Australia puts forward case to UNESCO for protecting Great Barrier Reef

By Jackson Graham

February 4, 2022

Scott Morrison-great barrier reef
The Great Barrier Reef will receive another $1 billion following Australia’s successful bid to delay a decision about listing it as “in danger”. (AAP Image/Brian Cassey)

The federal government has updated the United Nations on the health of the Great Barrier Reef as a draft recommendation to list it as “in danger” hangs over the World Heritage site. 

In submitting the update, federal environment minister Sussan Ley said reefs around the world were under pressure from warming oceans and the federal government’s management of the Great Barrier Reef was “second to none”. 

“We need global action on climate change through the appropriate UN bodies to address the major external threat to the reef,” Ley said.

“But we also need to recognise the vital importance of the work the government is supporting through scientists, farmers, Traditional Owners, local communities and tourism operators.”

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation had required the federal government to submit a plan on actions it will take to protect the reef by this month, after UNESCO made a recommendation in June to list the site as “in danger”.  

The government’s submission came almost a week after the government pledged an additional $1 billion for reef management and research, which scientists and advocates have criticised as a “band-aid” solution without further action to draw down emissions. 

“Under the UNESCO treaty, Australia promised to protect the Great Barrier Reef to the ‘utmost’ of our resources,” Greenpeace Asia Pacific chief David Ritter said

“The greatest threat to the reef is climate change, driven by burning coal, oil and gas. So Australia has a duty to act on climate change to protect the reef.” 

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority chief Josh Thomas said last week the extra $1 billion would “amplify our efforts to protect this unique natural wonder and build its resilience to the impacts of a changing climate”. 

The 2019 Greater Barrier Reef Outlook Report listed the status of the reef as deteriorating from “poor” to “very poor” but the government says in its submission to UNESCO this week that  “the reef has experienced a period of recovery since 2019”. 

“For important habitats, such as coral reefs, islands, mangroves, coastal wetlands and seagrasses, conditions have either improved or remained stable,” the report says. 

“Coral heat stress and agricultural runoff were recorded as lower than previous years and there have been fewer impacts from cyclones.” 

The report acknowledges climate change is the biggest threat to the reef, but says “the most effective response to this threat is successful global action to reduce emissions”. 

It says limiting the impacts of climate change are a core element of three areas of the plan, including responding to climate change through the Paris Agreement, increasing the capacity of reef communities, Traditional Owners, and industries to adapt to changing climate, and support for species and habits to adapt to changes in climate.  


READ MORE:

Mapping shows how Great Barrier Reef is impacted by major weather events

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