Oct 5, 2012

Are we deliberately destroying the Great Barrier Reef?

We know the Great Barrier Reef is in trouble. It's time to admit that our climate policies will contribute to its ultimate destruction, argues Dr Chris McGrath.

News out this week that research has found the Great Barrier Reef has lost much of its coral cover in the past few decades generated the now routine commitment from federal Environment Minister Tony Burke to do better. The reality is that the reef's future looks grim.

Researchers at the Australian Institute of Marine Science found a major decline in coral cover from 1985 to 2012, with tropical cyclones accounting for 48% of the loss, predation by crown-of-thorns starfish 42%, and bleaching due to climate change 10%. All these drivers of coral loss have human fingerprints on them. Cyclone intensities are increasing with warming ocean temperatures driven by human-induced climate change. There is strong evidence linking crown-of-thorns starfish to increased nutrient run-off from high fertiliser use in the reef's catchment. While climate change is not the major driver of coral loss at present, it can be expected to dominate  if we continue on our current course. No one likes to say it out loud, but we should publicly recognise that we are planning to destroy the Great Barrier Reef by setting targets for climate change that we know are inadequate to protect the reef. If we look at the big picture, our lack of serious ambition to protect the reef from climate change will swamp the many good things we are doing to protect it by increasing fully protected areas, reducing fishing pressure, improving water quality, etc. Queensland Premier Campbell Newman has previously committed to protecting the reef, but not at the expense of economic development. His priorities are clear with the recognition that "we are in the coal business". This is contradictory. The emissions from Queensland coal and coal seam gas are major parts of the threat to the reef on a global scale. Ultimately, the protection of the reef is a national matter, and the state government is just a noisy spectator. Only the Australian Government has the power to address the threat of climate change by driving national and international change. At present it is failing to do this. Our de facto national plan to destroy the reef is a simple one on the surface: the Gillard government and the opposition currently propose to reduce Australia’s direct greenhouse gas emissions by 5% by 2020. Both give the green light to massive expansion of Australia’s coal and gas industries, fuelling increasing global consumption. The 5% by 2020 target is based on Australia contributing to a global regime to stabilise carbon dioxide around 550 parts per million (ppm) in the atmosphere, thereby allowing mean global temperature rises of 3° above pre-industrial levels. CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere are currently around 392 ppm and rising by 2 ppm a year, mainly due to emissions from humans burning fossil fuels.

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6 thoughts on “Are we deliberately destroying the Great Barrier Reef?

  1. Moloch

    Yes, yes we are.

    The smooth-talking vacancy known as Tony Burke is in furious agreement with ratbag slasher Campbell Newman that the environment must never, ever stand in the way of selling more coal.

    Burke is about to offload the responsibility for places of national significance to the states. A purely political move, in the short term to distance Labor from the Greens. The long term plan – if indeed these fools can think longer-term than 2013 – seems to be for the ALP to take the high ground after the rapacious corporate handmaidens of the LNP have wrecked various ecosystems for their mining masters.

    And people wonder why I call these fools the ALP/LNP Coalition of the Ignorant…

  2. michael crook

    Burning coal and LNG are now definitely in the economic negative category as well as socially negative, BUT, as long as corporations and billionaires make money out of mining and selling coal and gas, then a compliant and subservient government will ensure that it will continue. We need to change the system. last week I stood on Mt larcom and looked down on the “narrows” at the top of Gladstone harbour, and I wept.

  3. Venise Alstergren

    And the Coalition will do something to reverse this degradation? Yes, and my name is Passionflower McQueen.

  4. zut alors

    Sure we are. And for major corporations the death of the reef can’t come quickly enough because then there will be less public outcry over their polluting and destructive practices.

    The short-sighted mantra of all governments ie: growth is good.

  5. dazza

    Campbell Newman and his partners in crime will be the laughing stock of the world. It’s unbelievable that in the last 27 or so years we have been able to destroy half the reef. I can only say its shameful and embarrassing to be a queenslander, while the can-do man can-do nothing.

  6. kakadu

    What is the tourist industry doing about this? Both the tourist industry in the north and the winter sports in the south need to get organised.

    It’s only money that talks in the end. Beauty and inter-generational ethics are ignored when we only care about today. The true pioneer spirit. Rape the countryside and move on.

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