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Climate Change Threatens Pacific, Arctic Conflicts

Rob Taylor

An Australian army truck is unloaded from a landing craft in Dili, in 2006, to boost an international peacekeeping force in East Timor. Australia's military has warned that global warming could create failed states across the Pacific as sea levels rise and heighten the risk of conflict over resources, according to a report. (AFP/File)

CANBERRA - Climate change and rising sea levels pose one of the biggest threats to security in the Pacific and may also spark a global conflict over energy reserves under melting Arctic ice, according to Australia's military.

A confidential security review by Australia's Defense Force, completed in 2007 but obtained in summary by the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper, said environmental stress had increased the risk of conflicts in the Pacific over resources and food.

But the biggest threat of global conflict currently lay beneath the Arctic as melting icecaps gave rise to an international race for undersea oil and gas deposits, it said.

"Environmental stress, caused by both climate change and a range of other factors, will act as a threat multiplier in fragile states around the world, increasing the chances of state failure," said the summary, published in the Herald on Wednesday.

"The Arctic is melting, potentially making the extraction of undersea energy deposits commercially viable. Conflict is a remote possibility if these disputes are not resolved peacefully," the assessment said.

The "Climate Change, The Environment, Resources And Conflict" summary report was obtained under Freedom of Information laws which allow Australians to access official documents provided it does not hurt national or government security.

The military refused to release the full report because it could harm Australia's defense capability and international relations, the Herald said.

Australia is a close U.S. ally and the report said climate change would likely "increase demands for the Australian Defense Force to be deployed on additional stabilization, post-conflict reconstruction and disaster relief operations in the future."

Australian soldiers are already deployed alongside U.S. and European counterparts in Iraq, Afghanistan, as well as in East Timor and Solomon Islands in the Pacific.

The defense analysis said rising sea levels would affect nations and islands with low-lying coastlines, and may lead to increase in refugees from vulnerable Pacific islands.

It could also lead to more illegal immigration and fishing, bringing disputes over access to scarce food resources. That could mean an increasing presence north of Australia by the country's navy, the report said.

(Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)


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