May 13, 2009 / 12:25 AM / 10 years ago

Coral Triangle at risk from climate change - WWF

By Sunanda Creagh

JAKARTA, May 13 (Reuters) - Southeast Asia’s biologically diverse coral reefs will disappear by the end of this century, wiping out coastal economies and sparking civil unrest if climate change isn’t addressed, conservation group WWF said on Wednesday.

The Coral Triangle, a reef network that spans Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and East Timor, has more than 76 percent of the world’s reef-building coral species and 35 percent of its coral reef fish species.

However, a new report commissioned by the WWF warned that much of this reef is doomed unless developed countries cut carbon emissions to 40 percent below the 1990 levels by the year 2020 and developing economies cut emissions by at least 30 percent from their current levels.

The report, based on 300 published studies and released to coincide with the World Ocean Conference in Manado, Sulawesi, warns that a do-nothing scenario will lead to a steady rise in sea temperatures, killing the coral and its dependent wildlife and hurting the livelihoods of around 100 million people.

"Unless there is some sort of miracle, it will mean aggregated poverty and when you couple it with the inundation of coastlines, you will get to the point where whole societies are destabilised," said Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, the report’s author and a marine expert at the University of Queensland.

The resulting food shortages and desperation could fuel radicalism and drive up illegal immigration, said Hoegh-Guldberg.

"Australia is going to have millions of people knocking on its doors," he said, adding that the loss of the reefs would gut both formal and informal fishing industries.

"The contribution of registered fisheries alone ranges from 2 to 12 percent of GDP of this region."

However, a senior official from the Indonesian Environment Ministry said a 30 percent emissions cut was unrealistic for developing nations.

"I am not sure it’s possible. We can only achieve around a 17 percent cut by 2025," said Marwansyah Lobo Balia, assistant to Indonesia’s environment minister.

"Of course there is a lot of coral bleaching but most of the damage we have found so far is not because of global warming but because of human activities such as pollution and fisheries that use bombs."

The WWF report also said that "the pathway that the world is on today exceeds the worst-case scenario described in this report".

"I know it sounds alarmist, but it really is alarming," said Hoegh-Guldberg.

WWF International Director General James Leape called for a strong agreement on greenhouse gas reductions at the UN Climate Conference at Copenhagen in December this year. (Editing by Sara Webb)

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