International Reef Letter

29 June 2016

Dear Prime Minister Turnbull,

RE: Crisis on the Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is a natural wonder. It is a global treasure, integral to Australia’s reputation in the world and to your environmental and cultural heritage. We understand that it is also a lynchpin of the Queensland and national economies, providing around $6 billion to the economy and 70,000 jobs. It is also a UN World Heritage site, and you, as the country’s highest elected leader, are its custodian on behalf of all Australians and the global community.

We are all devastated to see it suffer an unprecedented coral bleaching event, the worst in recorded history, fuelled by global warming. Your monitoring agency, the GBRMPA has confirmed that almost a quarter of coral has died, with up to 50% coral death in far north Queensland. Director of the ARC’s Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, distinguished Professor Terry Hughes, calls it the “greatest environmental disaster in Australian history.”

This disaster is international, with the bleaching of reefs worldwide, driven by global warming, threatening ecological collapse and putting the primary protein food source of up to 500 million people at risk.

This disaster requires an emergency response, Prime Minister. We urge you to visit the site of this destruction, accompanied by Australia’s leading coral reef scientists. You must do this immediately, today, as you would for any other national emergency of this scale.

We hope once you have visited and seen first-hand the devastation to the reef that you will be moved to act. We are deeply concerned that your existing climate change policies are inadequate to the task. 57 eminent scientific experts have outlined essential elements of the necessary disaster response, which are priorities among the actions you must take to address climate change:


  1. Cease all new coal mine and coal mine expansion approvals, and prohibit any new gas or oil developments.
  2. Announce the rapid phase out of polluting coal-burning power stations, with a just transition plan for workers and communities.
  3. Put Australia on the path to 100% renewable energy with the utmost urgency.
  4. Restore the funds that you stripped from Australia’s commitment to fighting poverty and climate change internationally to realise a world powered by 100% renewables.


The death of the corals from a significant stretch of the Great Barrier Reef must be deeply distressing to you, as it is to all of us. But it is also your opportunity to protect what remains of this irreplaceable icon now, and to safeguard it for future generations. Australians and the world are waiting for the strong leadership and urgent action that this emergency demands.


Alexandra Wandel—Director and Vice-Chair of the Management Board at World Future Council
Bill McKibben—Founder of
Bunny McDiarmid—International Executive Director at Greenpeace International
Jacqui Rémond—National Director at Catholic Earthcare Australia
Jennifer Morgan—International Executive Director at Greenpeace International
Michael Brune—Executive Director at Sierra Club
Mohamed Adow—Senior Climate Advisor at Christian Aid
Sanjay Vashist—Director at Climate Action Network South Asia
Reverend Fletcher Harper—Executive Director at Greenfaith
Tomas Insua—Co-Founder of the Global Climate Catholic Movement
Wael Hmaidan—Director at Climate Action Network International

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