Reef at Risk – IPCC

The comprehensive rezoning of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park which came into place in 2004 is clearly one the biggest environmental achievements in the eleven years of the Howard government. It dramatically increased the area of the Park zoned as fully protected, making about a third of the whole Park a ‘no take’ area. This makes it all the more sadly ironic that the area of the biggest environmental failure of the Howard government – their culpable negligence towards the threat of climate change over the last decade – may do more than anything else to seriously harm the Great Barrier Reef.

The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has just been released. This story on Science Alert says that “Australian scientists who contributed to the latest global greenhouse study say the Great Barrier Reef is one of the nation’s great assets most at risk under climate change.” The report on the ABC website notes (among many other things) that the report “found the most vulnerable ecosystems are the Great Barrier Reef, south-west Australia, the Kakadu wetlands, rainforests and alpine areas, many of which are world heritage sites.” The Australian states that “the Great Barrier Reef could be gone in 20 years unless global warming was slowed.”
The risk of widespread coral bleaching from higher temperatures has been widely noted, but increasing acidity of sea water is a less noted, but equally significant threat.

And to make us all feel even better, this piece from the Science Blogs website “Island of Doubt” reminds us that all the stories of political interference in finalising the IPCC report means “things are probably worse than the report suggests.”
It has been clear for years that the Reef would be in the frontline when it came to the effects of climate change. Given how iconic the Reef is to Queenslanders, not to mention massively important economically and environmentally, I have long been surprised how sanguine the general attitude to this threat has appeared to be. Maybe if Queenslanders took a ‘State of Origin’ mindset to the Reef, looking at it as being put at risk by a government in Canberra run by jealous southerners who don’t care about ‘our’ Reef, we might get a bit more steamed up about it. We could add the ultra biologically and culturally diverse Wet Tropics and Cape York to that too. It feels a bit ridiculous to make an appeal based on shallow parochialism, but we need to try something to shake us out of our lethargy. Continually repeating the facts and statistics doesn’t seem to be working well enough.

Here are some quotes from the report’s “summary for policy makers” which relate specifically to Queensland and the rest of Australia & New Zealand:

As a result of reduced precipitation and increased evaporation, water security problems are projected to intensify by 2030 in southern and eastern Australia and, in New Zealand, in Northland and some eastern regions.

Significant loss of biodiversity is projected to occur by 2020 in some ecologically-rich sites including the Great Barrier Reef and Queensland Wet Tropics. Other sites at risk include Kakadu wetlands, south-west Australia, sub-Antarctic islands and the alpine areas of both countries.

Ongoing coastal development and population growth in areas such as Cairns and Southeast Queensland (Australia) and Northland to Bay of Plenty (New Zealand), are projected to exacerbate risks from sea-level rise and increases in the severity and frequency of storms and coastal flooding by 2050.

Production from agriculture and forestry by 2030 is projected to decline over much of southern and eastern Australia, and over parts of eastern New Zealand, due to increased drought and fire. However, in New Zealand, initial benefits to agriculture and forestry are projected in western and southern areas and close to major rivers due to a longer growing season, less frost and increased rainfall.

The region has substantial adaptive capacity due to well-developed economies and scientific and technical capabilities, but there are considerable constraints to implementation and major challenges from changes in extreme events. Natural systems have limited adaptive capacity.

There are many other stories covering the new IPCC report. Here’s links to a few at Swissinfo, CBS News, and Canada’s National Post, which says “Top climate experts warned on Friday that global warming will cause faster and wider damage than previously forecast, ranging from hunger in Africa and Asia to extinctions and rising ocean levels.

There are also many pieces on the IPCC report appearing in the blogosphere. The Wall Street Journal has links to some of those blogs. Some good coverage also at Treehugger here and here. I’ll put some more links to blog pieces at the end of this post over the next couple of days as they start to appear – especially ones from Australians.

UPDATE – Australian Blog commentary:

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22 Comments

  1. ‘Ongoing coastal development and population growth in areas such as Cairns and Southeast Queensland (Australia) and Northland to Bay of Plenty (New Zealand), are projected to exacerbate risks from sea-level rise and increases in the severity and frequency of storms and coastal flooding by 2050.’

    I think the greatest mistake was to put an international airport in Cairns. It just made Cairns and Port Douglas too accessible to the world, who didn’t know it existed before. Once people saw it, regardless of where they came from, they wanted to live there.

    The Cairns population is quite interesting. It’s difficult to find a native North Queenslander. There’s too many people who have decided to make North Queensland their home, and are loving the place to death in the process. This pristine environment is just now looking like suburbia by the sea. Brick residential estates encroaching on pristine environments.

