UNESCO has stopped short of putting the Great Barrier Reef on its “danger” list last week, but warned of the reef’s poor health and the negative outlook for the future. It warned Australia to continue to take all necessary steps to ensure its future protection.
UNESCO noted climate change as a threat as well as poor water quality – a direct impact of coastal development and massive industrialisation.
The draft recommendation will be voted on by the 21 nations on UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee at a meeting in Germany in a few weeks. If accepted, Australia is required to give a progress report on its commitments by December 1, 2016
Australian Environment Minister Greg Hunt welcomed UNESCO’s draft decision, which he said recognises “the government’s long-term plan as well as the real world improvements that are occurring in the World Heritage site.” He added: “This is still the world’s Great Barrier Reef. It is the most majestic reef in the world, it is the largest reef in the world and it is the greatest reef in the world.”
Hunt added the World Heritage Centre acknowledged the significant and unprecedented work undertaken by the Commonwealth and Queensland governments and has recommended against the Great Barrier Reef being listed as “in danger”.
The environment minister claims “all references to ‘in danger’ have been dropped and Australia and Queensland’s efforts have been praised.”
Queensland’s tourism and mining industries were also quick to welcome the announcement. The Queensland Tourism Industry Council (QTIC) said it is confident that the region will sustain inbound tourism growth with over 3,000 coral reefs to showcase to its visitors.
QTIC chief executive Daniel Gschwind said the decision is the right move and acknowledged Australia’s strong credentials as an effective environmental manager. He emphasized that the nation must implement the plan and deliver on the trust placed in it as guardian of the Great Barrier Reef.
“It’s clear that the world is watching how we manage the Great Barrier Reef and this should inspire our efforts to ensure it remains a natural wonder that will inspire and delight generations well into the future,” he said.
Tourism is Queensland’s second biggest industry – worth $23 billion – and directly and indirectly employs 230,000 people.
Key industry figures will address the decision by UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee on Friday at the Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef: The World’s Best Address forum, one of Queensland’s biggest World Environment Day celebrations (view event flyer or register for tickets).
Conservation and indigenous groups are not so happy with the announcement.
Greenpeace Australia Reef campaigner Shani Tager said, “It is not a reprieve – it is a big red flag from UNESCO” adding, “UNESCO has now also sent a clear signal that the Abbott government must fully protect the Great Barrier Reef and that means a reprieve from coal expansion.”
Greenpeace is calling on the federal government “to stop trying to prop up a dying coal industry and remove port expansion loopholes from the Reef 2050 plan”.
Greenpeace has launched another signature campaign asking UNESCO to take another look at the changes that are taking place on the reef.
The campaign reiterates the danger of the coal industry operating in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef, the building of the Carmichael mega-mine, and the digging up of millions of tonnes of seafloor to expand the Abbot Point coal port.
WWF-Australia CEO Dermot O’Gorman also expressed concern over the draft decision and pointed to the measures demanded of Australia.
“The Australian and Queensland governments must now deliver on their promises to better protect the Reef,” O’Gorman said in a statement.