THE Great Barrier Reef's chances of survival from even moderate climate change are poor and ''catastrophic damage'' may not be avoided, a report has found.
The Reef Outlook Report concludes that the rate of climate change backed by the Federal Government would result in ''severe mass coral bleaching'' and threaten the habitats of key species on the reef.
In a series of dire predictions for the World Heritage-listed natural wonder, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority's report finds that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will have to be kept under 400 parts per million (ppm) if important animal species and coral are to have a low to medium vulnerability to climate change. The current level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is 387 ppm.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has on several occasions publicly supported a 450 ppm target - a figure also backed recently by the Major Economies Forum that includes the US and China.
The report finds that if carbon dioxide reaches 450 ppm in the atmosphere, which is currently predicted for 2035, it would result in ''severe mass bleaching'' and destroy the reef's ability to grow new coral.
Eminent marine researcher and former chief scientist of the Australian Institute of Marine Science Charlie Veron, who helped prepare the report, told The Age the Rudd Government-backed 450 ppm target would result in the complete death of the reef by 2050.
''Mr Rudd would not be supporting the 450 target if he knew the facts,'' Mr Veron said yesterday.
''This isn't a theory - all the science is incredibly concrete now and it is backed by everybody in the coral research field.''
World Wildlife Fund spokesman Nick Heath said the report showed climate change had already affected levels of calcification, a process that helps grow and strengthen coral, which have collapsed dramatically since 1980 as the ocean around the reef warms and become more acidic.
Environment Minister Peter Garrett said the report found that the Barrier Reef continued to be one of the world's healthiest coral systems, but that the emerging threat from climate change required effective action on global warming.
''The world's only got one Great Barrier Reef, Australia has only got one Great Barrier Reef. It is our most important natural environmental asset,'' Mr Garrett said.
On the back of yesterday's release Mr Garrett and Queensland Premier Anna Bligh yesterday committed to a binding target to cut the amount of pesticides and other agricultural run off on to the reef by half. The report finds that one third of the reef is exposed to agricultural run-off that hurts coral and marine life.
The Rudd Government has spent $325 million to improve the health of the reef, including $76 million to work with nearby farmers to limit agricultural run-off.
The release of the report yesterday is the first of what will be a five-yearly review of the health of the reef.