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Climate change is ‘the defining issue of our time’ and successful adaptation necessitates sustained cooperation between an array of governance actors. Police are key emergency management partners but it is unclear how policing models, strategies and capabilities align with broader climate adaptation initiatives, how police are adapting to these complex risk landscapes, and what factors might support or inhibit successful adaptations, along with the integration of police within broader adaptive governance initiatives. These are big questions which must be explored to advance our theories and praxis of policing in a potentially new and distinct ecological era: the Anthropocene. As the conceptual boundaries between human and environmental security become increasingly blurry and the disruptive and destructive effects of environmental hazards increase, we must look to ‘canaries in the coal mine’ like Australia for the purpose of understanding what policing is, and what it might become, in our climate crisis. Drawing on a recent, exploratory case study of local policing during the 2019–20 Black Summer bushfires, this paper considers the potentially transformative impacts of environmental crises on policing landscapes, and how local policing activities, shaped by previous crises and adaptations, seemingly reduced vulnerabilities and enhanced community resilience, risk mitigation and emergency management capabilities in this instance. It is argued that the concept of ‘regulatory stewardship’ may offer police agencies a useful framework for defining their roles and improving their capabilities as an integral component of increasingly complex disaster management networks. In the long-run, the case study also reveals that police agencies will need to develop strategies for aligning their mandates and capabilities with progressive and potentially even transformative, systems-focused prescriptions for climate adaptation, lest they become extraneous to, or worse, a source of systemic vulnerability in relation to networked attempts to mitigate and manage the effects of our climate crisis.
Jarrett Blaustein is an Associate Professor and the Director of Education in the School of Regulation and Global Governance (RegNet) at The Australian National University and Associate Editor (Australia/NZ/Asia-Pacific) for Policing & Society. He completed his PhD at the University of Edinburgh and his interdisciplinary research considers how and why societies govern and deliver security during or in anticipation of different types of crises. Much of his work to date is anchored in the idea that policing is best conceptualised and studied as networks or webs of actors whose interactions collectively serve to advance or reproduce particular versions of social order. This builds upon the tradition of ‘nodal governance’ scholarship by illuminating how global forces and transnational linkages shape the governance and delivery of security in different contexts. His current work draws on these ideas to explore how different policing networks and actors around the world are adapting to risks, harms and crises associated with climate change, and what this means for the future of policing.