Bleached coral on Lizard Island, QLD, in February 2016 © WWF-Aus / Alexander Vail

Bleached coral on Lizard Island, QLD, in February 2016 © WWF-Aus / Alexander Vail

Latest IPCC report: Reef and koalas need action now to have a fighting chance

28 Feb 2022

Keywords
  • food production
  • great barrier reef
  • koalas
Accelerating climate impacts, detailed in the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), seriously threaten people and Australia’s two greatest icons – the Great Barrier Reef and koalas.

Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, shows that the pace and scale of climate impacts has dangerous implications for Australia in the form of extreme weather.

The report’s release comes as a “rain bomb” is causing devastating floods on the east coast.

Other impacts such as extreme heat, more frequent heatwaves, and more frequent and severe bush fires will occur if emissions are unchecked.

The production of food, which we all rely on, will be under more intense pressure as extreme weather events – such as bushfires, floods, droughts – and rising tides become more intense and more frequent.

This is expected to impact staple crops such as wheat and rice, as well as increase heat stress for livestock, projected to increase by 12-15 days per year by as early as 2025.

World Wide Fund for Nature-Australia Head of Climate and Food Security Krista Singleton-Cambage said: “The food system globally contributes to about 25% of greenhouse gas emissions and at the same time it is under threat from the changing climate that it is contributing to.”

“Australia can be a world leader in sustainable food production practices that also provide shelter and habitats for wildlife, limit water use, and reduce deforestation,” Dr Singleton-Cambage said.

Iconic species such as koalas are threatened by heat, drought and fires as witnessed in the 2019-2020 bushfire disaster which impacted an estimated 60,000 koalas.

As the planet warms damaging coral bleaching events will become more frequent on the Great Barrier Reef which could cost A$1 billion per year in tourism losses and threaten 10,000 jobs.

WWF-Australia Head of Oceans Richard Leck said if Australia acts now, we can limit impacts and that benefits us all.

“It’s our Reef, our koalas; it’s our responsibility,” Mr Leck said.

“We have what it takes to build a world-leading renewables industry in Australia. That means driving down emissions whilst creating real, good-paying jobs at home.

“It's not too late for us to give the Great Barrier Reef and our unique wildlife a fighting chance,” he said.

Dr Stephen Cornelius, WWF Global Lead for IPCC said: “Drought and searing heat, ecosystem destruction, stronger storms and massive floods, species extinction – this is not a list of scenes in an apocalyptic film. Instead, it is the content of an authoritative scientific report detailing the climate impacts that are already wreaking havoc on our planet and its people. Our planet is in peril, and it’s being pushed to – and sometimes beyond – its limits, with the most vulnerable people and ecosystems suffering the most.”

The report from the UN’s climate science body offers new insight into the risks of a warming world. It highlights the limits to adaptation and the consequences of more losses and damages to livelihoods, food, infrastructure and nature. Many adaptation limits are already being exceeded, threatening the survival of vulnerable communities and ecosystems. It’s the first time that the concept of losses and damages has been included in a report from the IPCC.

“The silver lining to the storm clouds is that not all the most extreme impacts are inevitable,”  continued Dr Cornelius. “With swift action, we can limit their frequency and severity and help people and ecosystems to adapt to some impacts. Nature can be our ally and a crucial buffer, if we choose to restore and protect it. World leaders must heed the warnings in this report and deliver on their climate promises with increased investment to build resilience, while slashing emissions to give adaptation a fighting chance.”

Updated research and developments in science allowed the authors of the report to offer a more detailed understanding of how climate change will affect specific regions. This regional perspective allows readers to clearly see how their city, jobs and lives will be impacted in the years to come.

Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, WWF Global Climate & Energy Lead, said: “In a year that the UN climate talks will be hosted on a continent that deeply feels the effects of a warming world, this report underscores the consequences of our inaction. World leaders must listen to these warnings from the IPCC and strengthen their support to address climate impacts and build resilience and while fulfilling the Global Goal on Adaptation objectives as a matter of urgency. The real world human, economic and biodiversity costs of further delays will be too great."

Sandeep Chamling Rai, WWF Senior Advisor on Global Adaptation Policy, said: “Despite progress, governments left the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow with a giant gap between global ambition on adaptation and loss and damage and what science tells us we need to do. This new report from the IPCC must be a north star to every action they take now.

“Later this year, Africa - one of the continents most devastated by climate change - will host COP27. Addressing the remaining gaps in adaptation and loss and damage, as recommended by this report, must be a priority for negotiators this year. Lives and livelihoods across the world depend on it.”


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