Can the Australian Government Really Protect Our Great Barrier Reef?

News. Posted 3 months ago

Rosie Dalton

gbrImage: Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is at great risk. Image source.

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef has been suffering the effects of tourism, agriculture and dramatically rising temperatures for some years now. And despite it not being officially listed on UNESCO’s “danger” list, it is very clearly under threat. So the Australian Government reportedly now has ambitious plans to protect the reef, but according to a former government official, it could still be doing more.

Triple Pundit reports that the former head of the Great Barrier Reed Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) is calling for a halt on the construction of new coal mines that could cause even more damage to the fragile reef. Graeme Kelleher served for 16 years as the first chairperson and chief executive of the GBRMPA, and recently said in a statement: “Australia cannot have a healthy Great Barrier Reef and a continuing coal industry. This year was a wake-up call for everyone that Australia has to step up when it comes to protecting the Reef and a ban on new coal mines would be a necessary first step.”

Here Kelleher is referring to the climate talks that recently closed in Marrakesh, Morocco. After which the Australian government faces a December 1 deadline to report back to UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee about its handling of the Great Barrier Reef’s health. Back in September the government claimed it had made good progress in protecting the reef, but 22% of its coral was killed last month from coral bleaching, in what has been called the worst coral bleaching event in history.

In fact, at least half of the Great Barrier Reef is now in grave danger, with up to 90% of the corals bleached in some individual reefs. And if sea surface temperatures continue to rise, this situation only stands to get worse. Because, as Triple Pundit points out, climate change brings with it higher temperatures and this is the very cause of coral bleaching. As Greenpeace U.S. oceans director, John Hocevar explains: “above all, it’s the carbon emissions. Climate change is the biggest threat to coral reefs on the global scale.” He also spoke directly to Kelleher’s point: “on the one hand, Australia is saying that they are doing all they can to protect the reefs, but on the other hand, they are approving new coal mines. Australia is big on approving and using coal.”

So although the Australian government’s self-proclaimed “ambitious” Reef 2050 Plan was released in March this year, we are yet to see any major changes for the better. As part of the plan, both the Australian and Queensland governments will reportedly invest $2 billion over the next decade. But if they also continue to approve coal mining, then it might all be for nothing. Last year, for example, the Australian government granted approval to a big expansion of the country’s coal mining, including the Carmichael coal mine in Queensland — the world’s largest new coal mine. Astonishingly, the Carmichael mine is expected to produce 4.7 billion tons of CO2-e over its lifetime, which is more than 0.50% of the entire world’s carbon budget for limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius — which would “entirely offset” Australia’s carbon emissions reduction goals and cause even more irreparable damage to our precious coral reef.

This isn’t just about protecting our beautiful reef, but also about safeguarding our future. Because by prioritising industry over the environment, the Australian government is currently sending a powerful message about where their real interests lie. And ultimately this affects the way our futures will look. As far as the health of one of our most diverse ecosystems goes, it will only be once they can address the bigger picture that we can really start to make some positive change.

Via Triple Pundit

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