Australia Throws Great Barrier Reef a $300 Million Lifeline, but Will It Cut Emissions?
The Great Barrier Reef is in trouble. The Australian government is trying to buy its crown jewel some time, but is it willing to support what the reef needs most — a reduction in emissions?
A few weeks ago, the world's greatest coral reef suffered its third major bleaching event in five years, the most widespread to date. The frequency and severity of the bleachings have caused some scientists to speculate whether the reef has reached a tipping point of no return.
On Thursday, Minister of the Environment Susan Ley announced the launch of the research and development (R&D) phase of the government's Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program (RRAP) to combat the declines the reef is experiencing.
Following a two-year feasibility study led by the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), a list of 160 potential fixes was whittled down to 43 promising concepts that will be funded for further investigation.
AIMS Chief Executive Paul Hardisty described how the R&D phase will "provide the scientific basis to help the reef survive in the coming decades," noted a media statement. The program is designed to uncover adaptations for the reef that are cost-effective, safe, and acceptable to the public and regulators, Hardisty said.
But how effective can an adaptation and resilience program really be against the backdrop of ever-increasing global emissions and ocean temperatures?
The Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest coral reef ecosystem. Stretching 2,300 km along Australia's northeast coastline, this complex of shallow water reefs and islands is home to thousands of species of fish, invertebrates, algae, reptiles, birds and algae. This image, taken by the VIIRS sensor on the Suomi NPP satellite on Aug.19, 2017 uses the high resolution SVI 3, 2, and 1 bands, commonly referred to as "natural color" RGB. NOAA National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS)
The feasibility study found that global warming might kill the entire Great Barrier Reef by as early as 2050, reported Hack.
Most tropical coral reefs will disappear even if heating can be limited to 1.5°C, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said, reported The Guardian. Reefs will still be "at very high risk" at 1.2°C warming, and the globe is already over 1°C since the Industrial Revolution, The Guardian explained.
The feasibility report concluded, "We are facing the very real prospect that, within a generation and without concerted action to reduce emissions and help drive adaptation and faster recovery from damage, the Great Barrier Reef as we have known it will cease to exist," reported Hack.
To avoid this, the scientists are calling for an intervention at a scale never seen before, and they're trying to find adaptation solutions before climate change destroys what remains of the reef, The Guardian reported.
Daniel Harrison, a biological oceanographer at Southern Cross University, led one of the 43 experimental trials being funded for further research.
"This is a race against time," he said to The Guardian. "If we can go really hard on emissions and meet or beat the Paris [climate] targets, then these interventions have the potential to help get the reef to a sustainable future – but only under that very aggressive emissions reduction scenario."
Therein lies one of the historically sticky points for environmentalists when it comes to Australia's "hypocritical" environmental protection efforts contrasted against its broader, coal-friendly environmental policies, reported Fortune.
In 2017, Greenpeace called the government's "coal crush" the real threat to the Great Barrier Reef because it "[ignored] the simple reality of climate change." In 2018, Australia invested $379 million into saving the reef. The government concurrently promoted the building of new coal mines, which fuel global warming that harms the reef.
In 2019, Australia continued its "love affair with fossil fuels," setting new record highs for emissions pollution. That same year, the marine park authority approved plans to dump one million tonnes (approximately 1.1 million U.S. tons) of sludge onto the reef.
As recently as December 2019, coal advocate and current Prime Minister Scott Morrison received backlash for vacationing in Hawaii and seeming "remarkably indifferent" while bush fires devastated the country, reported The Washington Post. The fires were exacerbated by climate change and the spike in greenhouse gases caused by the burning of fossil fuels, explained The Washington Post.
In response, Morrison said, "Our emissions reductions policies will both protect our environment and seek to reduce the risks and hazards we are seeing today," reported The Washington Post.
The realities of climate change and coral bleaching have led even the scientists spearheading this latest effort to save the reef to characterize the RRAP as a long shot, reported Hack.
AIMS principal research scientist Ken Anthony told The Guardian, "It's a bit like the Apollo 11 mission. It really is on that scale."
Hardisty also metaphorically compared the new program to the "high-risk but successful U.S. mission to put a man on the moon before the end of the '60s," reported Hack. He agreed that success might seem like a "moonshot," given the current situation on the reef and global emissions, but optimistically added, "If we work hard and are smart and are courageous we can turn this around," reported Hack.
The R&D phase will be funded by the Australian government and a consortium of universities and marine studies institutes. The government committed $150 million for the next five years, and that figure could jump to $300 million with promised donations from the private sector and in-kind investments from R&D providers, noted a government press release.
The feasibility study found that the efforts could result in a net benefit to Australia of tens of billions of dollars, much greater than the initial investment, the investment case said.
