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Coral reefs 'could disappear by 2100'

Emily Shelton

29th September 2010

Copenhagen targets too weak to combat climate change, new report by Institute of Physics (IOP) suggests

Weak climate change targets could mean the end of coral reefs by 2100 if ‘urgent action’ isn’t taken. A new report by the Institute of Physics (IOP) suggests nations have failed to commit to high enough targets to reduce emissions, and warns, unless these are raised, CO2 levels leading to ocean acidification could destroy coral reefs by the end of the century.

The IOP’s analysis of the Copenhagen Accord, the international pledge agreed at last year’s Copenhagen climate change conference, criticises individual nations’ targets to reduce emissions as too 'low' and 'weak' and states a global temperature increase of up to 4.2 º C and the end of coral reefs could become reality by 2100 if national targets are not revised.

Rick MacPherson, Conservation Programs Director at the Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL), says: ‘This is a global crisis. We all receive direct or indirect benefits from healthy coral reef ecosystems.’

‘If coral reefs collapse, the life support system of many nations collapse as well. What we potentially face is a humanitarian crisis of unprecedented proportion.’

He continued: ‘The big atmospheric CO2 producing nations need to get their acts together quickly if there is any hope for reefs’.

Joeri Rogelj from the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science and a lead researcher of the report, said: ‘Ocean acidification due to increased atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide…will put increasing stress onto marine eco-systems. Based on our analysis, thresholds that were defined…as being critical for marine eco-systems will be exceeded from 2030 onwards.'

Rogelj said the ‘result [of Copenhagen] in terms of effective climate change target is not what was needed.’

Targets too 'low' and 'weak'

The IOP report criticises the USA and European Union’s emission reduction targets as two of the lowest. The EU is aiming for a reduction of 20 or 30% below 1990 levels, while USA’s target is 17% below 2005, equivalent to only 3% below 1990 levels.

Miyoko Sakashita, from the Center for Biological Diversity, said: ‘This report affirms that climate pledges made in Copenhagen fall far short of the action necessary to avoid catastrophic climate impacts. Action to confront the climate crisis must be massively scaled if we are to preserve a planet resembling the one humans have known’.

Short window to rectify targets

Global emissions rose by 21% between 1990 and 2005. Nations now have until the end of 2010 in which to revise their targets and commit to higher ambitions for reduced emissions.

McPherson explained how healthy reefs provide the primary source of protein to over 1 billion people globally, protect coastal areas from severe hurricanes and storms, and generate 27 times more income than global fisheries. He also stated that fifty per cent of all current cancer research is exploring the benefits of chemical compounds isolated from species found on coral reefs.

He said the publication of this report is ‘an opportunity to galvanise policy-shapers to make hard decisions now while there is still time to avert catastrophe.’

Useful links
IOP Report, Analysis of the Copenhagen Accord pledges

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