13 Apr 2022


By Richard Leck, WWF-Australia’s Head of Oceans and Ariane Wilkinson, WWF-Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Program Manager

Now that the UNESCO monitoring mission has left our shores to consider their decision on the World Heritage status of our Great Barrier Reef, it is an apt time to reflect on Australia’s opportunity to protect the Reef from further harm.

We have the power to do so much more to protect the Reef, which means we also have the power to avoid the World Heritage Committee downgrading the status of the Reef by listing it as “in danger.” 

The survival of the Great Barrier Reef is currently severely threatened by rising global emissions. That is the truth. The truth may hurt, but it cannot be ignored as we watch another mass coral bleaching event unfold. Underwater heatwaves, caused by rising global emissions, mainly from the burning of fossil fuels, are generating severe coral bleaching and mortality.

Australia’s power to do more to protect the Reef is crystal clear. It is time for a national pivot to protect the Reef from further climate damage.

There is no question that Australians want this. They are worried about the Reef and want to see leaders take the necessary action to protect it.

It is our Reef, and it is our responsibility.

So how much of this global problem of a warming planet is within Australia’s power to influence? Quite a lot, actually.

Australia is standing on the precipice of the opportunity to be a renewable export superpower. With our endless sunshine, abundant space, powerful winds, and world-class expertise, we can produce enough clean and affordable energy to power our nation and have plenty left over to export to our neighbours.

We can act on climate in a way that brings prosperity to communities across our country, particularly in regional areas, in the form of renewed clean manufacturing industries powered by cheaper energy from our world-leading renewable energy resources. 

As the world transitions to net-zero and our trading partners take much greater steps than Australia on climate ambition, we can act now or risk missing out.

So why aren’t we seizing this opportunity and doing all we can to reduce emissions and protect our Reef?

Advice from leading climate scientists makes it clear that on Australia’s current Net-Zero by 2050 plan, we will blow our emissions budget by more than double, putting the Reef in extreme peril. 

We need a new plan. A real one.

Experts in economics, energy and global trade have advised that Australia could make 27 times as much electricity as we currently do and could make it renewable.  With the right policies, Australia could reach net-zero emissions in just 13 years, bringing significant benefits to communities across the nation.

This opportunity has been clear since well before the pandemic.  

The renewable hydrogen superpower scenario modelled by the Australian Energy Market Operator maps the path for ambitious and rapid decarbonisation of Australia’s National Electricity Market. Following this path would bring Australia much closer to achieving a climate policy aligned with holding warming to 1.5 degrees, but it is unlikely to occur without the right climate policy settings from our governments.

There is clear support across industry, unions and civil society conservation groups for taking up this opportunity, with analysis showing Australia could create 395,000 clean export jobs while charting a prosperous path through the global transition to net-zero.

And yet, Australia has been labelled a “holdout” on taking action on climate on the world stage, and it looks unlikely we will hold to the promises made to the international community under the Paris Agreement in the Glasgow Pact.

Australia could be doing so much more to drive down emissions this decade to protect the Great Barrier Reef. There are so many actions on climate mitigation that are squarely within our power. When it comes to clean exports, we can help our neighbours decarbonise with products powered by our abundant sun and wind while rapidly reducing our domestic emissions.

Australia has superpowers. We just need to use them.