The United Nations has again officially recommended the Great Barrier Reef be added to the World Heritage “in danger” list because shit’s getting real and we all need to do something.
UNESCO released a report into the reef on Tuesday after an official visit in March and said frequent mass bleaching events and increased water acidity seriously threatened coral. It urged the Federal and Queensland governments to take “ambitious, rapid and sustained” action to limit global warming to 1.5C and protect the site, which they’re not currently doing.
If the listing goes ahead it would make the Great Barrier Reef the first natural World Heritage Site to hold the status. The “in danger” list has in the past only been used to classify sites impacted by things like war, pollution and poaching.
This also isn’t the first time UNESCO has tried to list the Great Barrier Reef as “in danger”. Former federal environment minister under the Abbott Government Greg Hunt fought the recommendation back in 2015 and the Morrison government pushed back again in June 2021.
Then-environment minister Sussan Ley said at the time she was “blindsided” by the proposed listing and said standard procedure hadn’t been followed. She launched a global campaign to lobby UNESCO against the move. Needless to say, the government won.
UNESCO agreed to delay the listing until it was able to monitor the reef itself in March.
Now that it has, it found mass bleachings (which never happened until the end of the last century) were now regular on the Great Barrier Reef, directly caused by more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. It also found global warming had caused the water acidity to increase by 26 per cent, which slows coral growth and makes them more vulnerable to damage.
The Albanese government has bolstered Australia’s climate policy, reef management strategies and set slightly better emissions reduction targets than the previous Coalition government. Its aim is to reduce emissions by 43 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, but a report by Climate Analytics said that target was in line with more than 2C of warming. And with just eight years to go and nothing actually being done yet, even that crappy target is looking unreachable.
The consensus among scientists and experts in Australia and globally is that whatever we’re doing is not even close to adequate.
“This is one of the first big tests for the new Australian government to show the world that on climate and nature we are really switching from being laggards to leaders,” WWF-Australia’s Head of Oceans and Sustainable Development Richard Leck said in a statement.
Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek put out a statement on Tuesday: “since the Monitoring Mission undertook their work, the government has engaged in constructive dialogue with UNESCO and taken a number of significant steps forward.”
We wait to see what that actually means.