Australia evades bid to classify Great Barrier Reef as “in danger”

After a world heritage committee meeting on Friday, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef will not be included on UNESCO’s “in danger” list.

This decision, of course, has no impact on the rapid degradation of the reef fuelled by climate change.

Last month, UNESCO published a recommendation that the Reef be added to the list, noting the inadequacy of government response to threats such as frequent and severe coral bleaching.

Image: Getty via Condé Nast Traveller

Despite many positive achievements by the State Party, progress has been insufficient in meeting key targets of the Reef 2050 Plan,” 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.

The recommendation was met with strong resistance from members of the Australian government. Prior to the decision on Friday, environment minister Sussan Ley asserted the government would “strongly oppose” the recommendation.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison responded by organising a snorkelling trip for ambassadors, in an effort to refute the recommendation. Ambassadors from nine countries who attended the trip had voting rights in Friday’s meeting.

Professor of Biology at Macquarie University, Lesley Hughes, wrote to the Climate Council and urged that “(p)olitical lobbying doesn’t help the Reef“.

Until we see credible climate action, and the phasing out of fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas, this situation will worsen, not improve. The Great Barrier Reef is in danger, and trying to hide the facts won’t change a thing,” she added.

Nevertheless, Australia convinced a majority of the meeting’s attendants that Australia is adequately addressing the Reef’s endangerment.

They argued that governments were sufficiently managing and protecting the reef, and that a monitoring mission was necessary before including the Reef on the “in danger” list.

Australia requested a deadline of December 2022 to report back to the world heritage centre, after a UN monitoring mission.

They were denied the deadline, and were instead offered six months to host the monitoring mission, finalise Reef policy, and report back to the centre.

For this reason, the Reef was not added to the “in danger” list on Friday.

However, the world heritage committee may choose to include the Reef at the upcoming meeting next year.