Quantcast

Australia's $379M Plan to Save Great Barrier Reef Raises Skepticism

Climate
Northern Great Barrier Reef, October 2016. Greg Torda / ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies

The Australian government announced Sunday its largest investment in the Great Barrier Reef to date. More than $500 million Australian dollars (US $379 million) will go towards helping the highly vulnerable site that's under threat from climate change.

However, some have criticized the move as a "band-aid plan" as the fossil fuel-friendly government promotes the building of new coal mines, which fuels global warming that harms the reef.


"It is an investment not only in the future of the Great Barrier Reef, but also in Australian jobs and our economy through the tourists the reef attracts every year," Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull's office, along with the ministers for foreign affairs, energy and environment, said in a joint statement.

The government said the site is a critical national asset providing AUS $6.4 billion a year to the Queensland and Australian economies and supporting 64,000 jobs. The $500 million will go towards the improvement of water quality, tackling coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks, reducing pollution into the reef, mitigating the impacts of climate change and implementing scientific reef restoration.

But environmentalists pointed out the government is simultaneously backing a new coal mine in Central Queensland and subsidizing fossil fuel industries.

"If the Turnbull government was serious about saving the reef they would be willing to take on the industry responsible for the damage," said Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org.

"To simultaneously promote Adani's coal mine, which would be one of the world's largest, pretending to care about the world's largest reef is an acrobatic feat only cynical politicians would attempt," he said.

Zelda Grimshaw, spokesperson for Stop Adani Cairns, added: "To protect our beautiful reef we need to stop paying enormous subsidies to the big polluters—the coal, oil and gas industries."

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young tweeted a similar sentiment:

The most significant environmental threat facing the iconic reef is climate change, according to the 2014 report from the Australian government.

"The Great Barrier Reef is being killed by climate change driven by the burning of fossil fuels," Greenpeace Australia Pacific climate and energy campaigner Nikola Casule said.

"Not only does this funding continue to focus on peripheral issues without tackling the real problem, it also ignores the fact that if we continue to roll out the red carpet to projects like the Adani Carmichael mega-mine it won't matter how much money the government sets aside—the waters will continue to warm," he noted.

Rising ocean temperatures are increasing the frequency and intensity of coral bleaching, which has had major detrimental impacts on the Great Barrier Reef. Researchers have directly attributed this problem to rising atmospheric greenhouse gases, and warn that bleaching mortality will almost certainly increase as temperatures continue to rise.

A study published in Nature this month found that a record-breaking marine heatwave in 2016 across the Great Barrier Reef left much of the coral ecosystem at an "unprecedented" risk of collapse.

Another factor in reef decline is nutrient runoff from agriculture, which has led to rising populations of coral-consuming crown-of-thorns starfish.

Still, Terry P. Hughes, director of a center that studies coral reefs at James Cook University in Queensland, tweeted that the government's plan to fight the starfish outbreak would not be enough to save the imperiled reef.

Greenpeace's Casule said that no amount of money would help the reef if extreme heat driven by climate change continued to warm the waters surrounding the coral.

"Any Australian government that wants to protect the reef must outline and commit to a credible science-based plan to tackle climate change and move to rapidly reduce both our domestic emissions and those that we export," Casule said.

"You can have coral or coal. You can't have both."

Jon Brodie, a professor at James Cook University's Coral Reef Studies Centre of Excellence also raised skepticism, telling Reuters that the government's funding was an extension of existing failed programs.

"It's not working, it's not achieving major water quality improvements," he said.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Individual standing in Hurricane Harvey flooding and damage. Jill Carlson / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

By Allegra Kirkland, Jeremy Deaton, Molly Taft, Mina Lee and Josh Landis

Climate change is already here. It's not something that can simply be ignored by cable news or dismissed by sitting U.S. senators in a Twitter joke. Nor is it a fantastical scenario like The Day After Tomorrow or 2012 that starts with a single crack in the Arctic ice shelf or earthquake tearing through Los Angeles, and results, a few weeks or years later, in the end of life on Earth as we know it.

Read More Show Less
A pregnant woman works out in front of the skyline of London. SHansche / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Air pollution particles that a pregnant woman inhales have the potential to travel through the lungs and breach the fetal side of the placenta, indicating that unborn babies are exposed to black carbon from motor vehicles and fuel burning, according to a study published in the journal Nature Communications.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

Teen activist Greta Thunberg delivered a talking-to to members of Congress Tuesday during a meeting of the Senate Climate Change Task Force after politicians praised her and other youth activists for their efforts and asked their advice on how to fight climate change.

Read More Show Less
Ten feet of water flooded 20 percent of this Minot, North Dakota neighborhood in June 2011. DVIDSHUB / CC BY 2.0

By Jared Brey

When Hurricane Michael tore through the Florida panhandle last October, it killed at least 43 people, caused an estimated $25 billion in damage and destroyed thousands of homes.

Read More Show Less
A protestor holds up her hand covered with fake oil during a demonstration on the U.C. Berkeley campus in May 2010. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

The University of California system will dump all of its investments from fossil fuels, as the Associated Press reported. The university system controls over $84 billion between its pension fund and its endowment. However, the announcement about its investments is not aimed to please activists.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Forest fire continues to blaze in Indonesesia on Sept. 18. WAHYUDI / AFP / Getty Images

Nearly 200 people have been arrested in Indonesia over their possible connections to the massive wildfires raging in the nation's forest, officials said this week.

Read More Show Less

By Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

World leaders have a formidable task: setting a course to save our future. The extreme weather made more frequent and severe by climate change is here. This spring, devastating cyclones impacted 3 million people in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe. Record heatwaves are hitting Europe and other regions — this July was the hottest month in modern record globally. Much of India is again suffering severe drought.

Read More Show Less
Covering Climate Now / YouTube screenshot

By Mark Hertsgaard

The United Nations Secretary General says that he is counting on public pressure to compel governments to take much stronger action against what he calls the climate change "emergency."

Read More Show Less