A 6000-strong army and cuts to emissions: Defence Force maps out its response to climate change

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STUFF

Defence is on the front lines of climate change

Hundreds more boots on the ground and large cuts to emissions are going to be needed in the Defence Force’s fight against climate change.

A new defence report, Responding to the Climate Crisis, has mapped out how New Zealand’s soldiers will navigate rising seas, and a year after the Defence Force announced its need to prepare for climate change.

So far, the Defence Force has made the most progress in cutting emissions, and has set a target of reducing the emissions profile of its non-operational fleet by 20 per cent. 

But greater challenges pose more difficult questions for defence, such as whether to relocate the Devonport Naval Base that is at risk of being inundated by the ocean.

The Defence Force brought water supplies to drought-stricken Tokelau in 2011.

AC Maria Oosterbaan

The Defence Force brought water supplies to drought-stricken Tokelau in 2011.

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In the report, defence restates its operational plan and sets goals to tackle climate change, which is described as already exacerbating “community violence, biosecurity and health implications, and resource scarcity” around the world. 

The need for the military to stretch out across multiple operations simultaneously — such as a peacekeeping mission in one country, and a humanitarian aid mission on a Pacific island —  has the Defence Force already planning to boost troop numbers to 6000-strong by 2030. 

The report says, from 2021, military planners will also have to respond to such crises without damaging the environment further: Meaning no more shipping in plastic water bottles to storm-damaged regions.

Defence intends to measure all its emissions, bring in engine technology that will reduce emissions, and make wider use of solar energy. 

Defence Minister Ron Mark said defence could easily cut its emissions by upgrading its old infrastructure. 

“We’re probably running a size-16 footprint right now. Getting that down to a size 14, a size 10, shouldn’t be that hard, so long as we invest in modern technology, and we do that at pace.”

He said the Defence Force already had the skills and capability to face the affects of climate change head-on, it just lacked the capacity.

HMNZS Wellington, an offshore patrol vessel in the Ross Sea.

SUPPLIED/NZDF

HMNZS Wellington, an offshore patrol vessel in the Ross Sea.

“We’ve got skill sets, we just don’t have enough people … We don’t have enough people to sustain long term operations.

“We’ve got we’ve got some plant and machinery like desalination gear, we’ve got field hospitals, but the question is do we have enough people to stack that hospital … and continue to maintain its operation over an extended period of time.”

Mark said New Zealand was already positioning itself as a global leader in a military-response to climate change.

“When people are dying, when forest fires are raging, and you don’t have sufficient assets yourself to deal with it … that is where, we believe, it doesn’t matter whether it’s United States, Australia, China, the France, Canada, Britain, New Zealand, we all have to work together, collaborate together and be capable of operating together,” he said. 

Climate Minister James Shaw said the Defence Force was ready to support the Government’s efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change. 

“Some of the countries most vulnerable to climate change are also the least well equipped to respond to its worsening impacts.

“New Zealand needs to be ready to play its part by ensuring humanitarian support is available when it’s needed,” he said.

Defence Minister Ron Mark said the military already had the skills to fight climate changes, it just needs the capacity. (file photo)

MURRAY WILSON/STUFF

Defence Minister Ron Mark said the military already had the skills to fight climate changes, it just needs the capacity. (file photo)

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