Jun 22, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Australia opposes UN report warning Great Barrier Reef is "in danger"

A green sea turtle is flourishing among the corals at lady Elliot island in the Great Barrier Reef, off the coast of Queensland, Australia, in 2019

A green sea turtle swimming among the corals at Lady Elliot island, off the coast of Queensland, Australia. Photo: Jonas Gratzer/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Great Barrier Reef should be included in a list of World Heritage Sites that are "in danger" from climate change, a United Nations committee said in a report Tuesday.

Yes, but: Australia's government said it will "strongly oppose" the recommendation by UNESCO's World Heritage Committee.

Why it matters: If the the world's largest coral reef ecosystem is placed on the "in danger" list, it would mark the first time a natural World Heritage-listed site has been included mainly due to the climate crisis, per the Guardian.

  • Researchers discovered last year that the reef, off the coast of Queensland in northeastern Australia, had lost over half of its coral populations in the past three decades because of ocean warming.
  • The UN report recommends that "accelerated action to mitigate climate change and improve water quality was essential to turn this outlook around," saying that Australia should "urgently" take action.

The reaction: Australia's Environment Minister Sussan Ley said Tuesday that Australian officials were "stunned" by the report's recommendation and implied to Aussie news outlets that China's government may have influenced the report's recommendations as the current UNESCO chair.

Context: Relations between the governments of Australia and China have deteriorated in recent years, with Australian officials accusing the Chinese Communist Party of interfering in domestic politics and Beijing saying Canberra has a "Cold War mentality."

What they're saying: "The Great Barrier Reef is the best managed reef in the world and this draft recommendation has been made without examining the Reef first hand, and without the latest information," Ley said in a statement.

  • "In a call to the Director General of UNESCO, Audrey Azoulay, with Foreign Minister Marise Payne overnight, I expressed Australia’s dissatisfaction with the process that is being followed.
"I made it clear that we will contest this flawed approach, one that has been taken without adequate consultation."

Of note: Environmental groups rejected any suggestion by Australia's conservative government of political interference in the UN report's findings.

  • "The recommendation from UNESCO is clear and unequivocal that the Australian government is not doing enough to protect our greatest natural asset, especially on climate change," said WWF-Australia's Richard Leck in a statement.

What's next: There will be a vote at the committee's meeting in China next month to determine whether the reef should be included in the list.

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