Left: Coral bleaching - one of the impacts of climate change - at Fiji during 2015. (Picture: P. Mumby) Right: Lead author Nicholas Wolff, a member of the CCRES ecosystem services valuation team.

Climate change impact on coral reefs ‘not fair’

All coral reefs suffer under climate change but the impacts on some countries are much lighter than would be considered ‘fair’, given their contribution to global warming and ocean acidification.

A report published in the journal Global Change Biology compared the projected impacts of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions on the world’s coral reefs with the contribution each country made to the problem.

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Australia and the US are major GHG polluters and although their reefs will be seriously affected by climate change, the overall impact of these polluters on reefs worldwide may be much more than other affected countries have contributed themselves.

In contrast many of the world’s developing nations, particularly small island nations in the Pacific and nations in the western Indian Ocean, will suffer much greater coral reef impacts than is fair given their low emissions.

Lead author of the study, The University of Queensland’s (UQ) Nicholas Wolff, says “The research is a sobering reminder that we are global citizens and that our individual emissions will have far reaching and often unfair impacts.”

Professor Peter Mumby, also of UQ and senior author, added that “Hundreds of millions of people depend on coral reefs for food, livelihoods, and shelter from storms. Climate change seriously threatens these people and international cooperation on GHG emissions is vital to reduce risks.

“Although we can’t do much to solve inequities in climate change impacts, we propose that the most disadvantaged countries might be prioritised for access to global funds that support climate change adaptation and mitigation,” Professor Mumby says.

Developed nations can help more vulnerable nations by contributing funds to the recently established Green Climate Fund (GCF). The GCF was created to support climate change adaptation and mitigation practices in developing nations, with developed nations pledging $10.2 billion so far.

“Climate policy is fraught with concerns over inequity but we hope our results might help reduce unfairness by helping the GCF disburse funds in a fair and transparent manner.” Mr Wolff says.

In the meantime, the research team is continuing to work with CCRES.

“To safeguard people living near coral reefs we need concerted international action on GHG emissions, as well as improved management of local problems like pollution and overfishing,” Professor Mumby says.

The research is published in Global Change Biology. GCB 13015 (GCB-15-0309.R1). 

For more details or media interviews, contact: 

Prof. Peter Mumby 
Chief Scientist, CCRES 
Marine Spatial Ecology Lab 
The University of Queensland 
Tel. +61 (0) 449 811 589 
[email protected]

Nicholas Wolff 
Lead Author 
Marine Spatial Ecology Lab 
The University of Queensland 
Tel +61 (0) 407 045 099 
[email protected] 

For photographs and HD video contact Professor Peter Mumby [email protected]