A World Heritage Committee report has recommended the Great Barrier Reef be placed on the “List of World Heritage in Danger”.
The decision follows a visit to the reef by international conservation experts in March.
Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek said the Government accepted the Great Barrier Reef was “at risk” due to climate change but did not believe it should be “singled out”.
About the report
The report was by UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee (UNESCO is a United Nations body that promotes conservation).
In 2021, UNESCO experts assessed the reef and determined it was “in danger”, but the Coalition Government successfully lobbied the Committee to conduct a visit instead of immediately adding the reef to the “in danger” list.
That visit took place in March and was accompanied by a Government report outlining plans to protect the reef. The report released today is the outcome of that process.
What it says
The report acknowledges Australia has made “unparalleled science and management efforts” to protect the reef, but concludes it is “significantly impacted by climate change”.
It suggests the main issue is “degraded water quality”. It criticised Australia’s lack of “clear climate change targets” and suggested Australia could take further steps to protect the reef that would “drastically improve” reef conservation. It concludes the reef faces “major threats” which could destroy it and that this meets the criteria to be considered “in danger”.
The major steps it recommends for Australia include:
- Taking steps to avoid land clearing and protect native vegetation near the reef
- Tightly scrutinising proposed dams in the area
- Strengthening water quality targets
- Phasing out “gill net fishing” and otherwise improving fishing sustainability
- Pursue stronger emissions reduction targets
Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek noted the new Government had legislated a higher emissions target since the visit by the international conservation experts.
She said the Government would argue to UNESCO there is “no need to single the Great Barrier Reef out in this way.”
“Yes, climate change is a risk to ecosystems like the Great Barrier Reef, but that means it’s a risk to every reef globally… There is no government taking the risks to coral reefs more seriously.”
Plibersek did not commit to an overarching position on how the Government would respond to new land-clearing proposals or on the approval of new coal and gas projects.