Media Release Climate Change

Weak climate goals make new Reef 2050 Plan a blueprint for rapid Reef decline

December 21, 2021

The climate actions in the updated Reef 2050 Plan, released by the Australian and Queensland governments late yesterday, fail the Great Barrier Reef and risk the World Heritage status of our global icon, the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) says.

The Reef 2050 Plan is intended to detail how our governments will protect the Reef. The updated Plan includes the Australian and Queensland government’s weak 2030 emissions reduction targets of 26-28% and 30%, respectively.

This is the decade to save the Reef but these targets are nowhere near where they need to be if Australia is to do its fair share in limiting warming to 1.5C. This is the level of warming that UNESCO has said is a crucial threshold for the Great Barrier Reef.

“The climate crisis is by far the biggest threat to our Reef, so the lack of ambition detailed in the Reef 2050 Plan to tackle this issue is disgraceful,” said AMCS spokesperson Simon Miller.

“If we don’t keep 1.5 C within reach this decade, the harsh reality is that we will see the rapid and accelerated decline of the Reef in our lifetimes. The current plan does little to address the root cause of global warming – burning fossil fuels, which heats the ocean and causes the coral bleaching events which have beset all but 2% of the global icon since 1998.

“Warmer waters are already building on the Reef and there is an increasing likelihood that it may face thermal stress and cyclones this summer. With so much at stake the Australian and Queensland governments must prioritise taking bold climate action to safeguard our Reef and its iconic wildlife, the tourism industry and the tens of thousands of jobs the Reef supports.”

Earlier this year, the World Heritage Committee called on the Australian government to commit to accelerate action “at all possible levels” to address the threat of climate change. Mr Miller added the climate policy detailed in the new Reef 2050 Plan would fail to meet this call so an ‘in Danger’ listing was a strong possibility.

Additional measures in the new plan to address water pollution and illegal and unsustainable fishing practices on the Reef make some welcome progress, but need to go further faster, said Mr Miller.

While the plan outlines how existing investment commitments to improve the quality of water flowing from farms and grazing properties into the Reef will be allocated, the amount earmarked is still significantly short of the estimated $4bn needed to meet water quality targets agreed to by the Queensland and Australian governments.

There are welcome actions to improve the health of fish stocks, implement independent monitoring of commercial fishing operations and introduce measures to reduce interactions with iconic protected species like dugongs and turtles. However, many of these actions are already running years behind schedule under the Queensland Sustainable Fisheries Strategy and require immediate attention and funding to ensure they are fast-tracked and delivered.

Mr Miller added: “Taking urgent actions to address the threats of poor water quality and illegal and unsustainable fishing practices are vital to give our Reef a fighting chance in the face of global warming.”

AMCS is urging the Queensland and Australian governments to strengthen the Reef 2050 Plan and deliver more ambitious climate policies consistent with limiting warming to 1.5C before the World Heritage Reef Monitoring Mission visits Australia to review Reef protection measures in the first half of next year.

The governments have described the updated Reef 2050 Plan as ‘adaptive’, stating that it can be further updated in response to recommendations from the mission, and in response to decisions from the World Heritage Committee when it meets in June 2022.