UN Warning on Great Barrier Reef Stuns Australia

23 Juin, 2021, 07:08 | Auteur: Auguste Feret
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The Great Barrier Reef should be added to a list of "in danger" World Heritage Sites, a United Nations committee has recommended, prompting an angry response from Australia which said it had been blindsided by the move and blamed political interference.

Unesco, the world body's educational, scientific and cultural agency, has recommended placing the massive coral ecosystem on the list, ahead of a July meeting of the World Heritage Committee in Fuzhou, China.

Climate change was highlighted as a key threat to the reef as the committee found the quality of the site had fallen from "poor to very poor" and deterioration had been more "rapid and widespread" than previously thought.

In his address to US President Joe Biden's virtual climate conference with global leaders in April, the prime minister said the country will "get there as soon as we possibly can", adding that "for Australia, it is not a question of if, or even by when, for net-zero but, importantly, how".

"I made it clear that we will contest this flawed approach, one that has been taken without adequate consultation".

"The UNESCO warning could not be any clearer, the Great Barrier Reef is in danger because of the Morrison Government's failure to act on climate change", he said.

Australian Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley said the government will "strongly oppose" the recommendation, arguing the government was investing $3 billion in reef protection.

"She claimed the site is "the best managed reef in the world" and claimed officials made the move without "examining" the Reef or without the latest information".

Ley said that she and Foreign Minister Marise Payne had called UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay to officially protest the proposed listing.

China chairs the UNESCO committee, but when queried in parliament, Ley declined to say if she was pointing the finger at Beijing.

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Elsewhere, Ley said the UNESCO decision was flawed and politically motivated.

Ley did not elaborate, but a government source said Canberra believes China as responsible amid a souring of relations between the two countries.

Australia and China have been locked in an enduring trade and diplomatic spat that has led China to impose trade sanctions on major Australian exports and hit its peak when China published a list of 14 grievances against the Australian government earlier this year.

In December, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said climate change had tipped the reef into "critical" condition.

Australian MP George Christensen pointed out Beijing's influence on the World Heritage Committee, saying, "A United Nations committee led by Communist China has chose to target Australia claiming the Great Barrier Reef is in danger when in fact the health of the reef is improving".

"I wonder what environmental assessments Communist China undertook when it built its illegal military islands in the maritime territory of other nations?" he wrote on Facebook.

Further, while the rest of the world sets global emissions reduction targets which have been tied to struggling marine ecosystems, China previous year built three times as much coal power capacity as other countries in the entire world combined-the equivalent of more than one large coal plant per week (pdf). At the same time, construction permits for new coal projects also accelerated.

But environmental groups rejected any suggestion the recommendation was political. "This recommendation is reached by world-renowned scientists", said Richard Leck, head of oceans for the World Wide Fund for Nature, Australia.

But Australian scientist Prof.

Peter Ridd, who headed the Marine Geophysics Laboratory at James Cook University for about 15 years before he was dismissed after criticising research on coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef, said it was simply untrue that the reef had lost any significant amount of coral. The country had time to react by developing a long-term plan - called the Reef 2050 Plan - to improve the reef's health.


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