The Great Barrier Reef is likely to face impacts from climate change that could become irreversible around mid-century regardless of whether global emissions stabilise, according to a new report by the Australian Academy of Science.
The report explores possible futures for the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) under different emissions scenarios. It also identifies evidence-based strategies and areas of opportunity to manage the Reef ecosystem in the face of unrelenting climate change.
It found flow-on effects from climate impacts to cultures and customs are rapidly changing and mostly unknown, making it difficult to prioritise where to intervene to protect areas of high cultural value to Traditional Owners.
The report says this could be improved by ensuring transdisciplinary knowledge is integrated into prioritisation processes.
The Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water engaged the Academy as an independent scientific adviser to convene three roundtable discussions to assess the likely outcomes for the GBR in three climate scenarios: near-term, and both low-emissions and high-emissions trajectories in the medium-term.
A total of 84 multidisciplinary experts joined the roundtable discussions: the first on climate impacts on functions of the GBR, the second on interventions and the third on the future of the GBR.
The report has been delivered to the Reef 2050 Plan Independent Expert Panel. They have considered it in their advice to government on the current and likely health and resilience of the GBR in the face of climate impacts and potential reef interventions.
President of the Australian Academy of Science Professor Chennupati Jagadish said the report makes clear that climate change is the primary threat to this global icon and its connected systems.
“It reminds us that sticking to that path we are currently on, simply because we started on it, will not offer the best solution for the Great Barrier Reef,” Professor Jagadish said.
“It highlights that in the medium-term, there are opportunities to slow the decline in the health of the reef, however this requires Australia to take further action now.”
The report also identifies other opportunities, including:
The Reef Traditional Owners are supported by the Australian and Queensland Governments to build a taskforce to operationalise the Reef 2050 Traditional Owner Implementation Plan’s actions in a collaborative co-design approach.
A full list of opportunities in the report can be found on page 30.
The report concludes:
“Truthful, open, and clear communication with the public is needed to prepare Australians for what is to come, given the GBR will continue to change as the environment becomes more challenging for its habitats and species.
“Clear communication is also important to garner support for necessary management interventions to protect the GBR to the greatest extent possible.”
© 2024 Australian Academy of Science