31 July 2015
Image: Bleaching in coral reefs at Fiji (Photo: Peter-Mumby)
Image: Bleaching in coral reefs at Fiji (Photo: Peter-Mumby)

Media Release

All coral reefs suffer under climate change but the impacts on some countries are much lighter than would be considered 'fair' given their contribution to global warming and ocean acidification.

A report published in Global Change Biology has compared the projected impacts of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions on the world's coral reefs with the contribution each country made to the problem.

Australia and the US are major GHG polluters and though their reefs will be seriously affected by climate change. The overall impact of these polluters on reefs worldwide may be much more than other affected countries have contributed themselves.

In contrast many of the world's developing nations, particularly small island nations in the Pacific and nations in the western Indian Ocean, will suffer much greater coral reef impacts than is fair given their low emissions.

Often unfair impacts

Lead author, UQ's Nicholas Wolff said the research was a 'sobering reminder' that we are global citizens and that our individual emissions would have far-reaching and often unfair impacts.

UQ's Professor Peter Mumby added that hundreds of millions of people depended on coral reefs for food, livelihoods, and shelter from storms.

"Climate change seriously threatens these people and international cooperation on GHG emissions is vital to reduce risks," Professor Mumby said.

"Although we can't do much to solve inequities in climate change impacts, we propose that the most disadvantaged countries might be prioritised for access to global funds that support climate change adaptation and mitigation."

Developed nations can help more vulnerable nations by contributing funds to the recently established Green Climate Fund (GCF). The GCF was created to support climate change adaptation and mitigation practices in developing nations, with developed nations pledging $10.2 billion so far.

Nicholas Wolff said climate policy was fraught with concerns over inequity.

"But we hope our results might help reduce unfairness by helping the GCF disburse funds in a fair and transparent manner," he said.

Addressing challenges such as pollution and overfishing

In the meantime, the research team is continuing to work with the Capturing Coral Reef & Related Ecosystem Services (CCRES) project – a regional technical support project in Indonesia and the Philippines – to develop guidelines on how to manage coral reefs under climate change.

"To safeguard people living near coral reefs we need concerted international action on GHG emissions, as well as improved management of local problems like pollution and overfishing," Professor Mumby said.

The GCF is expected to begin funding projects by the end of this year. Some of these projects may be similar to the CCRES project which, in part, supported this study.

CCRES will help demonstrate how coastal communities in the developing world can sustainably capture the benefits of ecosystem services (i.e. reef fisheries, ecotourism, coastal defence, blue carbon sequestration and storage, and water filtration) in the face of climate change and other coastal threats.

The CCRES project is funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the World Bank and UQ.

The UQ Global Change Institute is the project executing agency. Project partners include Cornell University and the University of California (Davis) from the United States, the University of the Philippines' Marine Science Institute and Currie Communications from Australia.

The research is published in Global Change Biology.


Media contacts:

Prof. Peter Mumby
Chief Scientist, CCRES
Marine Spatial Ecology Lab
The University of Queensland
Tel. +61 (0) 449 811 589

Nicholas Wolff
Marine Spatial Ecology Lab
The University of Queensland
Tel +61 (0) 407 045 099

For photographs and HD video contact Professor Peter Mumby p.j.mumby@uq.edu.au

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