With the Great Barrier Reef showing signs of recovery, Australia is taking steps to combat climate change

In a dramatic shift, Australia took a step closer to tackling climate change on Thursday when its lower house of parliament passed a bill pledging to cut carbon emissions by 43% from 2005 levels. by 2030 and to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. Minister Anthony Albanese said the legislation would put Australia “on the right side of history”.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is about to deliver a speech as three MPs, wearing masks, sit on a green bench behind him.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese addresses Parliament on July 26. (Lukas Coch / AAP Image via AP)

Australia is the third largest exporter of fossil fuels, after Saudi Arabia and Russia, and has some of the highest per capita emissions in the world. His previous government, under the center-right Liberal Party, resisted action to tackle climate change. Last year, at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, also known as COP26, Australia refused to join 39 countries that had pledged to phase out overseas coal funding and has refused to join the more than 100 nations that have pledged to reduce methane emissions, even as other fossil fuel producers, including the United States and Canada, have signed up to pledges. However, Australia is already suffering the effects of climate change, including devastating bush fires and severe flooding from extreme rainfall.

A bulk carrier docked at Newcastle Coal Terminal as a crane unloads its cargo.

A bulk carrier docked in Newcastle, Australia on 6 May. (Brendon Thorne / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

But in May, the center-left Labor Party – which had campaigned on legislative proposals like the new bill – won a majority in parliament. With the backing of Australia’s far-left Greens, the new government is expected to pass legislation in the Senate later this month. The Greens had initially proposed a 75% reduction in emissions by 2030, but reluctantly agreed to support the labor bill as a first step towards more ambitious action.

“The impact of climate change is real. We need an answer that is real, “Albanese told reporters Thursday.

The passage of the climate bill in Parliament came on a day when Australia received good news about the Great Barrier Reef, one of the most fragile ecosystems in the world. An Australian government report released Thursday notes that parts of the reef now have the highest levels of coral cover seen there in decades.

Two clownfish, orange with white stripes, swim across a shoal of sea anemones.

Clownfish in anemone on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef in 2014. (Kevin Boutwell via Getty Images)

In a boon to the future of the Great Barrier Reef, Australia’s new government announced Thursday that it would halt development of a nearby coal mine due to the potential impact on the reef.

Australian Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek said government studies suggested that mineral sediments from the Central Queensland Coal Project would make its way into the ocean and damage the nearby reef.

“Based on the information available to me at this stage, I believe the project could have unacceptable impacts for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and the values ​​of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and National Heritage Place,” Plibersek said in a statement.

Famous for incubating a wide range of plants and animals, the reef is the largest coral ecosystem in the world. It accounts for approximately 10% of the world’s coral reef ecosystems and includes approximately 3,000 coral reefs, 600 mainland islands and 300 coral reefs. A popular spot for snorkeling and scuba diving, it represents 64,000 full-time jobs, according to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

An aerial view of the Great Barrier Reef, showing it separated from the coast by a wide ribbon of ocean that stretches for miles into the distance.  (Getty Images)

The Great Barrier Reef in 2005. (Getty Images)

Climate change and other consequences of human activity have severely damaged it in recent years. The reef “has lost half of its coral cover, pollution has caused deadly outbreaks of starfish, and global warming has produced horrific coral bleaching,” according to the World Wildlife Fund of Australia. Coral bleaching occurs when the water gets too hot and the corals expel the algae living in their tissues, causing the coral to turn completely white. The Great Barrier Reef has undergone four bleaching events since 2016.

“In the wake of the fourth massive reef bleaching event since 2016, it is critical that new coal and gas projects like this one are rejected,” Cherry Muddle, a Great Barrier Reef activist at the Australian Marine Conservation Society, told The Guardian. .

But portions of the UNESCO World Heritage site have increased coral cover over the past year, reaching levels not seen in 36 years of monitoring, according to the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences. The scientists surveyed 87 sites and found that the northern and central parts of the reef had rebounded, thanks mainly to the rapid growth of a branching coral known as Acropora. However, the southern section of the reef is still losing coral cover.

A diver in mask, flippers and an oxygen tank maneuvers in front of a colorful coral reef.

A diver explores the corals of the Great Barrier Reef in 2020. (Cavan Images via Getty Images)

Rising global temperatures due to the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere continues to pose a threat to the reef, scientists say. And while Australia’s first government-level action to tackle the problem is a major step forward, its promise of a 43% emissions cut still falls short of US and EU commitments. The US has pledged to cut emissions by 50% from 2005 levels by 2030, and the EU has promised a 55% reduction from 1990 levels.

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