Australia is known for many things: kangaroos, koala bears, whale watching, surfing, swimming with dolphins, and grilled shrimp on the barbie. But that’s not all it’s famous for: The Great Barrier Reef brings in hundreds of thousands of tourists to Australia every year. The Great Barrier Reef is considered to be one of the seven wonders of the natural world, was granted World Heritage status in 1981, and is larger than the Great Wall of China. The reef consists of 300 coral cays, 600 tropical islands, and 3,000 individual reef systems. But, the Great Barrier Reef is more than a tourist attraction or an economic resource: it’s a network of marine sanctuaries and, unfortunately, it is dying.
Global Warming and the Great Barrier Reef
In the past thirty years, the Great Barrier Reef has lost more than half of its coral cover, with global warming resulting in coral bleaching. Coral bleaching is the loss of algae and has affected more than 900 miles of the Reef. Bleaching is a result of rising water temperatures, which have been exacerbated by man-made climate change. Since 1998, bleaching has occurred four times (1998, 2002, 2016, 2017), but this latest bout of bleaching has demonstrated the shortest gap ever: one year. Just last year the Reef saw an unprecedented amount of coral bleaching. Approximately 67% of corals died in the worst-hit northern section in 2016. Scientists are almost certain that the rising water temperature is a direct result of carbon emissions and climate change.
The Kyoto Protocol and Climate Change
The Kyoto Protocol, based on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, is a binding international agreement that sets emission reduction targets. It was adopted in Japan on December 11, 1997 and entered into force on February 16, 2005. The Kyoto Protocol sets binding targets for countries party to the agreement. More than 150 years of industrial activity from developing countries is in large part responsible for the high levels of greenhouse gases. The Kyoto Protocol requires countries to mainly use national measures to meet their targets. During the first few years , thirty-seven countries and the European community agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Nearly all States have ratified the treaty with the exception of one big player: The United States.
Many people view the Kyoto Protocol as being the first step towards combatting climate change. Former President Bill Clinton called the Kyoto Protocol “environmentally strong and economically sound.” But not everyone is convinced that the Kyoto Protocol has lived up to its expectations. The U.S. Senate voted 95-0 against the treaty and ultimately, in 2002, Former President George W. Bush withdrew the U.S. support from the deal deeming it “fatally flawed.” Ultimately, Former President Bush was not wrong. Three major polluters of the world are free from the restraints of the Protocol: the United States, China, and India.
What to Do?
The Kyoto Protocol was the first step, but it cannot be the only step. Scientists are warning us that the Great Barrier Reef is now “at a terminal stage – with large portions having no hope of recovery.” The World Wildlife Fund-Australia is looking to not only halt the decline of species and the health of the ecosystem: they’re also looking to reverse it. It is not a Sisyphean task for the corals to recover under normal conditions, but it would take decades. The coalition government in Australia recently announced that $18 million would be spent on six projects to improve and protect the Great Barrier Reef. Jon Brodie, a water quality expert, called the $18 million package “small and unlikely to return any real gains.” The Great Barrier Reef Water Science Taskforce estimated that with would cost $8.2 billion for water quality targets to be reached by 2025.
Global warming is happening and this is not an alternative fact. We need to stop writing off climate change as an issue that the next generation can fix. The time to act has long since come and gone, but there is still a lot that we can do now. This damage is not completely permanent. If we take action now to decrease carbon emissions and greenhouse gases, we can work towards reversing a lot of the damage that has already been done and unfortunately time is not on our side.
It is not enough to say that global warming and climate change are happening: steps beyond the Kyoto Protocol need to be taken. What those steps are? I’m not exactly sure. Maybe it is cooperation from multiple nations, donating money, and man power to protect and rehabilitate the Great Barrier Reef. Maybe it’s an international agreement dedicated solely to saving the Great Barrier Reef, as well other wonders that are in jeopardy. Maybe it’s simply more awareness on the issue and getting people to care. But one thing I am sure of is that if we don’t act now, it is possible that we could be the last generation to experience the wonder of the Great Barrier Reef.
Jasmine Pope is a second year law student at the University of Baltimore. She graduated from Towson University in 2015 with a Bachelor of Science in Political Science, with a minor in History. Jasmine is extremely interested in and passionate about international human rights, particular the rights of women and children. She also participated in the Summer Study Abroad Program in Aberdeen, Scotland. She has also studied abroad in Benalmádena, Spain. Currently, she serves as the Secretary for the International Law Society. Jasmine is currently a member of the Inter-American Human Rights Moot Court Team. Jasmine is also a Staff Editor for the Journal of International Law and works for the Law Office of Hayley Tamburello.