By GRACE WAKARY / AP WRITER
MANADO, Indonesia — Around 100 million people risk losing homes and livelihoods unless drastic steps are taken to protect Southeast Asia's biologically diverse coral reefs, which could be wiped out in coming decades because of climate change, a report said Wednesday.
The Coral Triangle—which spans Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and East Timor—makes up 30 percent of the world's coral reefs and 35 percent of coral reef fish species.
If carbon emissions are not cut by 25 percent to 40 percent by the year 2020, higher ocean temperatures could kill off vast marine ecosystems and half the fish in them, according to the World Wildlife Fund, which presented its 220-page study at the World Ocean Conference on Wednesday.
One third of around 300 million people now earning a living off of the sea's natural resources could be forced to leave the coast and find new employment. Commercial fishing in the area generates roughly $3 billion in annual income.
"Decisive action must be taken immediately or a major crisis will develop," the report said, citing 300 scientific studies and 20 climate change experts. "Hundreds of thousands of unique species, entire communities and societies will be in jeopardy."
The WWF outlines a series of conservation priorities and emission reduction goals to avert that scenario and recommends they be adopted by governments negotiating a new international climate change treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.
The report drives home a message of urgency ahead of the conclusion of those talks at a major meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December and raises the profile of the oceans in the climate change debate.
The US government is providing $40 million in funding for a 5-year program in the Coral Triangle to improve management of marine and coastal resources.
"We are looking to promote better understanding of the role of the ocean in the climate system," said Mary M. Glackin, US deputy under secretary for oceans and atmosphere. "It's really a web of life. So you need to be concerned about the very smallest thing up to the very high predators."