Fight For Our Reef

World Heritage FAQs

May 11, 2023
Scientific advisors to the World Heritage Committee – UNESCO and IUCN – are worried about the future of our Reef and its World Heritage Status. In 2022 they assessed the Australian Government’s reef management and issued a report with 22 critical recommendations to improve the health of our Reef.

What are the 22 recommendations?

There are 10 High Priority Recommendations and 12 Other Recommendations including, meeting the 2025 water quality targets by ensuring compliance with the reef protection water quality regulations, ending tree clearing in Reef catchments by upscaling investment in repairing gullies to reduce sediment run-off, restoring wetlands to reduce nutrient run-off, strengthening the Reef 2050 Plan to reduce greenhouse emissions and limit warming to 1.5°C, phasing out destructive gillnets, and monitoring trawl catches on commercial vessels in the Reef.

The full Reactive Monitoring Mission report can be read here.

What is a Reactive Monitoring Mission?

Reactive Monitoring is the reporting by advisory bodies to the World Heritage Committee on the state of conservation of World Heritage sites that are under threat, in potential danger or listed as ‘in Danger’. The Reactive Monitoring Missions are generally undertaken by expert scientists from the World Heritage Centre and IUCN.

Has the Reef had other Reactive Monitoring Missions?
Yes, in 2012 and 2022. The first Reactive Monitoring Mission visited Gladstone and the Reef coast in response to industrialisation and the second mission occurred in March 2022 – during the fourth mass bleaching event since 2016, due to climate change and water quality impacts. This mission team travelled through the Reef region, stopping in Brisbane, Townsville, Cairns and out to the Reef.

What was the objective of the 2022 Reactive Monitoring Mission?
To meet with a wide range of stakeholders to assess the Reef 2050 Plan to ensure that it addresses the threats to the Reef from climate change and other threats, determine a roadmap for accelerated action, and assess whether the Reef meets the criteria for inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

What is the World Heritage List?
World Heritage represents natural and cultural places on Earth that hold outstanding universal value for humankind to be protected for future generations. To be included on the World Heritage List, sites must meet at least one out of ten selection criteria. These criteria are explained in the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention. The World Heritage List contains 1121 sites.

What is the World Heritage Convention?

The Convention is an international agreement that was adopted by UNESCO in 1972 to protect places that are of outstanding universal value. State Parties are countries that adhere to the convention. The mission is to safeguard our world’s most outstanding natural and cultural heritage.

What is the World Heritage Committee?

The World Heritage Committee is made up of representatives from 21 countries (called State Parties). The World Heritage Committee is responsible for the implementation of the World Heritage Convention. The Committee meets once a year to discuss World Heritage Sites that are facing threats and also decide whether sites are listed as ‘in Danger’. Every three years a new Committee is elected at the General Assembly.

What is World Heritage ‘in Danger’?

There is a List of World Heritage in Danger, which contains 53 sites. When a site is added to the ‘In Danger’ list, it means that a serious and specific danger threatens the Outstanding Universal Values of that site. The World Heritage Committee may decide to delete the property from both the List of World Heritage in Danger and the World Heritage List.

What does it mean for a site to be inscribed on the World Heritage ‘in Danger’ List?
Placing a site on the ‘In Danger’ list triggers stronger measures and provision of support to protect it. The World Heritage Committee can also provide financial assistance from the World Heritage Fund and encourage donor agencies to help.

If our Reef were to be listed as ‘In Danger’ it would be a signal to the world that urgent action to reduce emissions and limit warming to 1.5C – a crucial threshold for coral reefs – is required. As Reef custodians, Australia should be leading global efforts on this.

Does AMCS support an ‘in Danger’ listing?
That’s a question for the World Heritage Committee but UNESCO and the IUCN, have recommended an ‘in Danger’ listing in their report. The Reef is in trouble and the scientific experts have outlined the steps needed to help save it. It’s up to the Australian and Queensland governments to implement these actions in full if they are serious about trying to save the Reef.

Can the Reef be saved?
It’s not too late to save our Reef, however the window is closing fast and urgent action is needed. The Australian and Queensland governments must quickly implement all the actions outlined in the Reactive Monitoring Report.

What is the biggest threat to the reef?
Global warming is the Reef’s greatest threat, driving the marine heatwaves that lead to the damaging mass bleaching events that have struck the Reef in recent years.
The latest IPCC report shows a bleak future for the Reef if rapidly warming temperatures are not addressed this decade. The report projects that globally coral bleaching events will occur every five years from 2035 and what happens next will depend on how quickly we lower emissions. Cyclone intensity will also increase, putting coral reefs further at risk.

What single action should the government prioritise?
As a developed nation Australia should be leading the way in rapid and deep cuts to carbon emissions and scaling up investment in renewables. The OECD’s conservative International Energy Agency has said we cannot start any new fossil fuel projects if we are to keep global warming to 1.5oC – a critical threshold for the survival of coral reefs.

The Reactive Monitoring Mission’s report outlines critical steps needed to help the Reef. The Australian and Queensland governments must quickly implement all these actions.

What has the government done so far to address the Reef’s threats?
The Albanese government has dramatically improved its carbon emissions target to a 43% cut by 2030 but scientific consensus says that Australia needs to cut emissions by 75% to ensure global warming does not exceed 1.5oC. Australia’s emissions reductions targets are in line with 2oC warming, which would result in the loss of 99% of the world’s coral reefs.

The Australian Government has committed $1.2 billion funding to tackle water pollution and poor fishing practices but still falls short of what is needed to effectively tackle water pollution and reforms are not happening quickly enough.

Queensland’s Energy and Jobs Plan outlines commitments to legislating new targets for renewable energy: 70% by 2032 and 80% by 2035 And decarbonising the Queensland energy grid by 90% by 2035. But Queensland’s current emissions reduction target of 30% by 2030 is the lowest in the country.