The Australian government is attempting to stave off UNESCO’s plans to list the Great Barrier Reef as an endangered World Heritage Site, as a geopolitical battle brews over one of the world’s best-known biodiversity hotspots which scientists fear is being irreversibly damaged by climate change.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Australia appears to have gained the support of 12 other countries on the UN body’s World Heritage Committee to defer the decision until 2023, with a vote slated for Friday.
Officials at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) have said that quick action was needed to counter the effects of climate on the reef which has suffered three mass coral bleaching events in the past five years and has lost nearly half of its corals since 1995.
With the UNESCO committee being chaired by China, the issue has gained a geopolitical color with the conservative Australian government accusing the Chinese government of influencing the decision, which Beijing has dismissed.
The Australian government even warned that the UN body risks damaging its own credibility if it follows through with the decision to put the world’s largest coral reef on its endangered list.
Environmental groups have expressed dismay over the politicization of a conservation issue and slammed the Australian government for not doing enough to protect the biodiversity hotspot.
Conservation groups have managed to gain the backing of several prominent public figures and scientists including “Aquaman” actor Jason Momoa, singer Cody Simpson and ocean explorer Philippe Cousteau—all of whom have backed UNESCO’s recommendation.
In an official statement, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Australia’s Head of Oceans, Richard Leck, said: “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. The prospect of losing the World Heritage status of our Reef will be a huge shock for many Australians, but it is a powerful message that our Government needs to urgently lift its ambition on the threats to its existence – climate change and water quality.”
In the past few days, the Australian government has embarked on a charm offensive with the member nations on the UNESCO committee. According to the Financial Times, Canberra dispatched its environment minister on a lobbying tour of Europe, while the country’s Great Barrier Reef envoy, Warren Entsch, invited foreign ambassadors on snorkeling trips to educate them about the reef’s health. Despite this, critics have called out Australia’s conservative coalition government led by Prime Minister Scott Morrisson for failing to act on climate change. Unlike most developed nations, Australia has not set a net-zero emissions target for 2050. Instead, the country has only committed to slashing its emissions by at least 26%—compared to 2005 levels—by 2030. By comparison, the U.K. aims to cut emissions by 78% by 2035, the US by 50% by 2030, and the European Union by 55% by 2030. The Australian government had previously been criticized for its failure to act against climate change in early 2020 when the country faced several large bushfires along its southeastern coast.
16.92 Tons. That’s the amount of carbon dioxide emissions Australia recorded per capita in 2018, making it the third-worst emitter in the world, according to data compiled by the Union of Concerned Scientists. Australia’s poor numbers are due to its high reliance on coal for its power generation needs.
Australia set to delay UNESCO ‘in danger’ ruling for Great Barrier Reef (Sydney Morning Herald)