News National Great Barrier Reef Foundation aims to spend big, but stay quiet on emissions reduction

Great Barrier Reef Foundation aims to spend big, but stay quiet on emissions reduction

Coral reefs face significant decline, even if global warming is kept to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Photo: Queensland Museum/Gary Cranitch
Twitter Facebook Reddit Pinterest Email

The Great Barrier Foundation could spend up to $840 million trying to help the reef survive climate change, but will not push for stronger emission reductions despite dire warnings from the United Nations panel on the impacts of climate change.

The organisation has released an ambitious plan to raise up to $400 million on top of a $440 million grant from the Federal Government through philanthropy, corporate sponsorship, public donations and pooled resources.

The foundation only had six full-time staff when it was offered the funding by former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull earlier this year, after a hasty meeting with no department staff present.

If it wins power at the next federal election, Labor has vowed to take back the Government’s funding – which was granted without a competitive tender process and without the foundation asking for it.

The foundation has defended the captain’s call by Mr Turnbull and said it had the “unique capacity to leverage private funds” and pointed to its track record of raising $90 million in the past 18 years.

Anna Marsden faced questions about the foundation’s funding at a Senate inquiry. Photo: News video

The centrepiece of its new strategy released on Friday includes a “capital campaign”, targeting global and domestic philanthropic sources to match the $100 million funding for the reef restoration program.

Foundation managing director Anna Marsden said through contributed funds and resources from other delivery partners, this would then be turned into a $300 million research effort to develop and implement “advanced new technologies” to repair reef damage and build the reef’s resilience.

Ms Marsden said this had never been tackled anywhere in the world.

“How we can essentially ensure we can climate-proof our coral reefs moving forward, but also how we can rebuild the reefs we have lost,” she said.

According to the strategy: “Such an effort is attractive to a growing pool of philanthropists … where investment addresses the causes rather than symptoms of problems.”

However, according to many involved in reef research, management and conservation without reducing emissions, no amount of money can save the reef.

Significant parts of the Great Barrier Reef face decline under future warming scenarios. Photo: WWF

Reef in serious decline under target backed by foundation

Earlier this week, the world’s most authoritative climate science body warned Australia and the rest of the world must virtually eliminate the use of coal for electricity within 22 years if there is to be a chance to save even some of the Great Barrier Reef.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said global emissions of greenhouse gas pollution must reach zero by about 2050 in order to cap global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Coral reefs are expected to decline by a further 70 to 90 per cent even under warming of 1.5 degrees, but could experience more than 99 per cent loss if warming rises to 2 degrees.

That means the vast majority of the Great Barrier Reef would undergo significant upheaval or collapse, with 1.5 degrees warming expected by 2040.

Under the Paris agreement, Australia has pledged to reduce carbon emissions by 26-28 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030.

IPCC report contributor Professor Mark Howden from the Australian National University said Australia was not on track to save the reef.

“We’re currently heading for about 3 to 4 degrees of warming by 2100.”

Ms Marsden said the foundation supported current Paris agreement reductions aimed at limiting warming to 1.5C, but that it was not the role of the foundation to advocate for action beyond this.

“We are the lead charity for the Great Barrier Reef, so the role we bring is we try to enable as many funds, to powerful projects as possible,” she said.

“The reality is, is that we are hoping to reach the 1.5 target, we know that will still mean that we experience a number of summers where we will see great loss on the Great Barrier Reef as we have seen in the last couple of years.”

Foundation chairman John Schubert also told a senate inquiry into the funding last month it was not the foundation’s role to be advocating on climate change policy.

“The field of advocacy on the environmental issues and climate change specially is very crowded. There is a huge number of organisations and people involved in that, trying to get more momentum,” he said.

The foundation’s board consists 12 people including the president of Boeing Australia, the head of the Business Council of Australia Grant King, former mining and banking CEOs, and a Qantas executive.

Some of Australia’s biggest companies have also paid $20,000 to join the Great Barrier Reef Foundation’s chairman’s panel, including BHP, JP Morgan, Rio Tinto, Shell, AGL, Commonwealth Bank, Deutsche Bank and Boral Limited.

Mr King, a former managing director of Origin electricity and AGL, told the senate inquiry he did not support emission reductions below Australia’s current commitments.

Corporate donations positive for ‘reputation scoring’

The foundation plans to raise $50 million through corporate donations and partnerships.

Its latest strategy noted that corporate partners were looking for benefits that improved their image.

“[Such partnerships] drive employee engagement, position them as an employer of choice, and contribute positively to reputation scoring or social licence to operate,” the strategy declared.

Bleached staghorn coral on the extreme northern reaches of the outer Great Barrier Reef. Photo: Zack Rago

The foundation said it would reject grants from firms associated with activities, branding or reputation not in line with its values — including the tobacco industry, crime, pornography, weapons, firearms, munitions or slavery.However, Ms Marsden said the foundation would accept funding from fossil fuel companies.

“They are companies that acknowledge climate change and are playing their role, in ensuring that they are helping work towards the achievement of the Paris target,” she said.

The strategy noted the foundation would not permit any funding partner to influence the conduct and outcomes of research and the publication of results.

It said they might also reject donations likely to compromise the foundation’s “integrity, independence, reputation, its capacity to carry out its mission and vision, which dictate its positions or priorities, or ability to speak out against unethical, unfair, or unsafe practices”.

The foundation’s strategy also outlined its aim of raising $7 million from the public through regular giving, bequests and community fundraising.