While the Australian government managed to lobby its way out of getting the Great Barrier Reef from being listed as “in danger” due to climate change, climate change is coming for the world’s largest coral reef system.

The Great Barrier Reef — a mass of reefs stretching nearly 3,000 kilometres along the north-eastern Queensland coastline —is important to the Australian economy. Much-cited figures from consulting firm Deloitte peg the reefs value at US$41.4 billion. The reef adds 6.4 billion Australian dollars to the economy every year and supports 64,000 jobs.

The fossil fuel industry

For Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, the destruction of the pristine natural environment is evident. Morrison was after all the former tourism head of Australia. However, the country’s climate change policy is at the mercy of supporters of the fossil fuel industry.

The national economy

Export of thermal coal is one of Australia’s biggest sources of revenue. But so are tourism and agriculture. The Great Barrier Reef pumps in billions into the Australian economy every year, purely in terms of monetary value. Its ecological significance is another matter altogether.

Impact on Great Barrier Reef

To the surprise of many, some of Australia’s biggest coal and liquid natural gas parts are on the lagoon of the Great Barrier Reef. In the last three decades, the Great Barrier Reef has lost nearly half of its coral cover.

“Pollution has caused deadly starfish outbreaks, and global warming has produced coral bleaching. Coastal development also looms large as a major threat,” according to WWF Australia.  

As things stand

Coral reefs are one of the world’s most sensitive barometers to measure climate change, according to a report in The Japan Times. Most sections of the Great Barrier Reef have been affected by bleaching events since 2015.

According to an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, if average global temperature rises by 1.5°C, 70–90% of world’s coral reefs will suffer. The Australian government needs to take urgent steps to protect one of the world’s seven wonders.