with the potential for sustained economic growth low in all but a few countries.

This meant island nations would struggle to adapt to climate change, he said, while changing rainfall patterns, extreme weather and rising sea levels would threaten the agriculture and fisheries on which they depended.

"From there, it is a small step to political instability and social disorder," Houston said.

It could take two decades before climate change began to inflict major damage on the South Pacific, said Houston, but he warned that Australia would need to be prepared well before that.

Australia has some 110 troops in the Solomon Islands and 400 in East Timor.

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