President Obama championed the Great Barrier Reef despite resistance from the Australian government. His claims that the reef needs protection were denied by government official Julie Bishop. Climate scientists all over the world refuted Bishop’s statements in support of Obama.
In early November, President Obama stepped up to the challenge of climate change and positioned himself, and the United States, as a leader in the fight against anthropomorphic global warming and ecological disaster. First, he negotiated a historic agreement with President Xi of China to reduce carbon emissions. The U.S. and China are the two largest carbon producers in the world. Next, he moved on to the G20 Summit in Brisbane, Australia.
Obama rallied the world’s leaders and tried to organize action to slow carbon emissions and climate change. He announced a $3 billion contribution to the Green Climate Fund. The GCF helps developing countries curb carbon emissions and deal with the effects of climate change such as heat waves, mudslides and rising sea levels. Japan also announced a $1.5 million contribution during the G20 Summit. On November 20, at a meeting in Berlin, many other wealthy nations pledged money to the fund.
Continuing his efforts to portray climate change as a global problem in need of a global solution, Obama spoke to an audience at the University of Queensland about environmental responsibility. The crowd applauded every time Obama mentioned climate change. He asserted that the Asia-Pacific region had more at stake from extreme weather and rising oceans than any other part of the world. He mentioned that he wants his daughters to visit the reef, and his future grandchildren. He wants the reef to be healthy 50 years from now.
In a riposte to Obama’s comments, Australia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop declared that the Great Barrier Reef is fine and that the world need not be concerned about it. Ms. Bishop seems to be deluded about all the scientific evidence collected describing the health of the reef. Over the last 30 years, 50 percent of the coral as well as the organisms supported by the coral, have died. Environmental scientists were outraged by Bishop’s statements and defended Obama’s claims. Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, the director of the university’s Global Change Institute, said that Obama had put forth a “fact.”
A report issued by the government of Australia acknowledges the threats to the reef. Recognizing the problems facing the reef, Australia has already implemented action plans to limit pollution. Some of their actions have led to positive outcomes and species revival. The northern third of the reef has good water quality and a healthy ecosystem. However, the central and southern inshore areas continue to degrade. The report admits that creating long-tern sustainability is a challenge due to the complexity of the risks to the reef. The summary of the report concludes that future looks bleak for the reef. The government report expressly contradicts Ms. Bishop’s statements.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot has not been a friend to conservation efforts. He supports coal mining and exports and has been eliminating environmental regulations. He gained power in his Liberal party, which has conservative views despite its name, by undermining a carbon emissions trading plan. He won election last year by campaigning against the Labor party’s carbon tax. He continues to lead Australia down a path of deregulating carbon emission, which many Australians feel will damage the tourism and fishing industry provided by the reef. Rather than protect the reef, his policies may increase the threat of destruction.
President Obama championed the Great Barrier Reef despite resistance from the Australian government. Obama carefully called attention to the fact that natural treasures such as the reef are a global heritage and international responsibility. He presented the United States as a leader in the fight against climate change at a time when Australia seems to be ignoring scientific research and ecological studies.
Opinion By: Rebecca Savastio