Members of the United Nations World Heritage Committee are under pressure to pressure Australia to commit to more ambitious climate action as part of its plan to slow the decline of the Great Barrier Reef ahead of a key meeting in July. .
Conservationists have lobbied representatives from 13 of the 21 countries that make up the committee, saying the threat of putting the reef on a “in danger” list should be used to drive more national action on greenhouse gas emissions.
Since the committee last considered the reef status in 2015, key government and international reports have recognized the deteriorating health of the world’s largest coral reef system, which stretches more than 2,000 km off the coast of Queensland.
Since the 2015 meeting, global warming has also fueled three mass bleaching events that weakened and killed corals across the reef.
The Paris-based Unesco World Heritage Center will start publishing reports today, ahead of the July meeting. A report on the Great Barrier Reef will include a list of draft decisions for the committee.
Using the impacts of climate change as a justification for placing a World Heritage site on the “in danger” list has never been done before, although the option exists.
The committee has never formally asked countries with sites at risk of climate change to take steps to reduce emissions as a condition of staying off the “in danger” list.
The Scientific Advisory Body on Natural World Heritage Sites, the International Union for Conservation of Nature says climate change It is now the most prevalent threat to World Heritage sites, affecting more than 70 of the 252 sites listed and considered the natural crown jewels of the planet.
The World Heritage Committee, which will meet virtually July 16-31, must also consider a new climate change policy that could provide “policy advice” to countries.
Richard Leck, Director of Oceans at WWF Australia, said: “Unesco can recommend that Australia take much stronger action on climate change and renewables than it currently does. We have seen three mass whitening events since the last meeting in 2015.
“We have also seen the government acknowledge that 1.5 ° C is a critical threshold for the Great Barrier Reef, but Australia’s emissions policy is currently consistent with a temperature rise of 2.5 ° C or 3 ° C” .
The Morrison government has defended its stance on climate change, saying the country is doing its part to cut emissions.
Leck and Imogen Zethoven, a consultant representing the Australian Marine Conservation Society, have informed 13 countries that they are members of the World Heritage Committee, presenting a report arguing that the committee should ask Australia to take stronger climate action.
Guatemala, Oman, Hungary, Uganda, Brazil, Egypt, Australia, Norway, China, Nigeria, Spain, Russia, and Saudi Arabia have been reported.
Leck said: “Many members were unaware of the reef damage since 2015 and some were also unaware of Australia’s poor performance on climate change policy.”
He said being placed on a “danger list” would cause the reef to lose its World Heritage status and have knock-on effects on the tourism industry “which depends on the global reputation of our reef management.”
Zethoven said the joint Queensland and federal government Reef 2050 Plan it was the direct result of a request from the World Heritage committee that the reef be included on its “endangered” list, unless action was taken on coastal developments, dredging and pollution from agriculture.
“That is the approach we are asking committee members to follow. The Great Barrier Reef is in worse shape now than it was [in 2015]. “
In 2019, the marine park authority downgraded the reef’s long-term outlook to “very poor.”
In an official report on the status of the reef, the state and federal government told Unesco in late 2019 that climate change had already affected the unique characteristics that led to the reef being placed on the World Heritage List in 1981. That report also claimed that Australia was taking “strong” action “on climate change.
In April 2020, scientists declared that the reef had experienced its most widespread mass bleaching event on record, and the third in five years.
TO study for UNESCO has said that even if global greenhouse gas emissions peaked in 2040 and then declined, about half of the 29 reef sites included in the world heritage list would still suffer severe bleaching twice every decade.
Associate Professor Scott Heron of James Cook University, who led the study and is an expert on World Heritage and reef issues, said the Australian government has argued that the impacts of climate change should not be used as a justification for a list. of “in danger”.
But he said the option for the World Heritage Committee existed as part of official operational guidelines for placing properties on the “in danger” list.
“We need urgent action on climate change and it has to be in this decade,” he said.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism