Unesco recommends Great Barrier Reef be listed 'in danger', Australia hints China’s hand
A United Nations committee’s proposal to downgrade the Great Barrier Reef's World Heritage status has irked Australia, which said the recommendation was politically motivated. The UN World Heritage Committee on Monday said in a draft report that “there is no possible doubt” that the network of colourful corals off Australia's northeast coast was “facing ascertained danger".
Scientists say that the coral reef ecosystem has suffered three major bleaching events since 2015 due to severe marine heatwaves. The report recommended that the world's biggest coral reef ecosystem should be added to Unesco’s list of World Heritage in Danger when the committee considers that question in July.
As many as 53 sites are currently on the List of World Heritage in Danger. The latest recommendation by the UN committee comes as a setback as Australia lobbied furiously for years to stay off the endangered list. The Great Barrier Reef losing its World Heritage Site status list could potentially reduce its attraction to tourists.
Australia, one of the world's largest carbon emitters per capita, has remained reluctant to commit to stronger climate action and its conservative government has cited jobs as a major reason to back the country's fossil fuel industries. It has not updated its climate goals since 2015. But the threat of losing the World Heritage Site could also impact thousands of jobs dependent on about 5 million people who visit the Great Barrier Reef each year.
Australian environment minister Sussan Ley told reporters that the government has expressed “strong disappointment” and “bewilderment” at the proposal to Unesco director-general Audrey Azoulay, adding that the country will oppose the listing.
“This decision was flawed. Clearly, there were politics behind it...clearly, those politics have subverted a proper process and for the World Heritage Committee to not even foreshadow this listing is, I think, appalling,” Ley said, apparently hinting at China which chairs the Unesco committee.
While Ley didn’t name Beijing, a government official told news agency Reuters that China has been responsible for the committee’s stance. "We will appeal, but China is in control," Reuters quoted the unnamed government official as saying.
Australia’s relation with China has deteriorated in recent years, especially after Prime Minister Scott Morrison sought an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic and was successful in getting a related resolution passed at the World Health Assembly in 2020.
However, environmental groups said that the recommendation was made because Australia was not doing enough to protect the reef. "There is no avenue for any government to have any input. This recommendation is reached by world-renowned scientists," Richard Leck, Head of Oceans for the World Wide Fund for Nature, Australia, told Reuters.
The recommendation will now be considered by all 21 countries on the committee of which Australia is also a member. According to the convention, however, Australia will be unable to vote if the panel is unable to reach a consensus.
(With agency inputs)