11 April 2023

Former defence chief says climate change is our greatest national security threat

| Andrew McLaughlin
Join the conversation
ADM Chris Barrie

Admiral Chris Barrie (Ret’d) has repeatedly warned about the threat of climate change to Australia’s national security. Photo: ASLCG.

A former chief of the defence force says the threat of climate change to Australia outweighs any perceived threat posed by an increasingly well-armed and belligerent China.

Admiral Chris Barrie was Chief of Navy and Chief of Defence Force until his retirement in 2002, and has consistently highlighted the dangers of climate change since his retirement.

He has worked on strategic leadership issues at Oxford University, the National Defense University in Washington DC, and as an Adjunct Professor Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University, and in 2015 authored the report Climate Change, Security and the ADF. He is also the Australian chair of the Global Military Advisory Council on Climate Change.

READ ALSO Greens to support Government’s greenhouse gas Safeguard Mechanism

Admiral Barrie has repeatedly warned of the dangers of climate change, and how mass starvation, water shortages, rising sea levels, extreme weather events, the loss of arable lands, and the potential of subsequent mass migrations presented far greater implications to national security than those posed by China.

In an interview with ABC’s Radio National on 5 April, Admiral Barrie said a report conducted by Australia’s Office of National Intelligence (ONI) on the risks to national security posed by climate change had been handed to the Federal Government at the end of 2022, but was yet to be released.

He called upon the Government to immediately release a declassified version of the ONI’s report.

ADM Barrie

Admiral Barrie served in the Royal Australian Navy for 42 years, retiring as Chief of Defence Force in 2002. Photo: ADF.

“With the Federal Government now leading a national debate on the nation’s defence priorities and their response to potential threats within our region, the Australian public deserve to know the full range of security threats our nation faces — particularly those posed by worsening climate change,” Admiral Barrie said.

“The practice of Australia’s allies has been to release such assessments. With other security threats, Australian governments have been transparent, making a point of sharing with the community their knowledge to gain support for action; for example, cyber security, COVID, North Korea and more.

“But the same rationale has not been applied to the security threat of climate change, which is a far greater risk.”

The Greens echoed Admiral Barrie’s calls, with leader Adam Bandt suggesting the report was being concealed for political reasons. “Labor is refusing to confront the scale of the climate crisis, keeping secret a report that would likely deliver a body blow to new coal and gas mines,” he said.

“The climate crisis is the biggest threat to our nation, yet theGovernment is keeping people in the dark.”


The ADF has played an increasingly prominent role in providing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to regional neighbours who affected by climate-related natural disasters. Photo: ADF.

In a gloomy 2017 submission to the Senate Inquiry into implications of climate change for Australia’s national security, Admiral Barrie stated: “There are two critical existential threats to human life on planet Earth.

“The first threat is Armageddon created by nuclear war. Most of us will play no role in this event even though it will almost certainly impact on us all. The planet will still exist, but most life on Earth will be extinguished.

“The second threat to human life on the planet is generated by global warming through the direct and indirect consequences for a changing Earth environment. Human beings are the most predatory species that has ever existed on this planet.

READ ALSO Call for bushfire resourcing boost in face of climate change threat

“There are two major differences in these existential threats. On one hand, with nuclear war the time taken to create Armageddon will be very short, and impossible to deal with once the process begins.

“On the other hand, with global warming, climate change, and other environmental consequences, the time taken to eliminate all human life on Earth might take decades, and it will likely be very ugly and involve indeterminate processes for all of us.

“For this reason, and drawing on my own experience over nearly 42 years of service with the Navy, I believe urgent action is needed to head off the potentially disastrous consequences of failing to take decisive action to deal with the Earth environment, if the unacceptable probability is that the legacy we will leave to our children, and their children, is their extinction.”

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments

I thought the denialists had gone the way of Scomo until I read the comments on this article. Well I have news for them. Climate change is real, as is the war in Eastern Europe. We should decide what we are going to do before the climate and war refugees all arrive. I guess a lot of the Ukranians and Russians will blend in, but need to be afraid of the islanders because they have different skin colour. Be very afraid!

