UNESCO wants to list the Great Barrier Reef as being “in danger” due to climate change but the Australian government is willing to put up a fight to make sure this doesn’t happen, The Guardian reports.

If the new recommendation goes ahead next month, it would make the Great Barrier Reef the first natural World Heritage Site to be categorised in such a way. Usually the “in danger” status is reserved for sites that have been impacted by things like war, pollution and poaching.

“The conclusions of the 2019 Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report are clear in stating that the long-term outlook for the ecosystem of the property has further deteriorated from poor to very poor, and that the deterioration has been more rapid and widespread than was evident during the period 2009-2014,” UNESCO said in a report published on Monday.

“The property has also suffered significantly from coral bleaching events in 2016, 2017 and most recently in 2020, as a result of global warming.”

A sea temperature increase of just one degree over four weeks is enough to cause coral bleaching. The good news is that corals can recover, but only if we act now.

Of course, coral bleaching isn’t new. We’ve sadly watched on as the Great Barrier Reef has fallen under increased environmental strain from climate change for years, now. That’s why the government’s response is so shocking.

“It is a backflip on previous assurances, it is a deviation from normal process and it’s based on just a desktop review without the latest information,” Environment Minister Sussan Ley told the ABC on Tuesday morning.

Ley said the government would “strongly oppose” the proposed change, which is interesting because UNSECO said it “strongly invites” the Australian government to adhere to the Paris Agreement for the sake of the reef.

“It can be concluded that, despite many positive achievements by [Australia], progress has been insufficient in meeting key targets of the Reef 2050 Plan,” the UNESCO report continued.

“The Plan requires stronger and clearer commitments, in particular towards urgently countering the effects of climate change, but also towards accelerating water quality improvement and land management measures.

“The widespread effects of the consecutive coral bleaching events further add to the significant concerns regarding the future of the property.”

Whatever happens next month, it’s clear things are heating up in more ways than one.

Image: Getty Images / Brett Monroe Garner