Australia's refusal to set more ambitious climate action targets is undermining its influence in the Pacific, putting national security and strategic interests at risk, a former Defence official has warned.
Cheryl Durrant has also urged the federal government to rethink its budget priorities, saying far too little funding is being allocated to combat climate change given how big a threat it poses.
Ms Durrant, the former head of preparedness at the Department of Defence, is the lead author on a new Climate Council report which delves into the links between a warming planet and security.
The report describes how climate-induced "stressors" - such as heatwaves, storms and floods - have fractured vulnerable societies, helping to escalate the threats which lead to conflicts and war.
Her work raises the possibility of a future war between India and Pakistan over water resources in the Indus River, which could draw in China and the US and, in turn, Australia.
The Asia-Pacific region is recognised as among the most at-risk from climate change, with low-laying countries facing the possibility of having land swallowed up by rising sea levels.
The report argues that Australia's reluctance to set more ambitious targets to curb the root cause of global warming has cost it significant geopolitical influence, particularly among Pacific nations which regard climate change as the greatest threat to their livelihood.
Amid the rise of China, and as other nations such as France, the UK and Japan seek to expand their influence in the region, Australia can no longer assume it will be "top of the list" for Pacific nations when they look to partner with other countries.
"If Australia wishes to remain a trusted and valued member of the Pacific family, it will need to demonstrate that it is taking the region's number one security concern seriously."
The study recommends Australia commit to a 75 per cent emissions-reduction target for 2030 and reach net zero by 2035. Both of those goals are far more ambitious than the ones the federal government is targeting.
The report notes that Australia lags behind its allies when it comes to assessing the security implications associated with climate change. The UK, for example, has legislated an annual assessment of its climate risks.
It also criticises the Morrison government for its lack of spending on climate change mitigation, pointing out how the amount invested in disaster resilience pales in comparison to the sums allocated toward dealing with "traditional" security risks.
"You can get a lot of climate mitigation for the cost of one submarine," Ms Durrant told The Canberra Times.
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