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Climate change an Australian 'security threat': report

Flooding, coastal erosion and storm surges could batter the country's heavily-populated east coast, while droughts and fire risk were likely to grow inland. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Staff Writers
Sydney (AFP) Aug 11, 2009
Australia faces more intense and frequent heatwaves, wildfires, cyclones and floods, with climate change becoming a threat to national security, a think-tank warned Tuesday.

The impacts of global warming were already making themselves felt, much faster and with greater ferocity than anticipated, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) said.

A record-breaking heatwave killed 374 Australians in January, with another 173 perishing in the devastating February firestorm which flattened entire towns and razed more than 2,000 homes, ASPI said.

"As a result of climate change disasters are likely to become larger, more complex, occur simultaneously and in regions that have either not experienced the natural hazard previously or at the same intensity or frequency," said report author Athol Yates.

Climate change could cause water shortages, increase disease and lead to widespread damage to property and critical infrastructure -- much of which was already "ageing and stressed", said Yates.

Flooding, coastal erosion and storm surges could batter the country's heavily-populated east coast, while droughts and fire risk were likely to grow inland, he wrote.

"The latest detailed assessment of the impacts of climate change in Australia notes that the climate system is changing faster than earlier thought likely, with more costly and dangerous impacts," said Yates.

Australia's average annual losses from natural disasters already stood at one billion dollars, and action was needed on issues such as climate-resilient construction and land use, he said.

The health and emergency response systems were currently ill-equipped to cope with such demand, and the national government needed to step in "in the same way it has done in recent years with counter-terrorism", Yates said.

"Acknowledging climate change as a threat to the homeland will add urgency to the issue of climate change adaptation and pose questions for long-term defence," he added.

related report
New Zealand defends climate change targets
Wellington (AFP) Aug 11, 2009 - The New Zealand government Tuesday denied it had failed to accept its country's share of the burden for tackling climate change after announcing greenhouse gas emission targets.

The government said Monday it would target greenhouse gas emission reductions from 1990 levels of between 10 and 20 percent by 2020.

New Zealand will cut its emissions by 10 percent if other developed nations sign a comprehensive treaty and by 20 percent depending on the form of the final treaty.

International aid agency Oxfam joined a chorus of criticism from environmentalists, saying the targets indicated New Zealand did not care about the fate of millions of vulnerable people around the world.

But Minister of Climate Change Issues, Nick Smith, said on Tuesday New Zealand's target was "enormously challenging" given gross emissions had already increased 24 percent since 1990.

"I think it's a balanced response given New Zealand's quite unique position, that is, over 50 percent of our emissions come from agriculture," Smith told Radio New Zealand.

"It's going to be a hard ask to reduce those with very limited technologies."

Dairy products make up about a quarter of New Zealand's exports and cattle emit large amounts of methane gas from belching, with the country's 34 million sheep adding to the problem.

Previous prime minister Helen Clark, who lost power in elections in November, had set the goal of enhancing New Zealand's clean and green image by turning it into the world's first carbon neutral nation.

But Smith said the government was now not prepared to make "big, wild promises".

Oxfam New Zealand executive director Barry Coates said poor communities elsewhere in the world would be left with the impression that New Zealand believed their lives were not worth the cost of transforming the economy.

"This announcement is tantamount to telling millions of vulnerable people around the world that New Zealand does not care enough about their fate to make the cuts that are needed," Coates said.

Environmental campaigner Greenpeace were equally scathing.

"We have a long long way to go before New Zealand is a constructive player at the UN climate negotiations in Copenhagen in December," said Greenpeace senior climate campaigner Simon Boxer.

"Ten to 20 percent does not even put us at the lower rung of what the science says is required."

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has called for cuts of 25 to 40 percent by 2020 to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Neighbouring Australia has proposed cutting its emissions by between five to 25 percent, depending on the outcome of the international negotiations in Copenhagen.

Japan has proposed cuts of eight percent, Canada three percent, the EU 20 percent and the US has effectively proposed 2020 emissions at the same level as 1990.

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