What can be done?
Limiting global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C, in line with the Paris Agreement on climate change, provides the only chance for the survival of coral reefs globally. If the agreement is fully implemented, we will likely see a decrease in atmospheric carbon concentrations. This will improve conditions for the survival of reefs, and enable other measures to rescue reefs to be successful. Other measures alone, such as addressing local pollution and destructive fishing practices, cannot save coral reefs without stabilised greenhouse gas emissions.
Reinforcing commitments to the Paris Agreement must be mirrored in all other global agreements such as the Sustainable Development Goals. SDG 13, for instance, calls for urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.
There also needs to be a transformation of mainstream economic systems and a move towards circular economic practices. These are highlighted in SDG 8 (inclusive and sustainable economic growth) and SDG 12 (sustainable consumption and production patterns). Economic systems need to rapidly move to the low greenhouse gas emission scenario to enable global temperature decrease.
A move away from current economic thinking should include the benefits provided by coral reefs, which are currently not taken into account in mainstream business and finance. Therefore, sustaining and restoring coral reefs should be treated as an asset, and long-term investments should be made for their preservation.
Investments should also include support for research at the frontiers of biology, such as genetic selection of heat-resistant corals that can withstand rising global temperatures.