    Those new suburbs, from the moment they were built, have been cut off by flooding during the wet season. People have learnt to stock up their fridges and cupboards because they will always have periods of time when they are trapped off from the rest of Cairns due to the flooding from runoff.

    I can remember a time when Cairns was just a large town and driving to Port Douglas took you through kilometres of sugar cane. The you reached this sleepy little town (Port Douglas) There was a little pie shop that was quite famous. And of course the other attraction was to catch a tour boat out to the reef to do some diving.

    Of course, Port Douglas is unrecognisable now.

  2. Climate change… it happens everyday.
    We used to have an Inland sea… maybe we will again. Certainly it would be good for Australia if we did.

    Man-made co2 is approx 1/1000th of the atmosphere.
    CO2 increase occurs after warming.

    Man needs to be adaptable.
    Nature is not static.
    Nor can man control it.

  3. Senator!I know that to be skeptical about this is tantamount to not accepting a murderers confession at the moment.A long time ago I signed a petition to save the Barrier Reef from something ,I cannot recall.Last time I read something about the Reef the scientists seem to have changed their minds about wether it was temperature or light..and now this report mentions,yours, acidic matters increasing.If I cannot find how they measure this and over what time period ,excuse me please,if I become somewhat jaded and cynical.So what is raising the acidity of saline water,heat or light from the sun and is it ultra-violet or infrared? Naturally I dont like the sound of the report either,but shit,there is something indigestible about the whole lot.For example,as a person who read Silent Spring,at school as science,bees were the indicator then of matters going bad.Now why isnt there something on that,after all the bee can only do its stuff within a band of temperature,and without pollinators say good bye to almost everything?

  4. The efforts by Howard’s mob to demonstrate that they’re on top of this whole global warming thing are, however, morbidly entertaining. Poor old Malcolm Turnbull’s already looking harassed and dishevelled and he’s only been in the job a few months. No prime ministerial material there I don’t think.

    First we had this incredible nonsense about global warming having been one of the government’s top priorities for the last 10 years. He keeps saying that without citing any evidence, apparently without realising that it just causes howls of laughter amongst the masses. Now every piece of information released by the scientific community is waved away as ‘nothing new’, with a blithe assurance that the government’s got it all sorted. At the same time ‘we need to go way beyond Kyoto’, thus trying to turn attention to the failings of the countries who have actually been trying to tackle global warming.

    But the most bizarre claim is that the government is ‘taking care of the reef’ and that our reef management is the best in the world. WTF is he on about? Does he think that somehow he can quarantine the reef from the effects of global warming? Or does he still intend to implement that wonderfully innovative suggestion that we cover the whole thing with shadecloth?

    Watching lawyers talk about the environment is like watching Marxists talk about the stockmarket … neither has a clue.

  5. I’m not a Turnbull fan but that last comment is patently ridiculous. turnbull has a firmer grasp on reality than Garrett who’s just proving to be a lightweight in his portfolio.

    Turnbull proved this just the other day. If Garrett is supposed to be labor’s answer then they have no credibility.

    As for the belief that governments can control the weather… excuse me whilst I guffaw.

    As for clueless… yes and economists certainly have no clue. Work that one out yourself.

  6. To be clear the IPCC does not make the claims you indicate in your heading.

    Writing ‘Risk to reef-IPCC’ is misleading.

    These claims came from one professor who does not I think represent a consensus view.

  7. As the unrecognised,and unpaid person,who worked for the plastic company Nylex,and was the ideas person re shadecloth on building sites,and whilst I am at it suggested a way of seeing how drain waters floated out to sea by using a plastic orange coloured buoy thing…I have found the attack on the shadecloth idea humourous.It takes sometime,to lay bear an argument about wether ones work is that important.I was frustrated by all these barrier problems and the unclear position.Was it heat or was it light? There is still something phoney in the response.Sure knock the shadecloth idea, free country,it was just an idea.I wasnt positing it as the science indicating the end of the world as we knew it.I also suggested bordering the whole Reef in glass like transparent plastic,an adaption of sugar plastic,pumping air bubbles across the reef,even dyes I think.I notice the NZ landers have done some interesting stuff on that.I could right now suggest they reverse or change the current flows,which maybe causing a problem because of how the Reef was developed.I hope my unintended critic here recognises,the Reef Authority has hardly experimented,and the scientists have researched rather than experimented.Big Difference.So next time you laugh at the shadecloth idea,At least some companies became interested,and that seemed to me lacking.On a personal note,to the critic….I think you are a windbag mate!

  8. What is certainly affecting the reef is the high levels of nutrients present in run-offs from the rivers leading into the area; erosion caused by overgrazing, and fertiliser from cane farms.

