The Great Barrier Reef is almost certainly going to suffer permanent damage due to coral bleaching if countries do not act to reduce carbon emissions, the Fifth Assessment report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said on March 31.
A lead author of the report, Chris Field, told the ABC’s 7.30: “Warm water coral reefs are one of the world's ecosystems that's most threatened and especially threatened by the combination of a warming climate and acidification of the ocean waters.”
It has been seven years since the IPCC has released an assessment report. The latest report brings knowledge of climate change up to date and, for the first time, describes changes in the climate that are observable now.
For example, it highlighted the recent heatwaves in Victoria, which were responsible for “300 excess deaths”, intense bushfires which destroyed 2000 homes and led to 173 deaths, floods in Queensland which caused 35 deaths, and widespread drought in south-east Australia, as the type of climate events that are expected to increase in frequency and severity.
Water will be one resource that is most affected. Projected changes in rainfall are expected have severe impacts on Australian agriculture, ecosystems and urban water supply.
The report says: “Freshwater resources are projected to decline in far south-west and far south-east mainland Australia … Rising sea levels and increasing heavy rainfall are projected to increase erosion and inundation … rainfall changes and rising temperatures will shift agricultural production zones.”
Climate change will also affect Aboriginal people more. The report says: “Indigenous peoples in both Australia and New Zealand have higher than average exposure to climate change due to a heavy reliance on climate-sensitive primary industries and strong social connections to the natural environment, and face particular constraints to adaptation.”
Field told 7.30: “The risks of impacts that are severe, pervasive and irreversible is much greater if we stay on a path of continued high emissions.”
It is urgent to get off this path of high emissions. But business-as-usual politics cannot solve this crisis. It is time to look at radical measures that are adequate to the challenge.
The first step most be phasing out coal and building renewable energy instead.
This would mean challenging the power of the big mining companies and stopping any new coalmines or coal-fired power plants being approved.
The Socialist Alliance climate charter says: “We have the wealth to develop a renewable energy manufacturing industry and other appropriate technology. We can also export this technology to poor nations, from Bolivia to Papua New Guinea. This is only fair: it is simply a repayment of Australia’s climate debt.
“Such a program would revitalise Australia’s dying manufacturing industry. It would provide quality, skilled jobs for tens of thousands.
“Australia has a moral obligation to take the lead on actions to combat climate change as it has the financial and natural resources that poor, underdeveloped countries do not have. The rich countries have created the problem, so we must contribute the most to fixing it.
“The 'polluter pays' principle means the polluting companies should have to clean up the mess they have made.
“Industries that will not stop polluting should be placed under public ownership and scrutiny. In this way, those operations that are essential can be identified and cleaned up, while non-essential aspects can be scaled back or shut down.
“Public ownership and control over energy generation and distribution is essential to bring this industry under an overall plan for greenhouse gas reduction and environmental sustainability.”
The battle is far from over. If we look to community campaigns that have successfully stopped coal seam gas mining taking hold in many parts of the country, we can see that an empowered and informed community is extremely powerful. We can have hope that a safe climate can be won.
[Read the Socialist Alliance's full Climate Change Charter.]