With the Great Barrier Reef showing signs of recovery, Australia takes action to combat climate change

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

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese stands 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 one 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 the 39 countries that have pledged to phase out offshore coal funding, and He refused to join the more than 100 nations that have pledged to cut methane emissions, even as other fossil fuel producers, including the United States and Canada, signed the pledges. However, Australia is already experiencing the effects of climate change, including devastating bushfires and severe flooding caused by extreme rainfall.

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

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

But in May, the centre-left Labor Party, which had campaigned on proposed legislation such as the new bill, won a majority in Parliament. Backed by the far-left Australian Greens, the new government is expected to push the legislation through the Senate later this month. The Greens had initially proposed a 75% emissions cut 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 on 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 world’s most fragile ecosystems. An Australian government report published Thursday finds that parts of the reef now have the highest levels of coral cover seen there in decades.

Two clown fish, orange with white stripes, swim through a school of sea anemones.

Clownfish in an anemone in 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 sediment from the Central Queensland Coal Project mines would reach the ocean and damage the nearby reef.

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

Famous for hatching a wide variety of plants and animals, the reef is the largest coral ecosystem in the world. It represents approximately 10% of the world’s coral reef ecosystems and includes approximately 3,000 reefs, 600 mainland islands, and 300 coral cays. A popular snorkeling and diving spot, it accounts for 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 swath of ocean stretching for miles into the distance.  (False images)

The Great Barrier Reef in 2005. (Getty Images)

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

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

But parts of the UNESCO heritage site have increased coral cover in the past year, reaching levels not seen in 36 years of monitoring, according to the Australian Institute of Marine Science. Scientists surveyed 87 sites and found that the northern and central parts of the reef had recovered, mainly thanks 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 with a mask, fins and an oxygen tank maneuvers in front of a colorful coral reef.

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

Rising global temperatures due to the buildup of greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere continue to pose a threat to the reef, scientists say. And while Australia’s first government-wide action to tackle the problem is a notable step forward, its commitment to cut emissions by 43% still falls short of commitments by the United States and the European Union. The US has pledged to cut emissions 50% from 2005 levels by 2030, and the EU has promised a 55% cut from 1990 levels.

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