- 'The Great Barrier Reef is on a Knife Edge': Reef Faces Third Major ... ›
- Australia Downgrades Great Barrier Reef Outlook to 'Very Poor ... ›
- Great Barrier Reef Authority Warns That Climate Action Is Needed ... ›
- 2020 Great Barrier Reef Bleaching Event Is Most Widespread to Date ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
A Michigan bald eagle proved that nature can still triumph over machines when it attacked and drowned a nearly $1,000 government drone.
- Judge Rules Against Trump's Attempt to Log in America's Largest ... ›
- Trump Admin Guts Endangered Species Act in the Midst of Climate ... ›
- 17 States Sue to Stop Trump Admin Attack on Endangered Species ... ›
A professional cycling race in Australia is under attack for its connections to a major oil and gas producer, the Guardian reports.
- Burning All Fossil Fuels Would Lead to a 17 C Rise in Arctic ... ›
- All Renewables Will Be Cost Competitive With Fossil Fuels by 2020 ... ›
- G20 Nations Spend $77 Billion a Year to Finance Fossil Fuels ... ›
- People Eat 50,000+ Microplastics Every Year, New Study Finds ... ›
- Microplastics Are Increasing in Our Lives, New Research Finds ... ›
- Sharks Are Polluted With Plastic, New Study Shows - EcoWatch ›
- 73% of Deep-Sea Fish Have Ingested Plastic - EcoWatch ›
- Scientists Launch Groundbreaking Study on Health Risks of ... ›
- 25% of Fish Sold at Markets Contain Plastic or Man-Made Debris ... ›
By Tara Lohan
Warming temperatures on land and in the water are already forcing many species to seek out more hospitable environments. Atlantic mackerel are swimming farther north; mountain-dwelling pikas are moving upslope; some migratory birds are altering the timing of their flights.
Numerous studies have tracked these shifting ranges, looked at the importance of wildlife corridors to protect these migrations, and identified climate refugia where some species may find a safer climatic haven.
"There's a huge amount of scientific literature about where species will have to move as the climate warms," says U.C. Berkeley biogeographer Matthew Kling. "But there hasn't been much work in terms of actually thinking about how they're going to get there — at least not when it comes to wind-dispersed plants."
Kling and David Ackerly, professor and dean of the College of Natural Resources at U.C. Berkeley, have taken a stab at filling this knowledge gap. Their recent study, published in Nature Climate Change, looks at the vulnerability of wind-dispersed species to climate change.
It's an important field of research, because while a fish can more easily swim toward colder waters, a tree may find its wind-blown seeds landing in places and conditions where they're not adapted to grow.
Kling is careful to point out that the researchers weren't asking how climate change was going to change wind; other research suggests there likely won't be big shifts in global wind patterns.
Instead the study involved exploring those wind patterns — including direction, speed and variability — across the globe. The wind data was then integrated with data on climate variation to build models trying to predict vulnerability patterns showing where wind may either help or hinder biodiversity from responding to climate change.
One of the study's findings was that wind-dispersed or wind-pollinated trees in the tropics and on the windward sides of mountain ranges are more likely to be vulnerable, since the wind isn't likely to move those dispersers in the right direction for a climate-friendly environment.
The researchers also looked specifically at lodgepole pines, a species that's both wind-dispersed and wind-pollinated.
They found that populations of lodgepole pines that already grow along the warmer and drier edges of the species' current range could very well be under threat due to rising temperatures and related climate alterations.
"As temperature increases, we need to think about how the genes that are evolved to tolerate drought and heat are going to get to the portions of the species' range that are going to be getting drier and hotter," says Kling. "So that's what we were able to take a stab at predicting and estimating with these wind models — which populations are mostly likely to receive those beneficial genes in the future."
That's important, he says, because wind-dispersed species like pines, willows and poplars are often keystone species whole ecosystems depend upon — especially in temperate and boreal forests.
And there are even more plants that rely on pollen dispersal by wind.
"That's going to be important for moving genes from the warmer parts of a species' range to the cooler parts of the species' range," he says. "This is not just about species' ranges shifting, but also genetic changes within species."
Kling says this line of research is just beginning, and much more needs to be done to test these models in the field. But there could be important conservation-related benefits to that work.
"All these species and genes need to migrate long distances and we can be thinking more about habitat connectivity and the vulnerability of these systems," he says.
The more we learn, the more we may be able to do to help species adapt.
"The idea is that there will be some landscapes where the wind is likely to help these systems naturally adapt to climate change without much intervention, and other places where land managers might really need to intervene," he says. "That could involve using assisted migration or assisted gene flow to actually get in there, moving seeds or planting trees to help them keep up with rapid climate change."
