25 Sept 2019


Australia will host the first opportunity to respond to the UN’s alarming new report on climate change impacts on oceans and the cryosphere - the earth's snow and ice-covered places.

The annual meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) takes place in Hobart next month and the world will be watching.

The UN report states earth is losing its cryosphere and the polar regions are ground zero for the planet’s climate crisis with parts of Antarctica already living with a 2-degree Celsius reality.

The CEO of the World Wide Fund for Nature-Australia, Dermot O’Gorman, said the UN report increases pressure on CCAMLR to secure more protected areas for Antarctica.

“CCAMLR is the first opportunity for policymakers to respond to the UN report. In it, scientists are urging Governments to implement networks of protected areas to provide nature space to adapt,” Mr O’Gorman said.

The UN report warns that iconic polar species are at risk of decline and possibly extinction, with whales, penguins and Antarctic krill in danger as their homes change forever.

It also states that rapid ice loss from glaciers and the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets this century is contributing to global sea level rise in unprecedented ways and could lead to hundreds of millions of people losing their homes.

As Mr O’Gorman warned in an opinion piece three months ago, there are major humanitarian implications for Australia because of the sea level rise threat to our Pacific neighbours, who are incensed at Australia’s lack of action on climate change. 

“As I stated in June, in a worst-case scenario no option should be off the table, up to and including the granting of Australian permanent residency for the entire populations of those nations at greatest risk."

“However, Pacific island communities should retain enduring sovereign rights over their islands and seascapes, even if their homelands are submerged,” Mr O’Gorman said.

Mr O’Gorman said the UN report also highlights the danger of Australia losing its world-renowned coral gardens in the Great Barrier Reef and Western Australia.

The report states: Almost all warm-water coral reefs are projected to suffer significant losses of area and local extinctions, even if global warming is limited to 1.5°C (high confidence).

Mr O’Gorman said it’s not too late to do something and this week has been different with 16-year-old Greta Thunberg and 93-year-old David Attenborough speaking out on our climate crisis.

“You have our wise elders and our equally wise young people telling our leaders we must act on climate. When young and old become campaigners ... you know it’s time to transition out of fossil fuels, and fast!"

“For Australia, that means moving to 100% renewables by 2030. Australia can continue to fail on climate policy and remain a major coal exporter or Australia can turn around the Reef’s decline. But it can’t do both,” Mr O’Gorman said.