The new fleet of Hercules aircraft on their way for the Defence Force will play a pivotal role in responding to any future disasters or conflicts caused by climate change, the Defence Minister says.
The Government is replacing the country's existing fleet of Hercules with new ones at a cost in excess of $1 billion.
Defence Minister Ron Mark explained on TVNZ1's Breakfast this morning that the Hercules aircraft are "the workhorses of the Defence Force."
"Wherever the nation needs support, wherever we have to respond – whether that's to natural disasters to environmental issues, to meeting our commitments internationally and supporting the United Nations or other peace-keeping operations around the world – the Hercs tend to carry the burden."
While the Green Party criticised the move, saying the aircraft were war-ready, Mr Mark called the Hercules "a fundamental part" and "a base capability that we need to guarantee resilience for our nation."
"The capability plan is a humanitarian plan in my eyes. It is there to ensure that the consequences that we are seeing and witnessing right now of climate change are able to be met."
Mr Mark said a climate crisis report, released jointly with Greens co-leader James Shaw, showed "quite clearly that we can expect a higher level of disruption through highly-destructive weather patterns."
"Our Defence Force people will be required as first responders … You've got to have Hercs to deliver forward people in their time of need."
Mr Mark added that climate conflict is expected to cause greater upheaval in the future, calling it "the number one threat that we're facing right now in the defence and security world."
"I'm sad to say that the future's looking pretty bleak. As a Government, we're taking steps to play our part in supporting the Paris Accord, and do what we can do to mitigate [climate change] in the meantime."
Mr Mark also stressed the importance of being equipped acting now, anticipating that disasters caused by climate change will become more commonplace.
"We know that we're going to see more highly-destructive, higher-frequency of these destructive weather patterns – they will be more destructive, and we have to be able to lean forward and support people.
"Climate change needs to be taken seriously. The consequences of it are here right now. As it impacts more on our planet, there will be greater challenges around food security and food supply, and that will bring with it the potential for internal conflict and disruption and, potentially, external conflict between nations, between communities, and it will be Defence that people will call to come to their assistance in those times.
"We have to be prepared for that. We have to be equipped. We have to have the capability. We have to have the people, and we can't just magic that up on the day that it's needed – we have to plan forward."