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There is no doubt that the earth’s climate is changing. In the last 50 years many of the observed changes are unprecedented. The atmosphere and oceans have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, and sea levels have risen across the globe. Human influence on the climate system is unequivocal. The 5th Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) from 2014 makes it clear that changes in how humans behave and ‘do business’ are critical to prevent global warming.

Climate modelling is enormously complex and the IPCC 5th Report has more data than ever assembled for any scientific report on any subject. This data is collated from numerous disciplines and thousands of scientists, with every statement in the Report assigned a degree of confidence, from almost certain to ‘possible but unlikely’. The report has been rigorously compiled, however this complexity makes the data easily misunderstood or misinterpreted by third parties. Within the complexity of the IPCC Report, there is one well-made, simple, point: the future is not written. Although the planet will continue to warm even if no more greenhouse gases are released, the future very much depends upon how we, humans, behave now. Amongst the multitude of numbers and statistics appearing in the report, there are some of particular significance:

350: pre-industrial levels of CO2 were about 280 ppm and current levels are about 390 ppm. Scientists argue that 350 ppm is the most responsible target because it is unlikely to result in ‘out of control’ warming. Taronga is a member of Zoos and Aquariums for 351.

2°C: this is another figure that some scientists see as a responsible limit to acceptable warming. A global warming of 2°C will still lead to extreme weather events, sea level rise, and extinctions across the globe, but is unlikely to make the planet uninhabitable. This degree of warming is believed inevitable but a rise from which the planet can recover.

1.5 – 4.5°C: this is the predicted temperature increase if CO2 concentrations double from a stable equilibrium. Doubling the pre-industrial levels of CO2 to 550 ppm is likely to cause a global temperature increase of 1.5 – 4.5°C. Climate models based on temperature changes since the last Ice Age suggest average global temperature increases would be at the mid to higher end of the range (in which scenario large parts of the earth would be uninhabitable). 

Climate fundamentally determines where animals can live and impacts on how they establish, grow and reproduce. In the face of changing climate a species may persist in situ, adapt in situ over generations, migrate, or become extinct. Scientific consensus is that it is not possible for species to genetically adapt before the changes to climate take place. For Australia, the consequences of unchecked climate change are profound:

1. Australia sits at latitudes that are expected to dry out as a result of a warmer climate;

2. Australians tend to live on the coast and sea levels are going to keep rising;

3. Ocean acidification threatens the Great Barrier Reef and other ocean life;

4. Australia is a country that already experiences extremes of weather. These extremes are certain to increase.

Australia has experienced extremes of weather conditions since records began and species have shown a high level of tolerance and multiple coping strategies. However there are disturbing signs that things are not going so well. A Taronga scientific report on climate change and biodiversity illustrates potential trends including:

* Koalas do not depend on standing water for example, they acquire water through eating eucalypt leaves, but during an extended drought period (1995-2009), 80% of the population was lost. Subsequent repopulation indicates that drought conditions rather than deforestation were the primary cause.

* Sea turtle species are laying eggs earlier each year in response to warmer sea temperatures. In these particular species, offspring gender is determined by the temperature of egg nests. While offspring have been found to be skewed towards females in some species, as expected with higher temperatures, this change in laying behaviour can paradoxically result in increased males as sand temperature remains cooler in the early months.

* Climate change will likely be the strongest driver of behavioural and geographic change in species. These changes will in turn, force new interactions between species that could increase disease transference and the incidence of human-wildlife conflict. It must be considered that many impacts are additive and will have combined impacts on species survival.

Taronga’s position statement:

Taronga recognises that addressing climate change is a threefold imperative: self-interest, moral responsibility and good business. Australians must work together to address the impact of climate change on ourselves, our children and the impact on others. Taronga must also assess the inherent risk and potential impacts posed by climate change to ensure our enterprise can sustain financial, social and environmental responsible growth. Australians, per capita, are amongst the most prolific of carbon polluters and consequently have a greater responsibility for modifying behaviour. Taronga believes that our responsibility is to protect the lifestyle and welfare of this and future generations of Australians, but it also extends to the world’s developing communities which are often affected by the carbon practices of the developed world.

Taronga has a responsibility to inform the public on matters relevant to wildlife conservation, including the impact and management of threatening processes both inside and outside the zoo sites. We need to reduce the carbon footprint within the organisation; minimise consumption of resources; source and sell sustainable products; and provide information on ecosystem health, the climate, and highlight the role each individual can play in positively impacting biodiversity. Our aim and focus is to help our direct and indirect audiences to understand and become committed to what they can do to contribute to the health and longevity of our world.

Climate Change and our Enterprise

Taronga believes that responsible management includes addressing potential climate change impacts from a risk management perspective. Climate change poses risks to Taronga’s work and its enterprise. To address these risks Taronga is developing a sustainability strategy that incorporates our social, environmental and financial imperative for responding to climate change.

How Taronga is engaging with the issue?

Zoos & Aquariums for 350:

Taronga is part of a global action to address the problem of human caused carbon emissions. The ‘Zoos & Aquariums for 350’ is a WAZA initiative aiming to provide proactive solutions in which the wildlife conservation community and general public can play a strong part. Three main actions are proposed by the ‘Zoos and Aquariums for 350’ movement:

• Show the wild face of climate change – Improve communication about the effects of climate change on all species;

• Reduce and offset carbon emissions – The Zoos and Aquariums for 350 initiative is in place to help zoos and aquariums reduce their use of fossil fuels and engage in meaningful offset programs that have already reduced their carbon footprint as much as possible;

• Progressive divestment from fossil fuel – Zoos and Aquariums lead by example in diverting investment funds from fossil fuel companies and reinvesting in solutions that align with their mission of conservation.

Education and Community Engagement:

Taronga is an excellent resource for communication with large audiences, and can provide a portal for information to enable better decision-making in daily life, remove barriers and inform the public on a wide range of climate relevant issues. Key impacts include i) undertaking sustained public education campaigns and programs; and ii) inspiring our visitors to also reduce their footprint through the ‘Take Action’ approach. Taronga’s key messages towards climate change and carbon footprint are:

Climate change is affecting the world’s wildlife. Australian average temperatures have increased which has affected fire and flooding regimes and increased drought severity. The oceans are warming and becoming more acidic, bleaching large coral reefs. Sea levels are rising and many species will need to disperse, changing the structure and composition of communities.

Conservation Science:

Our multi-disciplinary team monitor and investigate wildlife health, ecology, population viability and behaviour in wild and zoo-based populations for the purpose of increasing our understanding of species biology. Key impacts include:

• Providing data and advice on likely species barriers and migrations, disease emergence, response and preparedness for climate change;

• Establishing the value of conservation areas and keystone species in reducing our carbon footprint;

• Determining the likely impact of human activities such as farming, mining, travel etc.

Organisational Sustainability:

Taronga’s carbon footprint has been measured internally since 2010. The footprint measures both direct and indirect emission sources. Direct emissions are those that occur on-site or from organisation-owned assets such as fuel use or refrigerant leakage. Indirect emissions occur off-site and operate the business, ie, purchased electricity.

In accordance with Taronga’s Sustainability Plan, Taronga has committed to addressing its carbon footprint. Taronga aims to achieve a 10% carbon reduction by 2020 and become carbon neutral by 2030. To assist this goal all new developments would aim to be carbon neutral.