Up to 90 per cent of the world’s coral reefs are expected to vanish, even at low levels of warming, and there are grave fears for one of Australia’s most famous natural wonders.
The outlook for the Great Barrier Reef is considered “very poor”, according to a new report by the Australian Academy of Science.
And climate change is a major driver.
At 1.5 degrees of warming, the world will lose between 70 and 90 per cent of coral reefs.
“Substantial losses in ocean productivity, ongoing ocean acidification, and the increasing deterioration of coastal systems such as mangroves and seagrasses are projected to occur if global warming exceeds 2C,” the harrowing report states.
Scientists said the target set by the Paris Climate Agreement of keeping global warming to 1.5C was “virtually impossible” as they painted a grim picture for Australia’s ecosystems.
It is more likely that global temperatures will soar by up to 3C.
“Critical thresholds in many natural systems are likely to be exceeded as global warming of 1.5C above pre-industrial levels continues,” the report said.
“These impacts will increase as global warming reaches 2C and beyond, with iconic ecosystems such as the Great Barrier Reef and the World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park being severely affected.
“At 3C of global warming, many of Australia’s ecological systems would be unrecognisable.”
A leading figure within the European Union has even sounded the alarm on the Great Barrier Reef.
The EU’s commissioner for environment, oceans and fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevičius, told Guardian Australia he feared for the natural wonder.
“As long as we do not change our behaviours, things will not improve,” he said.
Global warming has already triggered mass bleaching events on the Great Barrier Reef that have destroyed at least half of the world’s largest reef system.
It has also contributed to droughts and bushfires.
Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, who chairs the expert panel that developed the report, said a rapid transition to net zero greenhouse gas emissions was required if the international community was to limit warming to well below 2C.
“Current international commitments to greenhouse gas emission reduction, if unchanged, would result in average global surface temperatures that are 3C above the pre-industrial period in the lifetimes of our children and grandchildren,” he said.
“The evidence presented in this risk-assessment report, which is based on peer-reviewed scientific literature, indicates that this would have serious consequences for Australia and the world.”
But scientists said it was possible for Australia to meet its climate goals.
Australian Academy of Science president John Shine said the new report suggested while the planet was warning, science had its solutions.
“Australia is well positioned to meet the climate change challenge by combining our scientific knowledge with economic opportunities associated with moves to net zero greenhouse gas emissions,” Professor Shine said.
The report makes 10 recommendations, including scaling up the development and implementation of next-generation zero greenhouse gas technologies and exploring how food production and supply systems can prepare for climate change.
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