Will we leave the Great Barrier Reef for our children?

7 thoughts on “Will we leave the Great Barrier Reef for our children?”

  1. Just to follow-up and expand on the last comment:

    The Australian Treasury economic modelling of mitigation strategies was released yesterday (30 October 2008), see http://www.treasury.gov.au/lowpollutionfuture/

    Treasury modelled the economic cost of stabilisation scenarios between 450-550 ppm CO2-e and allowing a rise of 2-3°C in mean global temperatures above pre-industrial levels. It concluded (at page ix):

    “Australia and the world continue to prosper while making the emission cuts required to reduce the risks of dangerous climate change. Even ambitious goals have limited impact on national and global economic growth.”

    Read the fine print, however, and you will see that the report does not incorporate costs such as the loss of the Great Barrier Reef with 2-3°C warming. A somewhat breathtaking omission from the report, noted at page xi, is that “the modelling does not include the economic impacts of climate change itself, so does not assess the benefits of reducing climate change risks through mitigation.”

    The report refers to “other studies” for analysis of the costs of climate change on the economy such as Stern 2007 and Garnaut 2008. In working on stabilising at 2-3°C warming, it is not even mentioned that Stern (2007: 80) concluded that at 2°C warming “coral reefs are expected to bleach annually in many areas, with most never recovering, affecting tens of millions of people that rely on coral reefs for their livelihood or food supply.”

    In my view, the Treasury report is fundamentally flawed by omitting the costs of climate change on the economy. It’s conclusions on the economic benefits of the targets it recommends should not be accepted on this basis alone.

    In my view, if we are going to set stabilisation targets between 450-550 ppm CO2-e and allow a rise of 2-3°C, it needs to be acknowledged we expect to lose coral reefs such as the GBR. Silently ignoring the science does not mean the impacts are not going to happen.

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  2. When speaking with scientists and government staff at conferences on climate change in recent years I have heard several say, “It’s too late to save coral reefs”. When I hear people say this I feel like grabbing them by the shoulders and yelling, “Tell me when we decided that? Tell me when we decided that it was too late to save coral reefs?”

    George Monbiot inspires me when he writes:

    “Is it too late? To say so is to make it true. To suggest that there is nothing that can now be done is to ensure that nothing is done. … Can we do it? Search me. Reviewing the new evidence, I have to admit that we might have left it too late. But there is another question I can answer more easily. Can we afford not to try? No we can’t.”

    See: http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2008/11/25/one-shot-left/#more-1155

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  3. What impact will rising sea levels have on the reef? If, for example, some freak ice sheet collapse happened, adding a foot to global seal level, would the extra foot of water mean that reefs would suddenly be cooler? How would it affect other variables, like light, nutrients, and waves? Or would it be negligible?

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  4. Rising sea levels are not seen as the major threat from climate change in comparison to extreme sea surface temperatures and ocean acidification but see the discussion at page 286 in Hoegh-Gulberg et al (2007) at http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/22598/chapter10-reef-building-corals.pdf :

    “Due to the slowing effect of other factors on growth [due to impacts of extreme temperatures and ocean acidification], there is the potential that coral populations might be left behind by rapid sea level rise. It is also important to keep in mind that these conclusions [of sea level rise not being a major challenge for coral reefs] are dependent on having a slow rise in sea level. They would be invalidated in the longer term if, for example, the Greenland Ice sheet were to melt rapidly. If this were so, then sea level rise would accelerate well above coral growth and would stabilise at 6 to 10 metres above current sea level. In this case, sea level rise would represent an extreme challenge for most marine habitats including coral reefs.”

    The range of 6-10m is very different from your scale of “adding a foot to global sea level”. A rapid rise of a foot of water would impact on factors such as light, temperatures and waves but if that were the only impacts, corals would be expected to cope. It is the larger effects of temperature rises and ocean acidification that are the bigger threats at present.

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  5. hopefully they keep the Great Barrier Reef safe for people to visit in the future it would be sad to see it go. I think one way to keep the Great Barrier Reef and more is to promote safety if people are safe and respect the things around them then this world and communities in the world can be a safer place.

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