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By Tierney Smith
Photo credit: XL Catlin Seaview Survey
The unprecedented event, caused by climate change warming the ocean, is being called “an environmental assault on the largest coral ecosystem on Earth." Only around 50 percent of the impacted corals are expected to survive, and in some areas, only a mere 10 percent may recover.
So heavy is the toll, 56 scientists have once again called on the Australian government to phase out coal, and are taking ever greater message to their warnings are heard. The expansion of Australian coal is already having dire impacts on the Reef, and will continue to drive the climate impacts that are killing Australia's famous heritage site.
Yet despite the government's willingness to pick up the phone about the parlous state of the reef, they seem unwilling to acknowledge that it's way past time Australia ditched coal.
- Climate change is killing the Great Barrier Reef before our eyes. Aerial checks of more than 900 reefs along the 2,300 kilometer site are showing 90 percent of coral north of Port Douglas now white, and 10 percent of the reef south of Mackay. Not only has Australia already lost upwards of 50 percent of coral cover in the past 30 years, but scientists warn this is the third mass coral bleaching event in just over half that time.
- This vital ecosystem can be saved, but it will take extraordinary effort. The Great Barrier Reef is one of the world's most diverse ocean habitats, it generates more than $5 billion in tourism revenues and employs nearly 70,000 people. Despite this, the Australian government has recently approved a massive new coal mine in Queensland that will threaten the reef and see the country's emissions skyrocket. Only an end to coal expansion and exports will allow Australia to adequately protect the Reef.
- Governments must favor coral over fossil fuels. The world is in the midst of a global coral bleaching event on scale with the worst ever bleaching on record and scientists warn dire predictions made on coral decline could now be realized. As leaders look to re-affirm their commitment to tackling climate change, they can show they are serious about protecting this vital marine ecosystem by urgently moving towards a fossil free and 100 percent renewable future.
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While investors and global leaders crunch numbers this week to stabilize the global economy, experts are offering hard-hitting numbers linking renewables to a prosperous future.
Just a few days ahead of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the International Renewable Energy Agency revealed that if the world doubled its current market share of renewable energy to 36 percent by 2030, global GDP could experience a boost of up to 1.1 percent.
This figure would represent the equivalent of $1.3 trillion in growth—more than the combined economies of Chile, South Africa and Switzerland—and would put the “Paris climate goals within reach."
The findings come as new figures show renewables investments hit a new high last year with China and the U.S. topping the table.
Yet other regions are falling behind and could risk missing out: former clean energy leader Europe saw renewable investment fall to an eight-year low; and Australia is still turning a blind eye to the millions of potential jobs created and hundreds of billions of fossil fuel import dollars saved through renewables.
Despite efforts to stagnate the ongoing transition towards a renewables-only future, upcoming Davos meetings could act as a turning point for world leaders, setting apart those who are ahead of the curve and those who aren't.
- Climate is at the top of the global agenda and is there to stay. Up until last year, climate change had been noticeably absent from the Davos agenda. Since then, a considerable number of sessions made climate change the focal point of their presentations in 2015 and during 2016 meetings—just one month after delivering the Paris Agreement—climate will once again be a topline issue for world leaders.
- Fossils are falling, but not fast enough. During last month's Paris climate meetings, world leaders agreed to widen the way for a clean, safe future. While the momentum encapsulated in the Paris Agreement is in the process of “implementation and action," replacing fossil fuels with renewables swiftly will allow the world to benefit from an energy transformation that protects millions of lives, creates new jobs, saves billions of dollars and tackles energy poverty.
- Forward-looking economies around the world are growing and going green. 2015 saw renewable energy reach a record $329.3 billion in investment worldwide. Countries from China to Chile, South Africa to Brazil are reaping the benefits of clean energy, but former leader Europe's often uncertain or changing national policies are a shot in the foot for jobs and growth. As leaders meet in Switzerland, those with real renewables ambition translated into strong energy policy will gain the most for their country's citizens and its economy.
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