Australia’s ability to care for this natural wonder has been called into question. Photo / File
Australia said on Tuesday it would fight against plans to decommission the Great Barrier Reef to World Heritage due to climate change, while environmentalists applauded the UN World Heritage Committee’s proposal.
The committee said in a draft report on Monday that “there is no possible doubt” that the network of colorful corals off Australia’s northeast coast was “facing real danger”.
The report recommends that the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem be added to UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger, which includes 53 sites, when the World Heritage Committee considers the matter in China in July.
The listing could undermine Australians’ confidence in their government’s ability to care for this natural wonder and give UNESCO Headquarters a role in developing so-called “corrective measures”, which would likely include action. more stringent to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Any downgrading of the reef’s World Heritage status could reduce the tourism income that the natural wonder generates for Australia, as fewer tourists would be drawn to a degraded environment and dead corals.
Reef cruise operators said the report was wrong and tourists continued to be in awe of the dazzling corals and multicolored fish. But some tourists said the reef appeared more colorful on tours decades ago.
Environment Minister Sussan Ley said she and Foreign Minister Marise Payne called UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay to express the government’s “strong disappointment” and “bewilderment” faced with this proposal.
Australia, which is one of 21 member countries on the committee, will oppose listing, Ley said.
“This decision was wrong. Obviously, there was politics behind it,” Ley told reporters.
“It is clear that these policies have reversed an appropriate process and that the World Heritage Committee does not even foreshadow this inscription is, I think, appalling.”
The 2,500 reef network covering 348,000 square kilometers (134,000 square miles) has been a World Heritage Site since 1981.
But his health is increasingly threatened by climate change and rising ocean temperatures.
The report found that the site suffered significantly from coral bleaching events caused by unusually warm ocean temperatures in 2016, 2017 and last year.
Australian Marine Conservation Society environmental consultant Imogen Zethoven welcomed the committee’s recognition that “Australia has not done enough on climate change to protect the future of the reef.”
It would be a very important step for the World Heritage Committee to take this decision …
The reef would become the first site to be added to the List of World Heritage in Danger primarily for reasons of climate change, Zethoven said.
“It would be a very important step for the World Heritage Committee to take this decision and we really hope it does because it will open up a lot of potential changes,” she said.
Richard Leck, spokesperson for environmental group WWF, said listing the reef in danger would be “a real shock” to many Australians.
In 2014, Australia was warned that an “endangered” listing was being considered rather than proposed for immediate action.
Australia has had time to respond by developing a long-term plan to improve the health of the reef called the Reef 2050 Plan.
The committee said this week that the plan “requires stronger and clearer commitments, in particular to urgently address the effects of climate change.”
Ley said political debate on climate change should be limited to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
“I know … that climate change is the greatest threat to the reef and I am in no way deviating from this recognition and countries, including European countries, have strong views on the policies that different countries should have on climate change and I understand that too, but this is not the convention in which to have these conversations, ”said Ley, referring to the Convention concerning the protection of world cultural and natural heritage.
Observers say that the swearing-in on Tuesday of new Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, who opposes climate change action that raises prices, indicates that Australia is likely to set less ambitious targets to reduce prices. greenhouse gas emissions.
Terry Hughes, director of the Australian Research Council’s Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, said Australia’s refusal to commit to a net zero carbon emissions target by 2050 was of the country a “total value”.
“This UNESCO draft decision points to Australia and says, ‘If you really want to save the Great Barrier Reef, you have to do something about your climate policies,” Hughes told Australian Broadcasting Corp.
– Associated Press