    The economic value of these industries isn’t even half of the value of the reef in terms of tourism. Once again, short-term profits override long term interests.

  9. ‘On a personal note,to the critic….I think you are a windbag mate!’

    Dude I so agree … I only wish I could write a coherent argument as concisely yet powerfully as you do.

  10. HC, I don’t see how you can say my headline is misleading.

    As quoted in my post, the IPCC summary says there is a high probability of

    Significant loss of biodiversity is projected to occur by 2020 in some ecologically-rich sites including the Great Barrier Reef and Queensland Wet Tropics.

    Sounds like the Reef is at risk to me.
    Indeed, it would be amazing were the report to find otherwise – some of the earliest predictions of likely damage caused by climate change singled out the Reef.

    As to the assessments of Geoff and others about the performances of Turnbull, Garrett et al on the issue, I’d have to say I’ve felt both of them have performed fairly poorly on this issue. It’s not easy for them of course – Turnbull has the burden of trying to sound credible for a government that has barely managed lip service on the issue for a decade, while Garrett has to walk a tightrope in trying not to be wedged from either side.

    Still, I don’t think anyone in the political arena has performed sufficiently well on this issue – the public is now galvanised on the fact that this is a serious issue, but I don’t think anyone has been able to adequately paint an honest picture of how we get to where we have to go on emission reductions, nor what such an economy or society would be like. Lots of individual ideas, lots of urgings and exhortations, but not a coherent honest picture.

    I don’t normally recommend articles by Paul Kelly, but this recent piece about the suggested carbon pricing approach of the Business Council is worth a read.

    “Australia’s political class is about to face its moment of truth on global warming – the formation of a long-run national policy to achieve over decades a low-emission economy.”

  11. “their culpable negligence towards the threat of climate change over the last decade – may do more than anything else to seriously harm the Great Barrier Reef.”

    Are you dreaming, Senator. Even if we stopped all our power usage today, there is nothing Australia could do to stop any possible risks.

    This sort of comment i would expect from Bob Brown, whose natural constituency are the stupidest, most gullible and economically illiterate voters in the country.

    Please explain how the reef is going to be lost if the oceans haven’t warmed and actually shown to be cooling by recent studies .

    This is now getting silly.

  12. Shorter PC Police – “we’re too small to have any discernable impact on our own, so we shouldn’t do anything”.

    Funny how we never use that excuse on any other international issue.

    You may not have noticed PCP, but Australia is part of a global community. Our nation, along with the USA, are among the highest per capita emitters of greenhouse gases in the world. Our governments have made concentrated efforts to gut global attempts to take effective cooperative action plus we have been unwilling to make any meaningful changes of our own. It would be hard to think of a more effective strategy to stop the necessary changes from being adopted around the rest of the planet.

    Please explain how you can so flippantly dismiss a multitude of scientific warnings about the growing risks to coral reefs and the consensus opinion of hundreds of scientists through the IPCC reports.

  13. Mr. Lovell has suggested my writings here are not up to being understood in a relevant way,by terminology that meets his expectations.No objection to that.Accept the word Dude ,whereas he could of said dud.Either way,I will stick to calling him a windbag.I have a profound objection to ,Paul Kelly,henchman for Howard and resident Murdoch Bastard.I suspect that Don Dunstan is somewhere crying foul,because he is no way like the creep Kelly,and,it was originally off his writings,the carbon tax idea, so many years ago,when the present lot of Business Council remote controllers wouldnt of even noticed that there insistences about their importance were being challenged forever.I have read Kellys article I do not think it is highly motivated,and I do not think there is a need for the Big Picture when it comes to the Barrier Reef.More science dealing with coral and a ocean could and should be more important.This hijack of environmental matters,by atmospheric scientists and economists is a insult.

  14. Andrew says:

    “Shorter PC Police – “we’re too small to have any discernable impact on our own, so we shouldn’t do anything”.”

    1.Well you’re almost there. If packed up and started to live in caves our reduced emissions would be picked up by China in 3 months.

    2. We are energy intensive because of our industry base which is essentially a quarry to the rest of the world.

    Please evidence that the reefs are under clear and present danger because of sea temp changes? Most recent studies show that sea temps have not changed one bit.

    I put it to you that the reason we may have problems wih sea coral is because of our government supported sugar industry up north that emits large amounts of crap into the sea. If you want to stop that stop government subsidies going to the sugar industry right now. It’s good economic policy and would reach the right result as far as the reefs go.

    Signing a bit of paper- Kyoto- will do nothing to help coral reefs. It’s a joke.

