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:
- Brian Bahnisch at Larvatus Prodeo
- Harry Clarke has a reasonably detailed piece
- Darryl Mason at The Orstrahyun
- Barista has an extensive entry on the IPCC report, commencing with a stark photo to put the issue into a human perspective
- Jennifer Marohasy gives her take