The government’s Great Barrier Reef envoy and MP for Leichardt, Warren Entsch, has urged that policies and programs on climate change continue to be given prominence and not downgraded as part of spending cuts in the wake of the pandemic’s damage to the national economy.
In his latest report to the Minister for the Environment, Sussan Ley, he emphasised that climate change continues to be the most significant long-term threat to the reef and was having a growing impact on it.
Australia has good record of reef protection
Entsch said he was worried that government programs addressing greenhouse gas emission may be dropped as the government reduced its spending in response to budget pressures.
While Australia had a very good record of protecting the reef from local threats, the country’s record on climate change was not nearly as impressive.
“We must recognise that these two elements go hand-in-hand – that is, the actions we continue to take in water management initiatives are definitely worthwhile pursuits, but they can only do so much,” he said.
Spending must be scaled up, not reduced
“By the turn of the century, these actions in isolation – while entirely valiant – will be all for nought if the world has not also effectively limited anthropogenic warming (warming caused by environmental pollution from human activity).”
Entsch noted that while he agreed the economy should by shored up through a growth-oriented response, there should not be a scaled-back response to climate change. “If anything, it should be greater,” he pleaded.
Acknowledging that Australia’s action on climate change would not by itself make a notable difference to the rise in global temperatures, the country was part of a group of nations which together released around 40% of the gases warming the planet.
Other nations may reduce their spending
“If any country in this cohort should seek to abdicate responsibility for their fair share, others may be inclined to do the same, bringing about what is known as a ‘prisoner’s dilemma’, ultimately resulting in suboptimal emissions reductions,” Entsch noted.
“I believe it is incumbent upon us as custodians of this great natural wonder to protect it. In doing so we must work with other parties to the Paris agreement, encourage greater ambition to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and ensure warming is limited to well below 2-degrees C.”
According to Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, in March the reef suffered an unprecedented third mass coral bleaching in five years.
About half of the 2 300km reef’s shallow-water corals bleached and died in 2016 and 2017 as a result of higher temperatures.