Media Release Fight For Our Reef

Australia must slash greenhouse gas emissions to protect Reef after latest coral bleaching 

February 22, 2024
  • Australian Govt must cut greenhouse gas emissions to limit global warming to 1.5°C – a critical threshold for coral reefs 
  • Australia needs to achieve net-zero emissions by 2035 
  • Australia’s current emissions reduction target of 43% by 2030 is consistent with a 2°C warming pathway, which equates to the loss of 99% of the world’s coral reefs 

The Australian Government must dramatically cut greenhouse gas emissions to protect the Great Barrier Reef, the Australian Marine Conservation Society said after James Cook University today reported moderate to severe coral bleaching around the Keppel Islands.

Coral bleaching seems to be currently occuring in shallow reef habitats, but heat maps show the worst is to come over the next four weeks. Three out of the four Reef regions are predicted to reach Alert level 2 (risk of reef-wide bleaching with mortality of heat-sensitive corals). There is a high risk this could become a mass bleaching event, which would be an unprecedented fifth mass bleaching event in eight years. This is completely unheard of, and is a reminder that the world needs to do more to address climate change.

AMCS Great Barrier Reef Campaign Manager Dr Lissa Schindler said: “Reports of moderate to severe bleaching unfolding across areas of the Great Barrier Reef are incredibly concerning. Sea surface temperatures are exceeding monthly averages and are currently 1–2°C above average across the World Heritage Area.

“The Queensland Government has shown leadership with its improved renewable energy and greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets, but the Australian Government needs to lift its game. 

“The Australian Government must lift its greenhouse gas reduction targets in line with keeping global warming to 1.5oC – a critical threshold for coral reefs. Australia’s current emissions reduction target of 43% by 2030 is consistent with a 2°C warming pathway, which equates to the loss of 99% of the world’s coral reefs.

“Right now the states are leading the way on climate targets. If a state with a significant resource sector such as Queensland can set an emissions reduction target of 75% by 2035, then the Australian Government can and must go higher.  

“If Australia is serious about fulfilling its commitment to UNESCO to set more ambitious emission reduction targets in alignment with efforts to limit global temperature increase to 1.5°C, then it needs to commit to net-zero emissions by 2035.

“Direct climate mitigation must be coupled with building the health of the Reef by reducing other threats to the Great Barrier Reef, including stopping broadscale tree clearing in Reef catchments, restoring wetlands and improving fisheries. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the custodian of the Great Barrier Reef, must play a greater role in reducing these threats to the Reef and advocating to the Australian Government that urgent emissions reductions are needed at the national level.                   

“Corals bleach when they experience prolonged heat stress from marine heatwaves, expelling the colourful algae that lives in their tissues, leaving a white skeleton. Marine heatwaves are becoming more severe and frequent, with the water temperatures at the Keppel Islands well above the summer average, reaching 29°C in the water during multiple days of surveys. 

“The Reef is an internationally renowned natural marvel that supports a $6 billion tourism industry and 64,000 jobs. We need to do everything we can to protect it.”