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Coral Bleaching Linked to Climate Change, Other Factors

The Great Barrier Reef, which last year narrowly avoided being put on the World Heritage endangered list, is experiencing its worst bleaching in recorded history. According to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, overall mortality of the reef is 22 percent, but along Lizard Island, off far north Queensland, it’s 93 percent. Coral bleaching is also occurring along the Maldives, Thailand, and Christmas Island.

By year’s end, what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has designated the third global coral bleaching in less than two decades, and the longest and most severe so far, will have killed 12,000 square kilometers of reefs and affected more than a third of the world’s corals.

Satellite data produced for The Guardian by Mark Eakin, head of NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch, reveals the increasingly widespread impact of ocean temperature increases on the Great Barrier Reef, where bleaching is predicted to become an annual event by 2020.

“While there was a considerable amount of variability—from El Niños and other things—there was an obvious upward trend in the data,” Eakin said. “So you’re looking at the background warming, which is having a major effect on the corals.”

Although coral bleaching is thought to result largely from abnormally high sea temperatures that kill marine algae crucial for coral health, a study published Tuesday in Nature Communications and based on a three-year experiment on a coral reef in the Florida Keys nuances that understanding. Its authors say that widespread coral deaths observed in recent decades are being caused by a combination of multiple local stressors that become lethal in the presence of higher temperatures.

“This makes it clear there’s no single force that’s causing such widespread coral deaths,” said study co-author Rebecca Vega Thurber of Oregon State University. “Loss of fish that help remove algae, or the addition of excess nutrients like those in fertilizers, can cause algal growth on reefs. This changes the normal microbiota of corals to become more pathogenic, and all of these problems reach critical levels as ocean temperatures warm.”

United States and India Announce Climate and Energy Agreements

On Tuesday, following a meeting with President Obama partly focused on climate change and energy, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said his country, the world’s third-largest greenhouse gases producer, would ratify the Paris Agreement this year. The action is considered a key step in cementing the deal, which goes into effect 30 days after 55 nations representing 55 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions ratify it. To date, countries representing approximately 50 percent of global emissions have announced that they will submit legal documentation of their compliance with the deal, under which more than 190 nations agreed to keep global warming to within 2 degrees Celsius of pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit warming to 1.5 Celsius.

“Both leaders feel as if the collaboration between the two leaders was an important element of actually getting Paris successfully negotiated last December,” said Brian Deese, President Obama’s top climate change advisor. “They will both clearly endorse the importance of promoting full implementation of the Paris agreement.”

President Obama indicated that the speed with which the agreement could be brought into force would depend in part on securing “the climate financing that’s necessary for India to be able to embark on a bold vision for solar energy and clean energy” laid out by Modi.

Among the other climate and energy agreements the countries announced was a joint effort to adopt, this year, an amendment to the Montreal Protocol on the use of hydrofluorocarbons (subscription). That amendment would increase financial support to the protocol’s multilateral fund and contain an “aggressive phasedown schedule” for the potent greenhouse gas.

According to a White House fact sheet, other joint efforts include a $40 million program to provide capital for solar projects and a $20 million clean energy finance initiative.

India also agreed to a low greenhouse gas emissions development strategy.

Ontario Unveils Climate Plan with Carbon Market Funding

Yesterday, Ontario announced its climate change action plan for reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050 and explained how that plan will work with its recently adopted carbon market, which it plans to link with that of California and Quebec in 2018.

According to the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, the action plan helps define how market proceeds will be spent. “By law, proceeds must be invested in projects and programs that help reduce greenhouse gas pollution,” said the ministry.

Most of the action plan’s C$8.3 billion in planned spending on combatting climate change will come from the annual C$1.9 billion that the government expects to raise by auctioning greenhouse gas emissions credits.

Canada’s four most populous provinces—representing 86 percent of Canadians—have, or are introducing carbon pricing, either through a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade program aimed at emissions reductions.

 The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.