Australia to UN: Don't Label Great Barrier Reef 'Endangered'

Nation's environment chief says new government is doing much better on climate change
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Nov 29, 2022 12:25 PM CST
Australia to UN: Don't Label Great Barrier Reef 'Endangered'
The Remoora pontoon, owned by Reef Magic, sits above the Moore Reef, a section of the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Queensland in eastern Australia on Nov. 14.   (AP Photo/Sam McNeil, File)

Australia's environment minister said Tuesday her government will lobby against UNESCO adding the Great Barrier Reef to a list of endangered World Heritage sites, arguing that criticisms of government inaction on climate change were outdated. Officials from the UN cultural agency and the International Union for Conservation of Nature released a report on Monday warning that without "ambitious, rapid, and sustained" climate action, the world's largest coral reef is in peril. The report, which recommended shifting the Great Barrier Reef to endangered status, followed a 10-day mission in March to the famed reef system off Australia's northeast coast that was added to the World Heritage List in 1981, per the AP.

Feedback from Australian officials, both at the federal and state level, will be reviewed before UNESCO makes any official proposal to the World Heritage Committee. Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek said the report was a reflection on Australia's previous conservative government, which was voted out of office in May. She said the new center-left Labor Party government has already addressed several of the report's concerns, including action on climate change.

"We'll very clearly make the point to UNESCO that there is no need to single the Great Barrier Reef out" with an endangered listing, Plibersek told reporters. The new government has legislated to commit Australia to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 43% below the 2005 level by 2030. The previous government only committed to a reduction of 26% to 28% by the end of the decade. Plibersek said her government has also committed about $805 million USD to caring for the reef and has canceled the previous government’s plans to build two major dams in Queensland state.

The construction of those dams would have affected the reef's water quality. But the UNESCO report said Australia's federal government and Queensland authorities should adopt more ambitious emission reduction targets in line with international efforts to limit future warming to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit since preindustrial times. James Cook University marine biologist Jodie Rummer supports calls for Australia to aim for a 75% emissions reduction. "We cannot claim to be doing all we can for the reef at this point," Rummer tells the Australian Broadcasting Corp. "We aren’t. ... We are taking action, but that action needs to be much more rapid and much more urgent." (Read more Great Barrier Reef stories.)

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