Australia is one of several countries in the Asia-Pacific region that has been identified as having major ecological threats that pose potential risks for the nation in the next 30 years.
The inaugural Ecological Threat Register, released this week by Philanthropy Australia member The Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), reveals a world confronting significant potential disasters that could see 1.2 billion people displaced around the globe by 2050.
The register surveys 157 nations and looks at risk from population growth, water stress, food insecurity, droughts, floods, cycles and rising temperatures and sea levels. It then filters these risks through its own Positive Peace Framework to assess a nation’s likelihood of coping with the ecological shocks.
The Asia-Pacific region is considered at “medium’’ risk according to the register, but the region has had significantly more natural disasters between 1990 and 2019 than any other region and also the highest number of new displacements. More than 580,000 people have died because of natural disasters, including earthquakes, floods and storms, in the region in the past 20 years.
“The Asia-Pacific region recorded the highest number of new displacements between 2008 and 2019 with over 150 million people displaced as a result of climate-related hazards including droughts, extreme temperatures, seasonal floods and storms,’’ the register says. “In 2019 alone, almost 25 million people were displaced in the Asia-Pacific region…’’
Australia is considered more likely than many other nations to deal with ecological shocks because of the social resilience identified in the IEP’s Peace Framework. Australia ranks among the top 15 countries on the Positive Peace Index. Nonetheless, this doesn’t diminish the extent of the risk.
“Another group among high threat countries comprise of nations with consistently high or very high levels of Positive Peace since 2009. These countries are Australia, Botswana, Georgia, Israel, Namibia, the Netherlands, Tunisia and the United States,’’ the register states.
“All eight countries are at high risk from water stress. While this group faces high exposure to ecological threats, their high levels of Positive Peace mean they have superior coping capacity to mitigate the impacts of ecological threats such as resource depletion, widespread displacement and political instability.’’
Conversely, the countries with the highest number of ecological threats represent about a quarter of the world’s total population and are among the world’s least peaceful countries - including Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Chad, India and Pakistan. An inability to respond to the ecological threats could exacerbate the ecological impact on a nation or region.
India is one example of a nation trying to deal with four ecological threats, including water stress, droughts and cyclones. Forty per cent of its 1.35 billion population lives in areas where there is reduced rainfall or droughts.
Another concerning revelation is that more half the world’s population will be living in countries experiencing high or extreme water stress by 2040. And there could be 3.5 billion people experiencing food insecurity by 2050.
The register put Australia into a group of 72 nations that have two or three ecological threats and compares Yemen and Australia on their respective capacity to deal with potential shocks.
“Yemen and Australia are exposed to three ecological threats and both countries face severe water stress. However, Yemen’s coping capacity to deal with the impacts of ecological threats is very low, as shown by its low ranking in Positive Peace,’’ the register says.
“In Yemen, years of drought and water stress combined to exacerbate the already high food insecurity in the country. The competition over resources contributed to further fragmentation of the fragile social structure leading to armed conflict. By contrast, Australia suffered from bushfires caused by extremely high temperatures and low rainfall in 2019.’’
The register states Australia responded to the crisis with disaster recovery funding and government and business support.
“Australia’s response highlights the level of resilience, not only through government, but also by contributions from businesses and the community,’’ the register says.
One of the register’s focus is about the role of development aid in helping ameliorate some of the problems associated with the ecological risks and to help develop a nation or region’s resilience.
Although aid for climate has increased 34-fold between 2000 and 2018, it falls short of what is needed to help shockproof the future.
The register shows Australia’s predicted fall in GDP (-6.7 per cent) will have a significant impact on its aid commitment this year. Of the top 15 international aid donors, Australia is forecast to become fourth worst on the ratio of GDP growth as a proportion of aid.
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