A new report by the UN has stated the Great Barrier Reef should be added to the list of World Heritage sites that are “in danger”.
Scientists have said the reef is facing major threats due to climate change. Actions to save the largest coral reef system in the world need to be taken with the “utmost urgency”.
The report comes after a ten-day monitoring mission by UNESCO scientists in March. The mission was prompted by the World Heritage Committee making a recommendation to list the Great Barrier Reef as “in danger” due to the impacts of climate change.
When the recommendation was made, Australia was told to urgently address the threats of the climate crisis. However, the government under Prime Minister Scott Morrison immediately pushed back.
“The mission team concludes that the property is faced with major threats that could have deleterious effects on its inherent characteristics, and therefore meets the criteria for inscription on the list of World Heritage in danger,” the report said.
However, Tanya Pilbersek, Australia’s environment minister, argued that the UNESCO report unfairly puts the spotlight on the Great Barrier Reef.
“Yes, climate change is a risk to ecosystems like the Great Barrier Reef, but that means it’s a risk to every reef globally,” Pilbersek said.
Pilbersek stated that the report reflected Scott Morrison’s government, which was voted out of office in May this year.
She said the new government has already addressed many of the report’s concerns, including action on climate change.
“The reason that UNESCO in the past has singled out a place as a risk is because they wanted to see greater government investment or greater government action and, since the change of government, both of those things have happened,” Pilbersek said.
Anthony Albanese’s government has legislated to commit Australia to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 43% below the 2005 level by 2030. Scott Morrison’s government only committed to a reduction of 26-28% by the end of the decade.
Pilbersek said the new government has also committed 1.2 billion Australian dollars to care for the reef. The government has also cancelled the previous government’s plans to build two major dams that would have affected the reef’s water quality.
The Great Barrier Reef
Composed of over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands spanning 344,400 square kilometres, the Great Barrier Reef is an extremely critical marine ecosystem.
The Great Barrier Reef also contributes 4.8 billion AUD to Australia’s economy. It also supports 64,000 jobs in the tourism, fishing and research industries.
As the planet continues to warm, scientists predict that 70-90% of all living coral will disappear in the next 20 years.
The decision to officially label the reef as “in danger” will be made by the World Heritage Committee next year.