Media Release Great Barrier Reef

World Heritage Committee confirms Reef still facing ‘In Danger’ threat next year

by Alex Tibbitts September 14, 2023
  • Australia must report to UNESCO in February 2024 on further progress to better protect Great Barrier Reef or risk an ‘In Danger’ listing
  • Australia & Queensland must do more on climate and increase emission reduction targets
  • Both governments must urgently do more to reduce tree clearing in Reef catchments and improve water quality

The World Heritage Committee has accepted the recommendation from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to give Australia until February next year to show progress on actions to protect the Great Barrier Reef at its meeting in Saudi Arabia overnight.

Last month UNESCO released its latest State of Conservation Report on the Great Barrier Reef and draft recommendations for the World Heritage Committee. It noted the progress the Australian and Queensland governments had made on protecting the Reef especially after the election of the Albanese Government. However UNESCO expressed serious concern in the lack of progress in tackling poor water quality and the threat of climate change to the Reef. The Reef could face an ‘In Danger’ listing if the governments do not show further progress on improving its health and resilience.

AMCS Great Barrier Reef Campaign Manager Dr Lissa Schindler said: “The Great Barrier Reef faces the fight of its life, a fight that is set to get harder with climate change and a predicted El Niño increasing the likelihood of marine heatwaves and coral bleaching.

“Australia’s protection of the Reef has been in the global spotlight for the past decade, under the scrutiny of the global community, including UNESCO and the World Heritage Committee.

“The Australian and Queensland governments have been given five more months to tackle the threats to the Great Barrier Reef, and they must take full advantage of that time for the sake of our Reef, its $6 billion tourism industry and the 64,000 jobs it supports.

“UNESCO made 22 recommendations to our governments to help protect the Reef and retain its World Heritage status in its Reactive Mission Report last year, including improving climate policies and emissions targets, improving water quality, stopping tree clearing in Reef catchments and restoring coastal wetlands.

“The World Heritage Committee’s decision to give Australia another five months reflects the Australian and Queensland governments’ initial progress on those recommendations, but they must now make good on this vote of faith from the World Heritage Committee and deliver on all of the recommendations.

“They will have to report to UNESCO in February 2024 and they must be able to demonstrate further, genuine progress in safeguarding the Reef’s future, or they risk an ‘In Danger’ listing.

“Climate change remains the greatest threat to the Reef. Both the Australian and Queensland governments must urgently cut fossil fuel emissions to protect the Reef to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius – a critical threshold for coral reefs.

“Tree clearing is still a massive problem for the waters of the Great Barrier Reef. Clearing increases sediment runoff into Reef waters, smothering the coral and the seagrasses that marine life such as threatened dugongs depend upon.

“Both governments could also improve Reef water quality by investing in protecting and restoring coastal wetlands. Wetlands filter the water by trapping sediment and treating nutrient runoff from farms. They can also help tackle climate change through their ability to capture and store carbon.”