Relentless Federal Government lobbying has once again seen UNESCO back away from placing the Great Barrier Reef on its “In Danger” list, but experts are warning the public this does not change the science.
UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee, which includes representatives from 21 nations, made the decision on Friday evening, but it will reconsider placing the reef on the list next year.
“The Federal Government spared no expense in petitioning to keep the Reef off UNESCO’s “In Danger” list,” said Climate Council spokesperson and Distinguished Professor of Biology at Macquarie University, Lesley Hughes.
“As millions of Australians suffered through lockdown, the Federal Environment Minister, Sussan Ley, jet-setted off to Europe to personally lobby foreign ambassadors who were responsible for today’s decision,” said Professor Hughes.
“Political lobbying doesn’t help the Reef. The only thing that will help protect this precious ecosystem is Australia cutting its greenhouse gas emissions dramatically and rapidly this decade, and encouraging the rest of the world to do the same,” she said.
“The science is clear: climate change is accelerating and is the single, greatest threat to the Great Barrier Reef. In the past five years it has been repeatedly and severely damaged by three marine heatwaves,” said Professor Hughes.
“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 said.
“Australia must stop censoring science, and start taking the steps we know are required to help protect the Reef,” said Professor Will Steffen, Climate Council spokesperson and climate change expert.
“This is history repeating itself. In 2015, I was asked to review a UNESCO report on climate change and World Heritage sites, which included the Great Barrier Reef. In the final report, all mention of the Reef was cut completely, after the Australian government successfully pressured UNESCO to remove any reference to it,” he said.
“No sections about any other country were removed. This censorship of science is wrong, but sadly a common tactic used by this government. It’s wasting time and effort that we can’t afford to waste,” said Professor Steffen.
“Pretending there isn’t a problem doesn’t make it go away. We have to keep global temperature rise as far below 2°C as possible to give the Great Barrier Reef its best chance of recovery,” said Professor Steffen.
The Climate Council says a credible, science-backed climate goal for the Australian government is reducing its emissions 75 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, and reaching net zero by 2035.
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NOTES TO EDITORS:
- UNESCO’s world heritage committee is the international technical body that sets standards for the Great Barrier Reef’s protection.
- This final decision follows on from the draft decision it announced last month.
- Since the draft decision was released, the Federal Government has been engaged in relentless lobbying to stop the ‘in danger’ rating from going ahead.
- UNESCO’s decision comes less than 12 months after the International Union for Conservation of Nature gave the Reef ‘critical’ status – the most urgent status. In 2019, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority downgraded the long-term outlook of the Reef to “very poor”.
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