Equilibrium/Sustainability

Australia to fight plans to downgrade Great Barrier Reef's World Heritage status

Australia is vowing to fight a recommendation from a UNESCO committee that would downgrade the Great Barrier Reef's World Heritage status because of climate change, claiming that the proposal is motivated by politics.

The UNESCO World Heritage Committee, in a draft report on Monday, recommended that the Great Barrier Reef be added to UNESCO's List of World Heritage in Danger, which comprises 53 sites, when the panel meets in China in July.

The committee reportedly said "there is no possible doubt" that the Great Barrier Reef is "facing ascertained danger," according to the report.

UNESCO wrote that previous reports on the Great Barrier Reef found that its long-term outlook "has deteriorated from poor to very poor and that climate change remains the most serious threat for the property."

Specifically, the report said the reef suffered greatly from coral bleaching events in 2016, 2017 and last year, which were triggered by global warming.

Environment Minister Sussan Ley, however, said Australia, which is one of the 21 countries that sits on the committee, will oppose the listing when the panel convenes next month.

She said her and Foreign Minister Marise Payne called UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay to communicate the government's "strong disappointment" and "bewilderment" at the recommendation, according to The Associated Press.

"This decision was flawed. Clearly there were politics behind it," Ley told reporters, according to the AP.

"Clearly those politics have subverted a proper process and for the World Heritage Committee to not even foreshadow this listing is, I think, appalling," she continued.

Fanny Douvere, the head of the UNESCO World Heritage Marine Program, told The Hill that the reaction from Australia is "understandable" because of the "tremendous amount of financial resources and human resources" the country has invested into the reef's management, but contended that scientific information "left no doubt" that the site is "in danger."

"All the scientific information left no doubt that the Great Barrier Reef is today in danger, and that's why the draft decision was in the recommendation," Douvere said.

When asked about Australia's claim that the recommendation was motivated by politics, Douvere noted that the draft decision was made by technical experts at UNESCO and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) who examined available scientific information, most of which was provided by the government of Australia.

She said "every single scientific information led us to concluded" that the reef needed to be added to the World Heritage in Danger list.

Being listed on UNESCO's List of World Heritage in Danger, according to the AP, could influence the Australian public's confidence in their government to care for the reef. Additionally, it could establish an avenue for UNESCO headquarters to create so-called "corrective measures," which could potentially include stronger efforts to decrease Australia's greenhouse gas emissions.

A reduction in the reef's World Heritage status could also negatively impact tourism revenue that the reef generates for Australia, because fewer visitors may be interested in visiting the site, according to the AP.

Updated at 11:58 a.m.

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