December 19, 2018

ISRS Issues Updated Consensus Statement on Climate Change

Bleaching coral reef, near Phi Phi Islands in Thailand, 2010 (photo: Nalinee Thongtham)

In 2015, for the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP 21 held in Paris, France, the International Society for Reef Studies (ISRS) developed a Consensus Policy Statement on Climate Change concerning the effect of global warming on coral reefs. In preparation for COP24 of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Poland in December 2018, ISRS has issued an updated statement. The statement makes the following points and calls on nations to implement the Paris Agreement and take the necessary action, by 2030, to keep global warming to a maximum of 1.5°C above the pre-industrial period.

Even if carbon dioxide increase is capped at this level, warming and acidification will still cause widespread destruction of coral reef ecosystems, but some should persist. Coral reefs are among the most biologically diverse ecosystems on the planet. They provide goods and services worth at least US$11.9 trillion per year and support (through such activities as fisheries and tourism) at least 500 million people worldwide. Potent anti-cancer drugs have been derived from coral reef organisms and healthy coral reefs could save millions of lives.

Coral reefs, however, are being eliminated from the planet rapidly by climate change. In particular, increasing sea temperatures have already caused widespread coral bleaching and mortality. In addition, elevated carbon dioxide levels are causing ocean acidification that may further accelerate coral reef loss.

Over recent decades, over 50% of living coral, worldwide, has been lost due to a combination of local factors and global climate change. In 2016-17 bleaching alone caused the loss of half the shallow water corals on a 700 km stretch of the Great Barrier Reef and substantial damage elsewhere. Recovery from such events is a decades-long process. With more frequent bleaching events, reefs now have little time to rebuild in between.

As a result of reef ecosystem destruction, a quarter of all marine species are at risk, while the associated economic losses will expose hundreds of millions of people to decreasing food security and increased poverty.

Click here to read the full statement.

Bleaching coral reef in American Samoa, 2015 (photo: XL Catlin Seaview Survey)