Explained: Great Barrier Reef downgrading and its impact on Australia
Australia on Tuesday expressed its disappointment at at a draft report of UNESCO which listed the Great Barrier Reef as being "in danger" over deterioration caused by climate change. The decision to downgrade of the Great Reef's status was politically motivated and flawed, Australian environment minister Sussan Ley said, hinting at China which chairs the UNESCO committee.
What did the UNESCO say?
The UN body released a draft report on Monday recommending the reef's World Heritage status be downgraded because of its dramatic coral decline.
The committee's draft report did commend Australia's efforts to improve reef quality and its financial commitment.
But it noted "with the utmost concern and regret... that the long-term outlook for the ecosystem of the property has further deteriorated from poor to very poor," referring to Australia's move to downgrade the reef's health status after back-to-back mass bleaching events in 2016 and 2017.
What is the meaning of this?
Placement on the UN body's in-danger list is not considered a sanction. According to UNESCO, some nations have their sites added to gain international attention and help to save them, but it is seen as a dishonour by others.
UNESCO has recommended that a total of seven sites be added to the endangered list and that two sites - Liverpool's waterfront and Selous game reserve in Tanzania, where poachers have run amok - be stripped of their World Heritage status altogether.
About the reef, the Climate Council said it brought "shame on the federal government, which is standing by as the reef declines rather than fighting to protect it".
What are the repercussions?
The downgrade recommendation for the Great Barrier Reef prompted environmental groups to take aim at the Australian government's reluctance to take stronger climate action.
Environmental campaigners said the threat to the Great Barrier Reef's heritage status highlights Australia's lack of action to curb the carbon emissions which contribute to global warming.
"The recommendation from UNESCO is clear and unequivocal that the Australian government is not doing enough to protect our greatest natural asset, especially on climate change," said WWF head of oceans Richard Leck.
Fanny Douvere, the head of UNESCO's World Heritage marine programme, said that that Canberra could act to improve water quality at the reef, which would increase its resilience to climate change.
What will be Australia's next move?
The country's environment minister Sussan Ley said that Australia would challenge the move, accusing UN officials of backflipping on their assurances ahead of the World Heritage Committee's 44th session in China next month, where the recommendation will be formally considered.
"Politics have subverted a proper process and for the World Heritage Committee to not even foreshadow this listing is, I think, appalling," she told reporters in Canberra. Ley said she had spoken to UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay overnight Monday to express "very clearly our strong disappointment, even bewilderment".
The UN body did not consider the billions of dollars spent attempting to protect the world's largest coral reef, the minister added.