Media Release Climate Change

Australian Government must be a global leader on climate action to help our Reef

December 2, 2019

The Australian Government’s crucial report to the United Nations body UNESCO on our Great Barrier Reef recognises the Outstanding Universal Value of the Great Barrier Reef has been impacted. This is a critical statement for the World Heritage Committee to consider next year according to the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS).

It also recognises that climate change is the biggest threat to the Reef but does not commit to actions that are required to limit global temperature to a level that would secure the Reef’s future.

UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee will meet in 2020 to consider the state of our iconic Reef and how well the Australian Government is protecting it. There is a possibility the Committee may place the Reef on the ‘in danger’ list due to the very poor outlook for the Reef.

Australia’s report published today (2 December) was requested by UNESCO and charts the actions taken by the Australian Government since the Committee’s last meeting about the status of our Reef in 2015.

AMCS Director of Strategy Imogen Zethoven said “The Australian Government report calls for concerted global action on climate change. Climate change is obviously a global problem, but it is also a national problem with hotter and more frequent bushfires, worse drought and warming oceans.

“It is in Australia’s interest to play a leading role in getting the world to act, and the only way it can do that is by acting at home while urging other countries to follow our example. Alarmingly, in 2016 and 2017  our Reef experienced back-to-back mass coral bleaching events caused by climate change driven marine heatwaves. Around half the shallow water corals in the northern two-thirds of the reef died after these bleaching events and recovery has been very slow. The Reef has also been beset by extreme weather events, also linked to the climate crisis.”

Just four months ago, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Parks Authority downgraded the future outlook  of our reef from ‘poor to very poor’ and the 2018 water quality targets in the Reef 2050 Plan were not met. The recently released 2017-2018 Australian-Queensland Government Reef water quality report card gave the inshore condition of the Reef a D or ‘poor’ rating.

Ms Zethoven said the Australian Government needed to show national and global leadership in reducing emissions and transitioning to renewable energy, or the grave dangers our Reef faces will only worsen.

“The Reef tourism industry supports two million tourists a year, generates $6 billion dollars annually and sustains 64,000 jobs. The environmental value of the Reef is priceless as a vital and unique habitat for iconic Australian species like dugongs, dolphins and sharks.”

Last week, the AMCS and the World Wide Fund for Nature Australia produced a joint report outlining measures that should be included in the forthcoming update to the Reef 2050 Plan. A draft of the revised Plan will be sent to UNESCO early next year. It should include measures to urgently tackle climate change, water quality and threats from unsustainable fishing.

The Australian Government report (available here) featured detail on projects tackling water quality, crown of thorns starfish and building reef resilience in the face of climate change.