Australian Government was ‘Blindsided’ by UN Recommendation to List Great Barrier Reef as In-Danger. But it’s no Great Surprise

Australian Government was ‘Blindsided’ by UN Recommendation to List Great Barrier Reef as In-Danger. But it’s no Great Surprise

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The Australian authorities on Tuesday expressed shock at a draft decision to record the Great Barrier Reef as “in peril”. But the advice has been looming for a while.

The advice, by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), acknowledges Australia’s dedication to implementing the Reef 2050 Plan, an overarching framework to guard the pure marvel for future generations.

But the “excellent common worth” of the Great Barrier Reef has continued to say no.

The draft resolution will now be thought-about on the World Heritage Committee assembly, to be held on-line subsequent month. The growth is important for a number of causes – not least that Australia’s progress underneath the Paris Agreement is being linked to its stewardship of the reef.

Last yr, extreme bleaching struck all three areas of the Great Barrier Reef. ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.

What did UNESCO say?

In recommending the in-danger itemizing, UNESCO and IUCN cited a 2019 report by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority which discovered the ecosystem’s long-term outlook had deteriorated from poor to very poor. It mentioned international warming had additionally triggered coral bleaching occasions in 2016 and 2017 – which had been adopted by one other mass bleaching occasion in 2020.

The report mentioned Australia’s progress on the Reef 2050 Plan “has been inadequate in assembly key targets”. It mentioned the plan requires stronger and clearer commitments, particularly on urgently addressing threats from local weather change, and bettering water high quality and land administration.

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Among different suggestions, the draft resolution known as on the worldwide neighborhood to “implement essentially the most formidable actions to deal with local weather change […] and fulfil their duty to guard the Great Barrier Reef”.

The 2020 coral bleaching occasion was the second-worst in additional than 20 years. ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.

No actual shock

Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley’s said the federal government was “blindsided” by the draft advice. However the transfer has been a very long time coming.

As famous above, the federal government’s 2019 Outlook Report documented the impacts and threats to the Great Barrier Reef in no unsure phrases, and recognized local weather change as essentially the most severe menace.

There had been different indicators the advice was looming. In 2020, the IUCN World Heritage Outlook listed the Great Barrier Reef as “vital” because of threats together with local weather change and poor water high quality. The score – the worst on a four-point scale — was a decline from the 2017 score of “vital concern”.

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And in 2018, a report predicted that with out main reductions in greenhouse gasoline emissions, all 29 World Heritage coral reefs, together with the Great Barrier Reef, will stop to be “functioning ecosystems by the top of the century”.

Finally in 2012, the World Heritage Committee warned the Great Barrier Reef may very well be positioned on the in-danger record “within the absence of considerable progress”.

Climate change isn’t the one concern

While local weather change is a serious concern within the draft resolution, it’s however one in all numerous pressures on the Great Barrier Reef. Poor water high quality because of nutrient and sediment runoff – the latter linked to land clearing – are additionally large issues.

The IUCN outlook report mentioned local weather change is the most important menace to all of the world’s pure heritage locations. In this regard, this week’s draft resolution units an vital precedent for the World Heritage Committee. It would appear the committee is now ready to straight tackle the problem of local weather change, after being less so inclined in earlier years.

The Reef 2050 Plan doesn’t adequately tackle the local weather change menace. The UNESCO report calls on Australia to right this, and make sure the plan sufficiently addresses different threats together with water high quality.


Decisions by the World Heritage Committee usually are not binding on any nation. Still, we anticipate the committee’s considerations to lead to Australia amending the Reef 2050 Plan to higher acknowledge local weather change as a major challenge.

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The draft resolution can be thought-about on the annual assembly of the World Heritage Committee in July, chaired by China and comprising 21 international locations.

An finish to tourism?

The expertise of different main vacationer locations suggests an in-danger itemizing could not damage tourism on the Great Barrier Reef, as some have feared.

Take the Everglades within the United States, Belize within the Caribbean and the Galapagos Islands. An analysis of those World Heritage properties confirmed no discernible tourism downturn after an in-danger itemizing. However, if the Great Barrier Reef’s situation continues to deteriorate, industries that depend on a wholesome Reef are more likely to endure long-term harm.

An in-danger itemizing isn’t everlasting, nor does it imply the Great Barrier Reef can be completely faraway from the World Heritage record. Currently, 53 World Heritage properties are on the in-danger list; others had been taken off the record as soon as considerations had been addressed.

The Great Barrier Reef will proceed to be harmed till nations collectively undertake extra formidable local weather targets, international emissions of greenhouse gases fall to net-zero and sea temperatures stabilise.

Without actual and pressing actions in any respect ranges — international, nationwide, and native — the values that make all heritage locations particular will decline. That makes it much less possible that future generations will have the ability to get pleasure from these wonders as we now have finished.

This article is republished from The Conversation underneath a Creative Commons license. Authors: Jon C. Day, PSM, Adjunct Senior Research Fellow, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University; Scott F. Heron, Associate Professor, James Cook University, and Terry Hughes, Distinguished Professor, James Cook University.

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Cover picture of Great Barrier Reef in September 2020 by Kristin Hoel.

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