UNESCO defers downgrade of Australia's Great Barrier Reef
UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee has deferred its decision to downgrade the status of Australia's iconic Great Barrier Reef after the Australian government managed to garner enough international support to get the decision postponed till at least next June.
Addressing a virtual meeting on Friday, Sussan Ley, Australia's minister for environment, had said adding the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem to the list of “in danger” World Heritage sites, before the World Heritage Committee has finalised its own climate change policy, “makes no sense”. Ley said, “We ask for only two things: time for experts to see first-hand our commitment to the reef, and for the final climate policy to provide a consistent framework for addressing the impacts of climate change on all World Heritage properties.”
A full-fledged adoption of the Australian-proposed amendments to the committee’s draft report, at a meeting held in China on Friday, would have postponed any possible downgrading till 2023. However, amendments moved by Norway put the Great Barrier Reef on the committee’s agenda for its next annual meeting, scheduled for June 2022.
The proposal to downgrade the Great Barrier Reef’s status as a World Heritage site was moved in June this year. In a draft report, the World Heritage Committee had recommended that the reef’s status be downgraded to “in danger,” citing the damage caused to it due to climate change. However, reacting angrily to the proposed move, Australia had called it “flawed,” also hinting at the “politics behind it.”
Once a heritage site is downgraded to “in danger,” it is just one step away from losing all World Heritage standing.
Australia was first informed in 2014 that the downgrading of the reef to this listing was being considered, prompting the federal government to respond by developing a long-term initiative called the “Reef 2050 Plan.” However, in 2016, 2017 and 2020, the Great Barrier Reef suffered “significantly” from coral bleaching caused by unusually warm ocean temperatures. Two-thirds of the reef was damaged due to the coral bleaching.
(With agency inputs)