I don’t think the denialists have caught up with the news of the May 2022 election yet, bigred – when their claptrap was well and truly repudiated by the Australian voters in favour of the proven science.

I think you have been hit in the head by the Climate Change hockey stick

… and a good thing it happened quite a while ago – it knocked some sense into me when it comes to acceptance of the science, particularly the proven impacts of anthropogenic climate change.
On the other hand, it’s obvious that you haven’t been hit in the head by any kind of hockey stick.

Taiwan disagrees.

Is this the same Chris Barrie who was driven to work everyday in a V8 Statesman?

HiddenDragon9:05 pm 11 Apr 23

Every time I hear a retired former senior uniform-wearer emoting in public about climate change, I wonder if they ever reflect on where the money came from to pay the very nice (by local and international standards) salaries which they received during their working lives and where the money will come from to fund the lovely defined benefit pensions which they and their partners will be receiving for the rest of their lives.

The answer, of course, is the industries they want to shut down, and if any of them truly think that Australia has an easy path to being a “renewable energy superpower”, with even greater wealth than we have now, then they probably do also hand on heart believe that climate change is more of a “clear and present danger” to us than large authoritarian countries run by revanchists and revisionists.

Capital Retro9:31 am 12 Apr 23

He will probably say next that the closing of the Hunter Valley’s Liddell power station in two weeks will be a good thing for the planet.

If he was stilling running the military he would have converted our ships to sail power.

This is the same Chris Barrie who confidently said in 1999 that we would not have role to play in East Timor.

Paraphrasing Norman Schwarzkopf: As far as being a great military strategist, he is neither a strategist, nor is he schooled in the operational arts, nor is he a tactician, nor is he a general, nor is he a soldier. Other than that, he’s a great military man, I want you to know that.

Trevor Willis12:03 pm 11 Apr 23

The earth’s climate has been changing on a regular basis for over 3 million years. There is no beating Mother Nature.

@Trevor Willis
Nobody disagrees with you that changes to the earth’s climate are a cyclical event over many, many millenia. The science, you know the real facts, is about the impact the speed of that change – brought on by anthropmorphic climate change over the last 200 or so years.

JustSaying, I just hope your settled science accounts for digging up the earth for rare earth minerals to satisfy EV fan boys

“I just hope your settled science accounts for digging up the earth for rare earth minerals”
Absolutely it does. That’s the reason it’s accepted that on average an EV will need to travel approx. 15,000 to 20,000 miles (25,000 to 33,000 kms) before it reaches carbon neutral with a comparable ICE vehicle. Of course, after that, it’s plain sailing for the EV on carbon emissions reduction.
I guess we can chalk that up as another one to add to your list of inane comments.

The ongoing ‘threat’ of climate change is working – it’s all about creating fear.

Obviously the threat is not totally working – as you can attest, there are still nutters who don’t accept the science of anthropomorphic climate change.

Astrology holds more prominence than Climate science. Just like my inane comment – any fool, from a Twitter nutter to an ex union official turned politician can spruik climate science

“Just like my inane comment …” Sorry, you’ll have to help me by being a little more precise. To which of your inane comments are your referring?

You’re funny JS. I like the sparring – your intellect and my street cunning

CaptainSpiff10:59 am 11 Apr 23

“He has worked on strategic leadership issues at Oxford University, the National Defense University in Washington DC, and as an Adjunct Professor Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University, and in 2015 authored the report Climate Change, Security and the ADF. He is also the Australian chair of the Global Military Advisory Council on Climate Change.”

Flawless pedigree! He must be a giant of the nation.

Could the admiral please expand on when the mass starvation will begin? Sounds rather serious after all.

Also, which are those coming decades, when all human life will be eliminated?

Must be soon, as apparently our kids and grandkids are going to be extinct.

Looking forward to more predictions from the admiral.

Capital Retro10:47 am 11 Apr 23

Why doesn’t he just play golf and scrabble like most retired people do.

Daniel O'Connell4:04 pm 11 Apr 23

…most retired military people do.

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.