Australia must dramatically increase its action on climate change to protect the Great Barrier Reef from global warming decimation, says Special Envoy Warren Entsch, as the latest government data shows Australia will need drastic cuts to industrial emissions if it’s to reach net zero.
The Member for Leichhardt in North Queensland was appointed to bring focus to the World Heritage-listed coral reef in 2019. His latest report to Environment Minister Sussan Ley was published on Tuesday.
Special Envoy for the Great Barrier Reef Warern Entsch has delivered his latest report to federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley (left).Credit:Getty Images
“Minister as you know this year is an incredibly important time for increasing global ambition on reducing emissions and addressing climate change,” Mr Entsch said. “The science illustrates very clearly why we ought to undertake accelerated changes to reach net zero emissions by 2050 at the latest.”
Mr Entsch said he had continued to call on Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor and “other senior colleagues” for more ambitious climate action.
The Australian Institute of Marine Science gives the Barrier Reef a “very poor” health rating. Coral bleaching events are driven by climate change and are occurring more frequently than the reef can recover. A recent Australian Academy of Sciences report said if the world warmed by 2 degrees only 1 per cent of corals would survive.
The quarterly update of the National Greenhouse Gas Inventory, published on Tuesday, shows Australia’s emissions had fallen 5 per cent in the year to March, and had decreased by 20.8 per cent overall since 2005.
Climate Council senior researcher Tim Baxter said the federal government official emissions projections show without further action, emissions from large industries like transport, agriculture and manufacturing will remain around their current levels.
“The vast majority of emissions reduction to date have come from state government restrictions to land clearing, with a contribution from electricity as well,” Mr Baxter said. “But other sectors of the economy are either increasing or flatlining.”
Greenhouse gas emissions were 494.2 million tonnes in the year to March, which was 27.8 million tonnes or 5.3 per cent lower than in 2020.
Annual emissions have fallen by around 122 million tonnes since 2005. Mr Baxter said emissions from changes to land use made up 111 million tonnes of the total.
In the mid-2000s NSW and Queensland governments created tighter land clearing restrictions on farmers, which has enabled the government to count emissions reductions against the carbon stored in the landscape – and include it in Australia’s emissions budget.
The government figures forecast emissions would rise in the next quarter, up from 122 million tonnes in March to 129 in June. However, analysts say such predictions are typically unreliable.
Australia has pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas contribution by at least 26 per cent by 2030, based on 2005 emissions, but has not set a deadline to hit net zero emissions. Most other developed nations have committed to roughly halve their emissions by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050 or earlier.
Mr Entsch said the international push to greater climate action was “cause for great optimism and introspection”. Australia must commit to a “robust climate mitigation” to maintain the claim as the best reef managers in the world, he said.
Mr Entsch’s report from the previous year warned, at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, warned the government the reef’s survival depended on greater emissions cuts to curb global warming.
The United Nations World Heritage Committee in June threatened to list the Great Barrier Reef as “in danger” of being removed from the list of World Heritage sites due to global warming and water pollution.
Australia was given a reprieve after a whirlwind diplomatic campaign led by Ms Ley, but UNESCO has given the Australian government until February to upgrade its climate policy.
Mr Entsch said it was “greatly concerning” that the in danger threat was “solely” based on a desktop evaluation of the reef’s health – a claim UNESCO denies.
Mr Entsch backed the rejection of a coal project proposed by Clive Palmer, which would mine within 10 kilometres of the coast near Gladstone.
“It is entirely inappropriate for the mine to proceed particularly given its proximity to and the unacceptable risk it poses to the Great Barrier Reef and other nearby habitats,” he said.
The Queensland government has assessed and rejected the proposal, in part due to expected impacts on water quality, but the final decision rests with Ms Ley, who has requested more information before deciding the mine’s fate.
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