/ 23 June 2021

A Great Barrier bruiser

It could be a world first, but not in a good way… Yesterday, the United Nations’ World Heritage Committee of its Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef could be put on the dreaded ‘in danger’ list because of the impact of climate change. And in the draft report, UNESCO “strongly invites” the Australian Government to do more to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Experts say if the reef is put on the list, it would be massively embarrassing for Oz – and it would threaten the tourism dollars the region depends on. But Environment Minister Sussan Ley cried foul yesterday saying that politics are at play…

BACK IT UP A BIT… WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE REEF?
Rising sea temperatures have delivered 3 mass bleaching events since 2015 that have weakened and killed corals across the entire span of the reef. Keep in mind there’s 2,000km of it off the Queensland coast, making it the biggest in the world. It’s also of “enormous scientific and intrinsic importance”, and that saw it given World Heritage status by UNESCO in 1981. In 2019, the reef’s long-term outlook was downgraded to “very poor” by the government’s own Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority because of the impact of climate change. And Minister Ley doesn’t argue that global warming is probably the greatest threat to the reef’s survival.

SO WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?
Well, Ley says UNESCO’s process smells like the reef’s iconic coral trout – fishy… That’s because the government was assured just last week that things wouldn’t go in this direction. That aside, she says a lot is being done to protect the reef, and the draft recommendation is not based on the latest information. And Ley says, “there are 83 natural World Heritage properties facing climate change threats, so it’s not fair to simply single out Australia.” So to the politics: China currently chairs the committee, and there are reports that our beef with Beijing may have influenced the decision. Still, Australia is not doing enough to combat climate change, some on the international stage say. And members of the committee were lobbied by conservationists to take this step as a way to pressure our government to do more. A decision about the reef’s status will be made next month.

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