International ocean scientists have issued a blunt warning to world leaders ahead of the November 2015 climate change negotiations in Paris (COP21).
In a paper published in the journal Science, the experts argue that any new global climate agreement must begin to minimise the mounting toll on the world’s oceans to prevent irreversible damage.
ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies Deputy Director and Director of the UQ Global Change Institute Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg said the 2009 negotiations in Copenhagen had underestimated the likely impact of climate change on oceans, and a new more intense focus on oceans was urgently needed.
“There’s compelling evidence that increases in the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are already resulting in fundamental changes to the physical, chemical, and biological properties of our planet,” Professor Hoegh-Guldberg said.
“This is posing growing risks to human well-being as well as threatening key industries.
“However, solutions are still possible if we act decisively in Paris,” he said.
French National Center for Scientific Research senior scientist Dr Jean-Pierre Gattuso also voiced his great concern.
“The oceans have been minimally considered at previous climate negotiations. Our study provides compelling arguments for a radical change at COP21,” Dr Gattuso said.
The paper draws on an extensive scientific assessment of the impact of climate change on the world’s oceans completed last year for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Professor Hoegh-Guldberg was co-ordinating lead author for the Oceans section of that United Nations study.
He said the chemical and physical conditions of the ocean were changing at rates which were, in some cases, faster than any seen over the past 65 million years.
“There is also high confidence that many marine organisms and their communities and ecosystems are undergoing fundamental change as the world‘s oceans warm, acidify and lose oxygen,” he said.
“While deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions are a must, we must also agree to rapidly rebuild the resilience of ecosystems and people against the rising tide of change.
“We must work on the urgent issues of adapting to rapid sea level rise, transforming fisheries and the impacts of increasingly strong storms – all of which will help to reduce non-climate stresses on ecosystems and build resilience to climate change-related impacts.”
The Science paper warns that policy options for addressing ocean impacts (mitigate, protect, repair, adapt) are narrowing as the ocean warms and acidifies.
The 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21) will herald a week of climate negotiations in Paris on 30 November.
The Oceans 2015 Initiative was launched to provide COP21 negotiators with key information on what future ocean will look like. The initiative is led by the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), Sorbonne University (Paris) and the French Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI), and is supported by the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, the Ocean Acidification International Coordination Centre of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the BNP Paribas Foundation and the Monégasque Association for Ocean Acidification.
Australia – Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, (+61 7) 3443 3112, firstname.lastname@example.org, Skype ‘Hoegh-Guldberg’, GCI Communications 0438 285 283; France – Dr Jean-Pierre Gattuso, (+33 4) 93 76 38 59, email@example.com.
Leading coral reef scientists say Australia could restore the Great Barrier Reef to its former glory through better policies that focus on science, protection and conservation.
In a paper published in the journal Nature Climate Change, the authors argue that all the stressors on the Reef need to be reduced for it to recover.
An Australian Government report into the state of the Great Barrier Reef found that its condition in 2014 was “poor and expected to further deteriorate in the future”. In the past 40 years, the Reef has lost more than half of its coral cover and there is growing concern about the future impacts of ocean acidification and climate change.
“We need to move beyond the gloom and doom to identify how the decline of the Great Barrier Reef can be turned around,” says co-author Professor Terry Hughes from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University (JCU).
“Our paper shows that every major stressor on the Reef has been escalating for decades – more and more fishing, pollution, coastal development, dredging, and now for the past 20 years we’re also seeing the impacts of climate change.”
“We now have a very good handle on why the Great Barrier Reef is in trouble,” adds co-author, Jon Brodie from the Centre for Tropical Water and Aquatic Ecosystems Research at JCU.
“The challenge is to use that scientific knowledge to prevent further damage and give the Reef some breathing space that would allow it to recover.
Co-author, Jon Day, also from the ARC Centre for Coral Reef Studies at JCU says an obvious first step is to prevent unsustainable growth in each of the stressors to reduce their cumulative impact.
“If that means less dredging, less coal mining and more sustainable fishing, then that’s what Australia has to do. Business as usual is not an option because the values for which the Reef was listed as World Heritage are already deteriorating, and will only get worse unless a change in policy occurs.”
The authors say that as countries around the world move to curb global carbon emission, Australia has an opportunity to transition away from fossil fuels and to limit the development of huge coal ports alongside the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.
“No-one is saying Queensland should not have ports – however, what we are saying is that all developments within, and adjacent to, the Great Barrier Reef need to be far more sustainable in the way that they are developed and operated, especially because they adjoin a World Heritage Area, “says Jon Day.
The authors agree that no one wants to see the Great Barrier Reef placed on UNESCO’s ‘World Heritage Area In-Danger’ list.
The Great Barrier Reef needs breathing space to recover. Image courtesy of State of Queensland
“The economic case for better protecting the Great Barrier Reef is very clear – it supports more than 60,000 jobs, mostly in Reef-related tourism,” says Professor Hughes.
The scientists have outlined a six-point plan they believe will restore the Great Barrier Reef, including;
A return to the former emphasis on conservation and protection of the Great Barrier Reef.
Australia taking a lead role in tackling climate change by transitioning away from fossil fuels.
Permanent legislative bans on dumping both capital and maintenance dredge spoil within the World Heritage area.
An overhaul of the environmental impact assessment process for new developments
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) reinstated as the agency responsible for all aspects of the Great Barrier Reef, including fishing and ports. A 50-year plan and adequate funding for the use of the catchment designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and agricultural run off.
Jon Brodie says Australia is starting to reduce runoff of nutrients, sediments and pesticides from land into the World Heritage Area, and is improving regulations for dumping capital dredge-spoil, but much more action is needed.
“These efforts are a welcome step in the right direction, but they will need much better resourcing in order to substantially reduce pressures on the World Heritage Area.”
The authors say the global community must make it clear that they want more effective policy action to ensure the Great Barrier Reef is restored for current and future generations.
“This paper raises awareness of the untapped opportunities to incorporate science into better policy to ensure we still have a magnificent Great Barrier Reef in the future,” Terry Hughes adds.