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The future of the Barrier Reef and Queensland’s coal extraction

Ove Hoegh-Guldberg writes about the impending United Nations decision on whether the Great Barrier Reef should be listed as officially in danger (The Conversation 20.5.15):

‘The threat of climate change to coral reefs like the Great Barrier Reef is part of a major scientific consensus set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), as well as by federal government bodies such as the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). There is no credible alternative prognosis that has survived the peer-reviewed process of science. …

‘While the Reef 2050 plan does mention climate change as the predominant threat to the reef, it fails to link the problem to Australia’s plans to grow the coal trade, and to ship coal through enlarged ports on the Queensland coast. The reef plan only mentions coal in the context of local-scale impacts such as coal dust and port development.

‘The plan briefly mentions Australia’s intention to cut greenhouse emissions by 5% on 2000 levels by 2020. But there is no mention of the billions of tonnes (gigatonnes) of carbon dioxide that will be released when Queensland’s coal is dug up, sold, and burned by other countries.

‘The spectre of coal ships traversing the Great Barrier Reef couldn’t be more laden with symbolism. Coal extracted from the Queensland landscape, if burned along with other fossil fuel reserves, will ensure the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef. With only 500-800 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide left in the global carbon budget, beyond which we will push the climate into a dangerous state, the emissions from even a single mine can play a significant role.’

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