Australia opposes 'endangered' barrier reef status

Australia opposes ‘endangered’ barrier reef status

A sea turtle swims above corals on Moore Reef in the Gunggandji Sea Country off the coast of Queensland, eastern Australia, November 13, 2022.

Sam McNeil/AP

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Sam McNeil/AP

A sea turtle swims above corals on Moore Reef in the Gunggandji Sea Country off the coast of Queensland, eastern Australia, November 13, 2022.

Sam McNeil/AP

CANBERRA, Australia – Australia’s environment minister said on Tuesday that her government would lobby against UNESCO’s addition of the Great Barrier Reef to a list of endangered world heritage sites, arguing that critics of government inaction on climate change were outdated.

Officials from the United Nations cultural agency and the International Union for Conservation of Nature released a report on Monday warning that without “ambitious, swift and sustained” climate action, the world’s largest coral reef is in danger. Danger.

The report, which recommended upgrading the Great Barrier Reef to endangered status, followed a 10-day mission in March to the famed reef system off the northeast coast of Australia which was added to the World Heritage List in 1981.

Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek said the report was a reflection on Australia’s previous Conservative government, which was ousted in May’s election after nine years in power.

She said the new centre-left Labor Party government had already addressed several of the report’s concerns, including action on climate change.

“We will make it very clear to UNESCO that there is no need to isolate the Great Barrier Reef in this way” with an endangered list, Plibersek told reporters.

“The reason why UNESCO in the past has designated a place as at risk is because they wanted to see greater government investment or greater government action and since the change of government these two things happened,” she added.

The new government has passed legislation to commit Australia to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 43% below 2005 levels by 2030.

The previous government only committed to a 26% to 28% reduction by the end of the decade.

Plibersek said his government had also committed 1.2 billion Australian dollars ($798 million) to care for the reef and canceled previous government plans to build two large dams in Queensland state that would have affected the reef water quality.

“If the Great Barrier Reef is in danger, then all of the world’s coral reefs are in danger,” Plibersek said. “If this World Heritage Site is in danger, then most World Heritage Sites in the world are threatened by climate change.”

The report says the Australian federal government and Queensland authorities should adopt more ambitious emissions reduction targets in line with international efforts to limit future warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since then. preindustrial.

The small Green Party, which wants Australia to cut emissions by 75% by the end of the decade, has called on the government to do more to tackle climate change in light of the report.

Jodie Rummer, a marine biologist at James Cook University in Townville who has worked on the reef for more than a decade, backed calls for Australia to aim for a 75% reduction in emissions.

“We are taking action, but that action needs to be much faster and much more urgent,” Rummer told Australian Broadcasting Corp.

“We can’t claim to be doing everything we can for the reef at this point. We’re not doing that. We have to send this message to the rest of the world that we’re doing everything we can for the reef and that means we have to take urgent action on emissions immediately,” she added.

Comments from Australian officials at both federal and state level will be considered before Paris-based UNESCO makes a formal proposal to the World Heritage committee.

In July last year, the previous Australian government won enough international support to postpone an attempt by UNESCO to downgrade the reef’s status to “endangered” due to damage from climate change.

The Great Barrier Reef represents approximately 10% of the world’s coral reef ecosystems. The network of over 2,500 reefs covers 348,000 square kilometers (134,000 sq mi).

Australian government scientists reported in May that more than 90% of Great Barrier Reef corals surveyed in the past year had been bleached, in the fourth mass event in seven years.

The bleaching is caused by global warming, but it is the first reef bleaching event during a La Niña weather pattern, which is associated with cooler Pacific Ocean temperatures, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Authority said. in its annual report.

Bleaching in 2016, 2017 and 2020 damaged two-thirds of the coral.

Coral bleaches in response to heat stress, and scientists hope most corals will recover from the latest event.

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