Australia Needs to Step Up at COP 26 to Save the Reef

I recently spent five fascinating and inspiring days on the Great Barrier Reef working with a dedicated and passionate group of Marine Park staff and volunteers. Our project involved relocating healthy coral to a site that had suffered severe cyclone damage. The objective was to support and, hopefully, speed up the natural recovery process of the reef.

We transplanted over 4000 pieces of coral. It was a mighty effort and we hope to see some positive results in the next 3-5 years.

The work kept me busy but not too busy to enjoy the peaceful ambience of being far offshore where there is no cell phone or Wi-Fi reception, just the ocean, the stars and the Reef.

But all good things must come to an end and when we arrived back on mainland, my email box quickly filled with news about COP26, the upcoming climate conference in Glasgow. Most of the news focused on our Federal Government’s current climate change policy, which ranges from dismal (Liberal Party) to non-existent (National Party).

Talk about crashing back to reality. For five glorious days I was feeling good about the future of the Reef. And I am not alone. Communities up and down the length of the Reef are putting their blood, sweat and tears into projects designed to help build resilience into a Reef that has taken some big hits over the past 30 years: poor water quality, overfishing, crown-of-thorns-starfish, severe cyclones and now, climate change.

But all of our efforts, even multiplied by 10, cannot fend off the devastating impacts of climate change. For passionate Reef people, the science is sobering. The recent IPCC report makes it crystal clear that if global temperatures increase by 2 degrees, it’s game over for the Great Barrier Reef. Tell that to your kids.

But the same report provides us with some hope. If we can reduce our carbon emissions by at least 50% by 2030 and reach net zero carbon emissions by 2035, then we might be able to hold global warming to 1.5 degrees, giving the Reef a fighting chance.

Given that Australia is responsible for ensuring the future health of our Great Barrier Reef, what is our government doing about climate change? Sweet bugger all.

The Liberals and Nationals are busy playing political games, debating whether Australia will go the Glasgow with a pledge to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 – a target that is way out of date and now deemed totally inadequate if we are serious about holding the global temperature to 1.5 degrees.

This phony debate is simply smoke and mirrors, designed to convince the Australian public that the government is serious about climate change and serious about the future health of the Reef. Based on their track record, they are not.

The government continues to promote and subsidise new coal and gas projects and has even proposed a new coal-fired power station. Australia’s carbon emissions in the energy and transport sector continue to rise.

We are failing to do our share of the heavy lifting in the fight against climate change and are now seen as a world laggard.

Is this how Australia manages it most important natural resource and the greatest coral reef on the planet? The Great Barrier Reef has an economic, social and icon asset value of $56 billion. It supports 64,000 jobs and contributes $6.4 billion to the Australian economy.

Ironically, the Federal Government is funding much of the current Reef resilience work that is happening as we speak. This allows them to claim that they are doing the best they can to support the Reef. But this is just another government red herring. Without an ambitious climate policy, no amount of money can save the Reef.

The IPCC report gives us a decade to get our house in order. A decade to significantly bring down our carbon emissions. A decade to save the Great Barrier Reef. If this government doesn’t step up in Glasgow, then come the next election, we must find a government who will.