SYDNEY (AFP) — Climate change poses this century's biggest security threat, possibly forcing the migration of millions of people from countries such as China, Australia's top policeman has warned.
Water and food shortages could send waves of migrants across oceans and borders in the Asia-Pacific region, causing social disruption and unrest, said Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty.
Prime Minister John Howard Tuesday refused to comment on Keelty's unexpected foray into the politics of global warming delivered in a speech in Adelaide on Monday night.
The police chief's comments were seen as diplomatically-sensitive by some local media, with a reference to the possibility of China being unable to feed its population viewed as particularly provocative.
"For China to feed its predicted 2030 population, it needs to increase its food production by about 50 percent above today's levels," Keelty said.
"How does it achieve this, if its available land is dramatically shrinking and millions of people are on the move because of land and water.
"In their millions, people could begin to look for new land and they'll cross oceans and borders to do it."
The mass displacement of people "particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, could create a great deal of social uncertainty and unrest in the region," Keelty said.
"The potential security issues are enormous and should not be underestimated."
Even if only some of the predictions of catastrophic change wrought by global warming materialised, "climate change is going to be the security issue of the 21st century," Keelty said.
His remarks drew immediate criticism from refugee rights activists, who said the prospect of millions of displaced people trying to reach Australia was a humanitarian problem not a matter of border security.
"The issue of displaced people and Australia's obligations to those who need our help has always been a humanitarian issue, invoking our international obligations rather than engaging the issue of border security," said Project SafeCom spokesman Jack Smit.
Australia and the United States are the only two developed countries in the world to have refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, the main international treaty on fighting climate change.
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