Climate change is killing valuable coral reef systems, a United Nations-backed report published on Wednesday warned.
The report — entitled “The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity” — unveiled in Berlin, concluded:
“We face the imminent loss of coral reefs due to climate change, with all the serious ecological, social and economic consequences this will entail.”
It said coral reef systems were worth up to 172 billion dollars per year in terms of economic activity.
The research, hosted by the UN’s Environment Programme and sponsored by the European Commission, Germany and Britain, is intended to inform policymakers’ thinking ahead of a crunch climate change summit in Copenhagen in December.
Presenting the report, the project’s head, Pavan Sukhdev, stressed the importance of coral reefs to the global environment, saying: “The existence of half a billion people depends on them.”
“Over a quarter of all fish species are also dependent on the coral reefs,” he added.
To secure the survival of the coral reefs, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels need to be “significantly below 350 parts per million (ppm)” but current levels are 387 ppm.
The report recommended increased investment in “ecological infrastructure” — conservation of forests, mangroves, river basins and wetlands — as a means of adapting to climate change.
The report is a draft version of a fuller document that will be presented to world leaders in November ahead of the Copenhagen conference in December that aims to agree a new global climate pact to succeed the expiring Kyoto Protocol.
A second study published earlier Wednesday in Sydney found that Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is in serious jeopardy as global warming and chemical runoff threatened to kill marine species and cause serious outbreaks of disease.
The inspiration for the report is the landmark 2006 assessment by British economist Sir Nicholas Stern that sparked awareness about the economic cost of global warming.
Stern said that climate change could shrink the global economy by as much as 20 percent, but if action were taken immediately, the bill would be only one percent of global gross domestic product (GDP).