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Oct 9, 2018

IPCC Reports Bad News for Coral Reefs

There is bad news for coral reefs all over the world. Earlier this week, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a stern warning for governments and businesses across the world in respect of reducing the risks and impacts of climate change. At the Conference of Parts in Paris, one goal was to limit global temperature increases to one point five degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.  In its landmark report, the I.P.C.C. calls for urgent and significant actions to achieve this. Notable among its call to action, is to cut emissions by forty-five percent by 2030 and to source almost all of our electricity from renewable energy sources by mid-century. The report also had grim news for coral bodies—specifically the Great Barrier Reef of Australia—stating that holding warming to one point five rather than two degrees Celsius would probably be the difference between the survival of coral. Here in Belize, there has been massive coral bleaching and other threats to the barrier reef. News Five’s Andrea Polanco draws context from Australia’s experience when we caught up with that country’s Minister of Environment last month at the Global Climate Action Summit.


Andrea Polanco, Reporting

UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that the world has about a dozen years to get climate change under control. The report states that global warming must be kept to a maximum of one point five Celsius to avoid disastrous environmental impacts. Even half a degree higher will significantly worsen risks of floods, heat waves, wildfires, droughts, and poverty for hundreds of millions of people. The report also speaks to the large-scale coral bleaching in recent years. In 2016 and 2017, marine heat waves caused by climate change resulted in mass bleaching which killed significant coral in the Great Barrier Reef.


Leeanne Enoch

Leeanne Enoch, Minister for Environment and the Great Barrier Reef, Australia

“What we have seen over the last few years is two consecutive years of mass coral bleaching directly as a result of climate change. And in fact, I think all coral systems across the world have been challenged by these very issues. Climate Change remains the biggest threat to the Great Barrier Reef.”


In Belize, warmer sea temperatures and high levels of acidity have been recorded in the last two years. The 2015-2016 studies showed that twenty-one percent of corals bleached. In 2017, marine researchers became concerned about the conch fishery.


Amanda Acosta

Amanda Acosta, Executive Director, Belize Audubon Society

“Last year, we had heating – like we’re having a climate change bleaching year. It was really bad. The water was very hot. We actually had conch burrowing or going outside into deeper water on the walls of the reef. And so it was a very bad year for conchs out here at Lighthouse.”


And there may be even more threats to Belize’s marine environment, as the report released this week found that coral reefs were likely to decline between seventy and ninety-percent if the temperature increased from one point five degrees. And if global warming reaches two Celsius, more than ninety-nine percent of coral reefs are projected to decline. Avoiding going even higher requires significant and immediate action. Minister Enoch says Australia has been undertaking ambitious targets to reduce the pressures on the Great Barrier Reef, which supports sixty thousand jobs and provides about six billion dollars to their economy.


Leeanne Enoch

“We have targets with regards to emissions. We have zero net emissions by 2050. We have targets with renewable – fifty percent renewable by 2030. We are working towards to taking more cars that use fossil fuels off the road; looking at electric vehicles in particular. Our own government fleet of ten thousand vehicles is being transitioned into electric vehicles to reduce the amount of fossil fuel that is being used.”


Andrea Polanco

“Do you believe that you will meet your targets that you’ve set?”


Leeanne Enoch

“Absolutely. We are already on track to reach our targets. We are initiating new programs such as a five hundred million dollar land restoration fund which is about keeping trees in ground and supporting local people to build industries to keeping trees in the ground. Those kinds of programmes all together, all of these different layers of effort are all being stitched together in order to support us in meeting our targets but ultimately us being able to reduce our impact on climate change.”


According to the IPCC assessment, limiting global warming to one point five Celsius rather than two Celsius would likely be the difference between the survival of some Great Barrier Reef coral and its complete decline. Minister Enoch says that like Australia, Belize needs to find ways to transition to a green economy, in order to tackle climate change impacts on the barrier reef.


Leeanne Enoch

“The word for all of us is transition; it is to find a way to transition into cleaner energy and clean energy industries and economies. That is the challenge for all of us and I matter how big or small your economy, transition is the word which you can really find some pathway forward to get to that new economy. There are lots of jobs and lots of economic opportunity into this transition into a greener economy. So, I would encourage anyone, right across the world to really start looking at that particular aspect and that challenge.”


Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.


This story was supported by the 2018 Climate Change Media Partnership, a collaboration between Internews’  Earth Journalism Network and the Stanley Foundation.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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