Media Release Climate Change

Australia’s Reef report to UNESCO – how to avoid “in danger” listing

November 29, 2019

Conservationists have urged the Australian government to ramp up actions to protect the Great Barrier Reef in a crucial report due to be submitted to UNESCO by this Sunday (1 December).

At stake is a possible “world heritage in danger” status for Australia’s national treasure.

In 2015, the World Heritage Committee considered downgrading the Reef to “in danger” but instead effectively put the Reef on probation, deciding to see if Australia’s Reef 2050 Plan could halt the decline.

The Committee said it would assess the Reef again in 2020 and set a deadline of 1 December 2019 for the Australian government to provide a progress report.

Since 2015, there have been back-to-back mass coral bleaching events; the Australian government’s GBR Outlook Report this year downgraded the Reef’s outlook to ‘very poor’; and water quality targets in the Reef 2050 Plan are not being met.

Because of these well publicised setbacks, the World Wide Fund for Nature-Australia (WWF) and the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) say Sunday’s report to UNESCO must include improved measures to tackle Reef threats.

“Australia has a unique opportunity to show continued global leadership on reef protection. We established marine sanctuaries in one third of Reef waters, banned dredge spoil dumping, and introduced new laws to reduce farm pollution. Beefed up action to tackle climate change, water pollution and fishing problems would take our strong record of reef management to the next level and protect thousands of tourism jobs ,” said Richard Leck, WWF-Australia Head of Oceans.

“The Australian government’s own experts have identified climate change as the leading threat to the Reef. To avoid a possible In Danger listing, the Australian government must demonstrate national and global leadership to rapidly reduce emissions, transition to renewable energy and accelerate efforts to address local threats,” said Imogen Zethoven, AMCS director of strategy.

The two organisations have produced a joint report outlining what measures should be in the Australian government’s 1 December report to UNESCO, including:

  • The Australian government should urgently commit to develop a national Energy Transition Plan that is 1.5C compatible, undertaking our fair share of emissions reduction to hold global average temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
  • The Australian and Queensland governments should – noting that current investments and regulatory action is insufficient to meet the 2025 Reef water quality targets – identify how the shortfall will be addressed by further actions and investments.
  • The Queensland Government, with Australian Government support, should increase protections for at-risk marine wildlife, such as inshore dolphins, dugongs and endangered sharks (particularly scalloped hammerhead sharks) by significantly reducing targeted shark fishing in Reef waters and implementing new areas free from commercial gill-netting