Climate change has been identified as one of the "most significant security threats of our time", according to a new report by the Ministry of Defence.

It said climate change was "already having adverse impacts both at home and in New Zealand's neighbourhood".

"In the coming decades, the impacts of climate change will continue to test the security and resilience of our community, our nation and the world, including the South Pacific," the Climate Crisis: Defence Readiness and Responsibilities report said.

"Some of the largest temperature changes will occur between New Zealand and the equator and the risk of concurrent and more intense extreme weather events is increasing."


The assessment identified the particular security impacts which may arise as a result of climate change.

These included vulnerable populations losing their economic livelihoods, increased food and water scarcity, malnutrition, climate migration, health-related crises, competition for resources, land disputes and the potential for increased violence from mismanaged adaptation or migration.

"The effects of climate change will challenge NZ Defence, in terms of responding to more frequent and more intense events in our region," Defence Minister Ron Mark said this morning, at the launch of the report.

A number of recommendations were made in the report, including that NZ Defence should explore opportunities to support scientific research on climate change and security in the South Pacific.

Asked how many of the recommendations were going to be adopted, Mark said he was "not aware of any we aren't going to tackle".

Climate Change Minister James Shaw said it makes sense for the Defence Force to be concerned about the effects of climate change, as they are the ones who are responding to its effects.

"The Kiwi Defence force has a long, respected and proud tradition and record of helping both here at home and in the wider [Pacific] region when disasters strike."

He cited tropical Cyclone Pam in 2015 where more than 350 NZDF personnel mobilised to provide humanitarian assistance and relief.


Some 500 personnel were on the ground in Fiji after cyclone Winston in 2016.

"More and more, their battles seem to be about fighting the aftermath of extreme weather events, which fewer and fewer people these days are trying to argue are not part of the impact of climate change."

Mark agreed and said people often lose sight of the fact the defence force has a lot to do with the impacts of climate change.

"Our Airforce operates in the air; our navy operates on water; our soldiers dig holes in the ground and live in it. Some of us would argue there are few who are as connected with nature as the personnel within the Defence Force."

Mark said the report's assessment is a "necessary first step".

"It makes it clear that Defence will have to adapt to meet the challenges posed by this emerging threat to our security."


The Government is using this assessment to inform its review of the Defence Capability Plan, which Mark expects to release early next year.

Earlier this year, the Government's Strategic Defence Policy Statement recognised climate change would have a big impact on Defence operations, particularly in the Pacific.

"It proceeded to highlight that disruptive weather patterns are causing an increased frequency and intensity of weather extremes such as cyclones, rainfall events, droughts, and flooding from sea level rise," Mark said.

"In addition, the state of the Southern Ocean is changing, meaning our current vessels are getting close to the limits of being able to operate safely."

Given this, Mark said it "stands to reason" that the Government takes a deeper look in order to better understand the social and security implications of climate change, and what the Defence Force will face when it responds to these weather events.

He said the Government had a work programme underway to help alleviate the effects of climate change.


Shaw said Defence had "stepped up" and was thinking very seriously about how climate change would impact New Zealand and the region as a whole.