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21 June 2019

Environmental security in the eastern Indian Ocean, Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. A risk mapping approach

By Anthony Bergin, David Brewster, François Gemenne and Paul Barnes. A National Security College (Australian National University) and IRIS Publication.

This report arises from a Track 1.5 Australia–France–India strategic dialogue held in New Delhi in January 2018. It builds on a French proposal introduced at that meeting. In this study, Australian and French teams did a joint risk-mapping exercise for the area south of latitude 60°S.

@Getty Images

In this study, Australian and French teams did a joint risk-mapping exercise for the area south of latitude 60°S.

The Antarctic Treaty establishes that region as Antarctic territory. Australian researchers performed the risk mapping for the eastern Indian Ocean. French researchers will produce a risk assessment for the western Indian Ocean in 2020.

In the Vision statement on the Australia–France relationship published on 2 May 2018, both Australia and France ‘welcomed the project to map environmental risks in the south of the Indian Ocean and the Southern Ocean, which will help to understand and anticipate the security consequences of climate phenomena’.

The Indian Ocean region faces a wide range of transnational security challenges, particularly challenges related to environmental stresses and the impacts of climate change.

The geopolitical environment in the Indian Ocean is changing and becoming more contested than it has been for many decades. The future strategic order in the ocean is likely to be more multipolar and unstable than at any time in the modern era.

This is the result of several geopolitical changes that are occurring more or less concurrently, including the relative decline in US military predominance, the rise of India and China as major Indian Ocean powers and the activities of several middle powers.

The consequences of major-power competition and a more militarised strategic environment can easily become intertwined with transnational environmental security issues.

The other geographical focus of this study is Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. That region also faces significant environmental security threats and challenges and is now becoming more geopolitically contested as an array of countries move to assert greater influence.

This report sets out an environmental ‘risk map’ for Antarctica and the Southern Ocean and the eastern Indian Ocean. It provides a contribution to the national security assessments of Australia and France.

The report provides an enhanced foundation to inform policy decisions about the allocation of national resources, identifies opportunities for cooperation and suggests priorities.

Our overall aim is to identify regional environment issues and threats and align them with options for medium to longer term risk mitigation strategies.

We assess the likelihood and consequences of major potential disruptions, detail cross-cutting sources of disruption and possible triggers for concerted action and consider the implications of emergent issues or threats and escalated responses to them (including likely cascading and compounding impacts if threats are not addressed).

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