According to a recommendation from officials of the United Nations, it is imperative that the Great Barrier Reef needs to put on to a list of world heritage sites that are classified as to be “in danger”, while also prodding Australia to take “accelerated action at all possible levels” on climate change.
The biggest coral reef system of the world should be put on the list when the world heritage committee meets next month, suggested the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (INESCO).
The Australian government has however flung into action as soon as the recommendations were made with the country’s environment minister, Sussan Ley, saying that she and the foreign affairs minister, Marise Payne, had jointly made a phone call to Unesco’s director general, Audrey Azoulay.
If the recommendations by the UNESCO are followe up by actions, it would be the first occasion that a natural world heritage site would be put on the “in danger” list primarily because of the effect of climate change.
There have been mass bleaching events on the 2,300km reef since 2015 when the committee had last made an assessment of the reef because of rising ocean temperatures due to global heating caused by burning of fossil fuel.
The recommendations would be strongly opposed by the Australian government, Ley said and claimed that officials had been “stunned” by what she described as a “backflip on previous assurances” by UN officials about the step not being taken this year.
World heritage sites are global icons and the “in danger” listings of them by the UN are typically are made because of adverse impacts on them due to armed conflict and war, pollution, poaching and uncontrolled urbanisation.
According to the UNESCO report, conclusions from a major government review that “accelerated action at all possible levels is required to address the threat from climate change” should be “fully incorporated” in revision of Australia’s key reef policy – the reef 2050 plan.
The Australian government has not been able to key targets on improving water quality even though there have been efforts and achievements by the state and federal governments, the report said.
“The plan requires stronger and clearer commitments, in particular towards urgently countering the effects of climate change, but also towards accelerating water quality improvement and land management measures,” it said.
The recommendation followed “a complete subversion of normal process”, Ley said. About a week ago, Australian officials were reassured by the UNESCO that it would not put in recommendations of the reef being placed on the “in danger” list, she said.
There could have been a role of China in the UNESCO’s latest recommendation, suspects the Australian government. China is the chair of the World Heritage Committee and a meeting on 16 July will be hosted in China in which the officials will consider the draft recommendation.
While accepting the biggest threat to the reef was climate change, Ley said that the world heritage committee was “not the forum” to “make a point” about climate change.
“This decision was flawed and clearly there was politics behind it, and that has subverted the proper process. For the World Heritage committee not to foreshadow this listing is appalling,” she told reporters on Tuesday.
(Adapted from TheGuardian.com)