Censored UNESCO emails should be released in full

Censored emails which led to all mentions of Australia being scrubbed from a UNESCO report on climate threats to world heritage sites should be released in full immediately, the Climate Council said today.

After explosive revelations in May that the Australian Government had pressured an international organisation to remove all mentions in a scientific report of the impact of climate change on Australian world heritage sites, today it's been revealed that the cover-up continues.

Correspondence between Australia’s ambassador to UNESCO George Mina, staff at UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre and the Department of Environment were released to the Guardian under a Freedom of Information request.

But the vast majority of text was blacked out meaning that there can be no public scrutiny of the events that led up to the sections on Australia being cut.

“This is yet another troubling turn of events in this saga,” Professor Will Steffen said.

“First, all mention of Australia is scrubbed from a report on climate threats to world heritage sites upon government request.

“And now, it appears that emails which would shine a light on how this kind of scientific censorship could occur in a modern Western democracy have also been censored.

“It is important for the integrity of the scientific process that we get to the bottom of what actually was done by whom to expunge scientifically valid, peer-reviewed material from a UN report.

“This kind of political wrangling might save face but it won’t save the reef. The latest observations following the mass bleaching event shows the Great Barrier Reef is in dire straits with parts of the reef suffering total ecosystem collapse.

Instead of devoting energy to preventing the public from knowing the full scale of the damage to the reef, the Climate Council said, the government’s efforts should be focused on strong and rapid climate action, which is the only way the Reef will have a chance to survive.

Anatomy of a cover-up

  • UNESCO and the Union of Concerned Scientists put together a report on climate threats to World Heritage Sites
  • The report is released and none of Australia’s world heritage sites are included, despite the Great Barrier Reef undergoing the worst coral bleaching event in history.
  • After scientists who reviewed the sections on the Great Barrier Reef question why it was cut, the Environment Department admits publicly that they asked for the reef to be omitted on “tourism grounds.” Officials say Environment Minister Greg Hunt was not briefed on the issue.
  • Journalists ask for government correspondence with the UN about the report to be released under a Freedom of Information request.
  • The correspondence is released but is almost entirely blacked out after a request from UNESCO. This allows the Australian Government to invoke Freedom of Information rules which allow the government not to release information which could cause damage to international relations.

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