It’s a beautiful winter’s day in tropical Port Douglas today. A sunny 26 degrees Celsius welcomes my customers heading to discover the wonders of the Great Barrier Reef for the first time.
There’s a reason people normally travel from across the globe in their millions to visit this iconic place. Our Reef is so big you can see it from space, its different corals, fish and turtles so beautiful that it’s one of the seven wonders of the natural world.
But it’s in trouble. Scientists have been warning about the existential threat of climate change to this fragile ecosystem for decades. Tourism operators like me have seen the impact of global warming, with mass coral bleaching events hitting in three out of five years to 2020.
UNESCO has taken the extraordinary step of recommending the Great Barrier Reef be placed on the World Heritage In Danger List. They cited Australian government inaction on climate change and a failure to meet water quality targets as the reason for this draft decision.
Going on the In Danger List would be bad news for the Reef tourism industry already struggling with the closure of international borders. I don’t know whether this is the right decision from UNESCO or not. But I do know that we urgently need action on climate change, our Reef’s greatest threat.
Watching our Prime Minister travelling the world while continuing to defend Australia’s pitifully weak carbon emissions reductions targets is galling when people like us have to live with the real world consequences of climate inaction.
The Australian government must step up to drastically reduce carbon emissions and do our fair share to limit global warming to 1.5C, a crucial threshold for the world’s coral reefs. How can we expect the world to act on climate change to protect our Great Barrier Reef if we as custodians aren’t willing to step up?
Climate action means no new fossil fuels – including the Clive Palmer-owned coal mine proposed just 10 kilometres from the Reef World Heritage Area in Central Queensland. Climate action means a just transition to renewable energy and using our abundant sun and wind to export clean energy to the world
We must also address local pressures, investing in improving poor water quality and ending unsustainable fishing practices in our Reef’s waters.
The time has passed for incremental change. To save our Reef and the multi-billion dollar tourism industry, we need bold action now.
This opinion piece first appeared in an abbreviated form in the Cairns Post.