Tara Lohan is deputy editor of The Revelator and has worked for more than a decade as a digital editor and environmental journalist focused on the intersections of energy, water and climate. Her work has been published by The Nation, American Prospect, High Country News, Grist, Pacific Standard and others. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis. http://twitter.com/TaraLohan
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
The last Ice Age eliminated some giant mammals, like the woolly rhino. Conventional thinking initially attributed their extinction to hunting. While overhunting may have contributed, a new study pinpointed a different reason for the woolly rhinos' extinction: climate change.
The last of the woolly rhinos went extinct in Siberia nearly 14,000 years ago, just when the Earth's climate began changing from its frozen conditions to something warmer, wetter and less favorable to the large land mammal. DNA tests conducted by scientists on 14 well-preserved rhinos point to rapid warming as the culprit, CNN reported.
"Humans are well known to alter their environment and so the assumption is that if it was a large animal it would have been useful to people as food and that must have caused its demise," says Edana Lord, a graduate student at the Center for Paleogenetics in Stockholm, Sweden, and co-first author of the paper, Smithsonian Magazine reported. "But our findings highlight the role of rapid climate change in the woolly rhino's extinction."
The study, published in Current Biology, notes that the rhino population stayed fairly consistent for tens of thousands of years until 18,500 years ago. That means that people and rhinos lived together in Northern Siberia for roughly 13,000 years before rhinos went extinct, Science News reported.
The findings are an ominous harbinger for large species during the current climate crisis. As EcoWatch reported, nearly 1,000 species are expected to go extinct within the next 100 years due to their inability to adapt to a rapidly changing climate. Tigers, eagles and rhinos are especially vulnerable.
The difference between now and the phenomenon 14,000 years ago is that human activity is directly responsible for the current climate crisis.
To figure out the cause of the woolly rhinos' extinction, scientists examined DNA from different rhinos across Siberia. The tissue, bone and hair samples allowed them to deduce the population size and diversity for tens of thousands of years prior to extinction, CNN reported.
Researchers spent years exploring the Siberian permafrost to find enough samples. Then they had to look for pristine genetic material, Smithsonian Magazine reported.
It turns out the wooly rhinos actually thrived as they lived alongside humans.
"It was initially thought that humans appeared in northeastern Siberia fourteen or fifteen thousand years ago, around when the woolly rhinoceros went extinct. But recently, there have been several discoveries of much older human occupation sites, the most famous of which is around thirty thousand years old," senior author Love Dalén, a professor of evolutionary genetics at the Center for Paleogenetics, said in a press release.
"This paper shows that woolly rhino coexisted with people for millennia without any significant impact on their population," Grant Zazula, a paleontologist for Canada's Yukon territory and Simon Fraser University who was not involved in the research, told Smithsonian Magazine. "Then all of a sudden the climate changed and they went extinct."
- Sixth Mass Extinction Accelerating, Study of Land Animals Finds ... ›
- Biggest Animals Face Extinction Due to Hunting - EcoWatch ›
- Back From Extinction: Returning Threatened Pangolins to the Wild ... ›
The environmental disaster that Mauritius is facing is starting to appear as its pristine waters turn black, its fish wash up dead, and its sea birds are unable to take flight, as they are limp under the weight of the fuel covering them. For all the damage to the centuries-old coral that surrounds the tiny island nation in the Indian Ocean, scientists are realizing that the damage could have been much worse and there are broad lessons for the shipping industry, according to Al Jazeera.
- 10 Years After Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, Threat of Disaster ... ›
- Oil Spill Disasters: How to Limit Environmental Damage - EcoWatch ›
- These Danish Companies Plan to Decarbonize Transportation ... ›
- Massive Oil Spill Turns Brazil's Beaches Black, Kills Marine Life ... ›
- Shipping Industry Could Replace Diesel Fuel With Ammonia to ... ›
Transitioning to renewable energy can help reduce global warming, and Jennie Stephens of Northeastern University says it can also drive social change.
For example, she says that locally owned businesses can lead the local clean energy economy and create new jobs in underserved communities.
"We really need to think about … connecting climate and energy with other issues that people wake up every day really worried about," she says, "whether it be jobs, housing, transportation, health and well-being."
To maximize that potential, she says the energy sector must have more women and people of color in positions of influence. Research shows that leadership in the solar industry, for example, is currently dominated by white men.
"I think that a more inclusive, diverse leadership is essential to be able to effectively make these connections," Stephens says. "Diversity is not just about who people are and their identity, but the ideas and the priorities and the approaches and the lens that they bring to the world."
So she says by elevating diverse voices, organizations can better connect the climate benefits of clean energy with social and economic transformation.
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.