Australia’s election campaign failed on its Great Barrier Reef


“I don’t know if you’ve heard of the Great Barrier Reef?” Producer Tommy Eyres asked in a mini mockumentary posted on TikTok and instagram earlier this month. “There was another mass bleaching event, so they just announced today that they’re going to change it from ‘Great Barrier Reef’ to ‘Good Barrier Reef’.” By 2028, it will be known as the “bad barrier reef”, he adds.

The world’s largest coral reef system of course still bears the name it has had since the publication by William Saville-Kent in 1893 of the illustrated book Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. But the dark pun is appropriate; the ecosystem renowned for its biodiversity is in a disastrous state. When the water gets too warm, the bright, colorful microscopic algae called zooxanthellae that live inside the corals are driven out by a process known as “bleaching”. If it stays too hot, they cannot come back and the corals die.

“The Great Barrier Reef’s most recent massive bleaching is the fourth in just seven years,” says Simon Bradshaw, research director at the Climate Council, referring to a recent report showing a “devastating” 91% of people questioned. reefs were affected this year. “What shocked scientists and reef residents the most was that this latest bleaching event occurred during a La Niña period, which we expect to be cooler and less dangerous to the reef. has never happened before.

The impact of climate change on rising sea temperatures is internationally recognized as one of the main causes of coral death. Yet, from the weak net-zero promises of Australia’s two main political parties, you wouldn’t think it’s a big concern.

Both the Liberal Party and Labor have pledged to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 – but by 2030 the former has only committed to a 26-28% reduction in emissions from at 2005 levels, and the second at a reduction of 43%. penny drop. If Every Country Followed the Liberals’ Lead, the World Would Be Headed for Warming Beyond Catastrophic Catastrophe 3 degrees Celsius, experts say. If they followed Labour’s, that would still equate to a dangerous 2 degrees Celsius warming – in which case the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that 99% of the world’s corals would die.

How Australian politicians got away with this lack of ambition at a time when the country is also being ravaged by wildfires and floods is an important question for the whole world. As Professor Tim Flannery wrote for the new statesmanAustralian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been heavy on the idea that technological solutions will solve the problem “in time” – a narrative that dispenses with the government having to take necessary action.

The different approaches to protecting the Great Barrier Reef provide a useful microcosm here. Gene editing, assisted coral sexor even 3d printed Terracotta coral substitutes could help the reef ecosystem cope with higher temperatures, but they alone will not be enough to cope with the regular bleaching that occurs due to high water temperatures resulting from the climate change. The government’s “recalcitrant” reduction in the use and production of fossil fuels in Australia is contributing to this, according to Richard Pearson of James Cook University. “The evidence is pretty clear that…if more action is not taken sooner…we can say goodbye to the reef and many other environments as we know them.”

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The problem, suggests David Ritter, CEO of Greenpeace Australia Pacific, is that politicians pretend to protect the reef, with specific actions and funding, such as the government Reef Plan 2050, but unless they take action to reduce emissions, these initiatives can go no further. He calls this state of affairs the persistent “big lie” sold to Australian voters.

TikTok’s Eyres thinks this weekend’s election could be the moment the government is called upon for its lack of real political will to save the Reef. “I’m convinced Australian audiences have been taken for a ride too often now,” he says. A vote for the Green Party or the candidates running as Teal Independents — all of which have climate targets consistent with 1.5 degrees of warming — would be a “vote for the climate and the reef,” he adds. “This election is 100% the last chance for the Reef in my opinion.”

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