Attenborough and Branson back 1.5 degree target for coral reef survival

Sir Richard randsonm legendary o cean explorer Sylvia Earle and Sir David Attenborough at the film event. All pictures by Nardine Grouch
Sir Richard Branson, legendary ocean explorer Sylvia Earle and Sir David Attenborough at the film event. Picture: Nardine Groch

By NARDINE GROCH,
at COP21 in Paris

For the Great Barrier Reef to survive, global warming must be kept below 1.5 degrees, key environmental campaigners told media and supporters in Paris, site of the global climate conference.

Wildlife filmmaker Sir David Attenborough and entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, along with distinguished ocean experts, stressed the need for the 1.5 degree target, at an event  last weekend showing Sir David’s new documentary on Australia’s famous reef. 

Australian coral reef expert Prof Ove Hoegh-Guldberg asked Sir David to comment on why world leaders might not agree to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees, because of the expense.

The filmmaker simply looked astonished and answered: “The expense of not doing it is gigantic.”

“Seventy per cent of all fish species are dependent on the coral reef at some stage in their lives. If we were to lose coral reefs, the biological and ecological destruction of life in the ocean would be enormous and for those people who live on the coast and depend on fish for their food it would be a major loss,” Sir David told the audience at the Institute of Oceanography in Paris.

A hawksbill turtle in the Great Barrier Reef marine park.
A hawksbill turtle in the Great Barrier Reef marine park.

The panel of marine experts strongly argued that 1.5 degrees in the long term would be the highest temperature rise that reefs around the world could cope with.

Delegates at this climate conference have been pushing for a reduction in the previous accepted goal of no more than 2 degrees of warming, down to 1.5 degrees, and this is gaining support among the major nations including China and the US.

Sir Richard Branson said there was a myth promoted by governments around how much a 1.5 degree target would cost.

“We produce more clean energy per year than the current demand for energy,” he said .

“Governments will save billions of dollars on importing dirty fuels by switching to clean energy and once you actually have clean energy in place, that energy lasts forever,” Sir Richard said.

Australian Environment Minister Greg Hunt also made an appearance, reiterating his Government’s $58 million commitment to the Reef Trust.

In a press conference in Paris last week, Mr Hunt said the Australian Government was not opposed to a 1.5 degree target, but also noted the Government was taking a back seat on the issue.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt talks about Australia's commitment  to the Great Barrier Reef.
Environment Minister Greg Hunt talks about Australia’s commitment to the Great Barrier Reef. Picture: Nardine Groch

The Minister also narrowly dodged a question to the panel at the film event over his recent approval of a new coalmine in the Galilee Basin in central Queensland, which is expected to have harmful effects on the reef and contribute further to global emissions.

Mr Hunt had already defended the approval of the mine last week, saying no taxpayer money was going into the development.

“India should be allowed to develop as it will. It is not up to us to block a country’s development,” Mr Hunt said.

The $16.5 billion Indian-owned Adani Carmichael coalmine development is expected to be the biggest in Australia and would export around 60 million tonnes of coal each year.

A second court case fighting against approval of the mine is being led by the Australian Conservation Foundation after the first approval was successfully overturned.