  15. I”m with PC Police on the sugar industry (as I’ve posted before), but to not stop emissions because no-one else is stopping is morally bankrupt. If it’s the right thing to do, we should do it. Someone has to start first.

  16. The Howard government has approved seismic testing and drilling 160 test holes inside the lagoon of Scott Reef off the WA coast. They have also made the area of Australian controlled waters outside of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park a frontier exploration area, entitling oil and gas companies to exploration-based tax incentives. This is likely to lead to another Australian first.. The first oil or gas platform on a coral reef anywhere in the world!

    It seems clear to me that the Howard government has seen the writing on the wall for coral reefs and is setting up for a future without reef tourism based industries. I wonder if they have a long-term plan to mine the dead reefs of the future for lime??

  17. Take note.Senator Bartlett is actually under sustained attack from Howard right now.The sugar industry isnt the enemy on climate change ,it may have done some damage,it is local to the Barrier Reef and they are not blind or stupid,and,it is likely they are having many problems with Howard now.It time to try to get that industry readyied.It can produce a lot of enviro friendly stuff.Only some farming practices and farm design needs addressing.Stop and think,for example,we have a large beer industry,that fermenting capacity could go over to fermented highly nutritious food.Involving yeasts from sugar cane and the fermentation processes of the fermenters and brewing processes.It is likely breweries are the sleeping giant to making biofuels more effectual without the cricisms today including environmental ones.They are well practised in carbon dioxide use in a alcohol beverage.Needs further research and experiment.

  18. Whilst this is off subject a little,the following is still climate related.The Gold Cost this morning ,on ABC radio,was reported to need further water restrictions.Now this is happening,without anyone seriously saying its a climate change reality causing this!?But that isnt being serious enough when it comes to water availability.I believe the gold coast,Surfers Paradise,is a heat sink.Pumping out heat that may have for sometime changed local patterns of weather.It gets silly to me that coastal cities are not cooling themselves down by sea water,because its nearby,no long or short term damage to the oceans will occur if scientifically derived,and all that is needed is emergency service type methods,and maybe adding something to the seawater to neutralise the salt component a bit.Perhaps a cheap mineral,that will leave a surface shine,but,not a problem for sea based species.And drains etc.,can be made clean and ready for rain events.

  19. Again today,like a person finding difficulty looking in their mirror,Howard the champion of us all,just simply wouldnt allow the parochial interests of tank owners and that potential,and the greedy non Australian ,the Pacific Ocean..too interfere with our natural rights as Australians .And the State governments are another thing again.And I say it is fair enough to be concerned about pipe manufacturers in Australia….but,are they bludging because they can only get their way with big projects!?Whereas they should be finding uses that are new for product that have been very useful and the inventive streak just needs to be tapped.I for one think maybe experimentation should be thought about re marine eco parks and the average joe blows wanting to recreational fish whilst competing with industry.Could pipes solve some problems for breeding fish safety and ecology harm minimisation in all the variables that consist as our oceans!?Including with high ecological science input the Barrier Reef!? Obviously this a raw general concept,I may not necessarily support any proposal that is built upon this concept..it has to be in the hands of marine ecologists and their existing responsibilities.Howards environmental credentials are so phoney he must be hiding behind industry to get away with these calls to Nationalism,when being a progressive one of that could be just installing tanks…this post of mine covers a number of post sites here,and I feel there is some urgency to undermine completely the Howard dominance.Perhaps Turnbull didnt resist the bastard and now looks like a fool.And our local state member seems like a more responsible type than I previously thought.

  20. Time has marched on and this is a very late addition,slightly off subject,but,maybe overlooked as scientific Houdinis have all got us trapped re climate change.That is there is no escape even for the scientists .In a old general chemistry book whose authors are all professors and are thus named here:Luder,Vernon,Zuffanti,publishedby W.B.SAUNDERS.1961 on page 292 under heading Aluminium oxide…Artificial gems are made by fusing aluminium oxide with traces of other substances to produce the characteristic color of the natural gem. The purification method used on bauxite for the Hall process gives an oxide which can be dried in granular form.When this product is heated ,activated alumina,which is a good drying agent for gases and liquids,is obtained. End of quote. This surely could also apply to carbon dioxide when in solution,and I havent read anywhere yet why it is that scientific knowledge hasnt been exhausted to reduce water use generally, re power stations etc. emissions by whatever means.Activated alumina should be explained tested or theorised about,and is within the gambit of major uses of electricity such as alumina refineries,who surely are already linked up with the coal mining and metallurgy research matters and outcomes.If this is a potential solution,named charities from Senator Bartlett need some cash immediately.I will wait.

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