Great Barrier Reef should be added to heritage ‘danger’ list: UN report

A call for the Great Barrier Reef to be listed as “in danger” will be met with fierce lobbying, as the government questions why Australia has been singled out in a fresh UN report.

Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek confirmed she would push back against the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation recommendation, made after a monitoring mission in March.

“We’ll clearly make the point to UNESCO that there is no need to single the Great Barrier Reef out in this way,” she told reporters in Canberra.

“We believe that it’s important to say that, yes, climate change is a risk to ecosystems like the Great Barrier Reef, but that means it’s a risk to every reef, globally.”

In June last year, UNESCO issued a draft ruling that the reef should be added to the list of sites in danger of losing their World Heritage listing after three mass bleaching events since 2015.

But after a whirlwind lobbying campaign by then minister Sussan Ley, it deferred the listing until after a monitoring mission in March.

However, the March visit coincided with a mass coral bleaching event caused by a marine heatwave.

The mission report said that such mass bleachings, once rare, were now a regular occurrence. Water quality targets set by both the Queensland and federal government were also singled out.

It also noted the government’s action on climate change but warned Australia did not “provide any clear pathway to avoid significant negative impact” from climate change.

Ms Plibersek insisted the difference between action taken by Labor and the previous government was “night and day”.

“This report was written at a time before the government was taking the threats to the reef seriously,” she said.

“Everything has changed.”

Since the May election, Labor has legislated an emissions reduction target of 43 per cent, up from the 26 per cent goal of the Morrison government. However, the new goals remain in line with 2C or more of warming.

The report urged the government to align its targets with the Paris target of limiting global warming to 1.5C.

Unless climate change was “fixed”, it would continue to be a danger to coal reefs globally, Ms Plibersek said.

“If the Great Barrier Reef is in danger, every coral reef in the world is in danger,” she added.

Last year, the Morrison government said it was left blindsided by the recommendation and questioned China’s influence on the UNESCO committee.

Asked if she held the same concerns, Ms Plibersek said she refused to get bogged down in her predecessors’ “conspiracy theories”.

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