Australia

Seventy per cent of Great Barrier Reef at risk if heat keeps rising, key climate report shows

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As a global climate report is released, scientists say 70 per cent of the Great Barrier Reef is at risk even if drastic action is taken to reduce emissions.

Scientists say Australia has a chance to save 30 per cent of the Great Barrier Reef if immediate global changes are made to stop temperature rises.

They're calling for "rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes" across society to prevent world temperatures from rising by two degrees Celsius.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia would meet its emissions reduction targets, but he also wants to keep power prices low

"Let's not forget that Australia accounts for just over one per cent of global emissions, so there are a lot bigger players than us out there impacting on these arrangements," he said.

Leading climate scientists say Australia's politicians have a responsibility to help protect the Great Barrier Reef.
Leading climate scientists say Australia's politicians have a responsibility to help protect the Great Barrier Reef.
AAP

Australia also has just 0.3 per cent of the world's population, meaning Australians pollute more per capita than many other countries.

The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report released on Monday references more than 6000 scientific studies and says there are benefits to people and natural ecosystems if global warming is limited to 1.5C compared to 2C.

University of New South Wales climate scientist Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick says "virtually all" coral reefs would start dying off if global temperatures increased by 2C.

"Whereas at 1.5C, there is a good chance of saving 10-30 per cent of current coral ecosystems," she said on Monday.

"There is also a good chance that drought severity will be less in a 1.5C world, having ramifications for water availability and food security."

Australia is sticking to the targets in the Paris agreement, which aims to reduce emissions by 26 per cent by 2030, based on 2005 levels.

Dr Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick.
Dr Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick.
AAP

However, scientists say the effects of a global temperature rise of 1C can already be seen through more extreme weather, rising sea levels and diminishing Arctic sea ice.

"The scale of all the changes that we are experiencing in the climate system is unprecedented, the scale of the changes that humans would have to implement in order to keep climate change under control is unprecedented," report co-author Hans-Otto Portner told reporters in South Korea on Monday.

The findings of the report will be used by policy makers at a conference in Poland this December to review the Paris agreement.

Labor frontbencher Penny Wong said climate wars inside the coalition government cannot be allowed to hold Australia back any longer.

"Let's not say to the next generation that we failed to act simply because Tony Abbott liked a fight. Or because Malcolm Turnbull was too weak. Or because Scott Morrison hasn't got a policy," she said in a speech in Perth.

The coalition government will not renew or replace the Renewable Energy Target when it lapses in 2020.

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