UNESCO proposes to downgrade Great Barrier Reef’s World Heritage status; Australian government pushes back

If added to the List of World Heritage in Danger, the Great Barrier Reef would become the first on it because of climate change reasons.

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In a draft report, the UN World Heritage Committee proposed the downgrade of the status of the Great Barrier Reef due to climate change. The World Heritage Committee plans to list it as “in danger,” while the Australian government expressed “strong disappointment” over the proposal.

The 2,500 reefs spanning 134,000 square miles off the coast of Australia have been listed under World Heritage status since 1981, but the once healthy coral reefs are “facing ascertained danger” and the Australian government isn’t doing enough to protect it, according to the World Heritage Committee.

“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,” Richard Leck, head of oceans for the World Wide Fund for Nature-Australia, said.

The report recommends the World Heritage Committee adds the Great Barrier Reef to UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger, when it meets in China in July.

According to AP News, “the listing could shake Australians’ confidence in their government’s ability to care for the natural wonder and create a role for UNESCO headquarters in devising so-called ‘corrective measures,’ which would likely include tougher action to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.”

Environment Minister Sussan Ley said she and Foreign Minister Marise Payne express “strong disappointment” and “bewilderment” at UNESCO’s recommendation and added that Australia—one of 21 countries on the committee—will oppose the listing when they meet.

“This decision was flawed,” Ley said. “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.”

Australian Marine Conservation Society environmental consultant Imogen Zethoven welcomed the committee’s recognition that “Australia hasn’t done enough on climate change to protect the future of the reef.”

If added to the List of World Heritage in Danger, the Great Barrier Reef would become the first on it because of climate change reasons, Imogen Zethoven, Australian Marine Conservation Society environmental consultant, said.

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