Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef has avoided being placed on UNESCO’s “in danger” list after a decision at the annual meeting of its World Heritage Committee (WHC) in Poland overnight.
What is the ‘in danger’ list?
- The World Heritage Committee (WHC) gets information about the state of sites like the reef
- It decides what makes the “in danger” list
- Being on the list means there is a threat to the future of the site
- That threat can either be imminent or potential danger
- A site being named as “in danger” means the WHC can allocate funds to help
- It also highlights the threats to the world, encouraging donor agencies to help
- But it’s also a first step in the potential removal of a site from the World Heritage List
Federal Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg said the Government had invested heavily in the reef, but it would take time for any improvements to show.
“This announcement overnight is a big win for Australia and a big win for the Turnbull Government,” he said.
“We’ve received a strong endorsement that our Reef 2050 plan, which is a coordinated, integrated plan with the Queensland Government, is working.”
But Queensland Environment Minister Steven Miles said the Federal Government was falsely claiming credit for the decision to not place the Great Barrier Reef on the “in danger” list.
Mr Miles said the State Government had done the heavy lifting, not Mr Frydenberg.
“It was the work over the last two-and-a-half years that convinced them not to list the reef as in danger, and convinced them now that we’re making good progress in implementing the plan,” he said.
“The real change there was the election of the Palaszczuk Government — I think Josh [Frydenberg] is claiming credit for a lot of our good work,” Mr Miles said.
UNESCO blames land clearing as a concern for the health of the reef and said increased efforts were needed.
Tougher tree clearing laws failed to get through Parliament
The Palaszczuk Government failed to get toughened tree clearing laws through State Parliament last year, but has committed to implementing changes, if Labor is re-elected.
Mr Miles said the Queensland Government had “fought tooth and nail to try to get those land clearing laws through”.
“I think what the committee has recognised is we’ve said if we’re re-elected, we will revisit those laws, and so they’ve given us that bit much more time.
“I’m sure that if by next year we don’t have those laws in place they’ll have a different view.”
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said it was good news.
“What I want to really see now is that more and more people from, not just from across Australia, but from across the world, come and show their support for the Great Barrier Reef,” she said.
“It supports more than 69,000 Queensland jobs, provides billions of dollars into the Queensland economy each and every year.
“We also know that the reef has had some big impacts recently due the cyclone.”
Ms Palaszczuk stood by her Government’s commitment to protecting the reef.
“We have ensured that there is no dumping of dredge spoil in the Great Barrier Reef — it has to be dumped on land — that’s the first thing my Government did,” she said.
Col McKenzie from the Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators in Cairns said it was vital the land clearing laws passed the Parliament.
“I just see land clearing as one of those key steps we need to pick up on, but until we convince the LNP in Queensland that there needs to be balance, we’ve got a pretty good fight on our hands,” he said.
Green groups not happy with plan
The Climate Council said it had absolutely no doubt the reef was in danger.
The council’s climate scientist, Professor Will Steffen, said all levels of government were failing to address the biggest threat to the reef — the burning of fossil fuels.
“This isn’t a great win at all. This is a huge cover-up and as long as we deny the existence of the main problem, the Great Barrier Reef is even in worse danger,” he said.
Professor Steffen said two years of back-to-back mass coral bleaching should serve as a clear warning to both UNESCO and the Federal Government.
“We’ve had 67 per cent mortality on the northern section of the reef, the most pristine section. There is only one reason why that happened and that was the high ocean temperatures caused by the burning of fossil fuels,” he said.
“If that isn’t enough to put the Great Barrier Reef in danger, I’m not sure what is.”
Greenpeace said the decision allowed the Federal Government to continue with a long-term reef plan that did not address climate change.
Greenpeace activist Alix Foster Vander Elst said the action of the Queensland and Australian governments had made it clear they did not care enough about saving the reef.
“The Government says one thing, but does another on the reef,” Ms Foster Vander Elst said.
“What we should be doing is cutting fossil fuels subsidies, banning new coal mines and offering the world real climate leadership.
“If we do not act now, then when Australians mourn the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef in years to come, they will know who to blame — the Abbott-Turnbull Australian governments who wilfully promoted fossil fuels over committed action on climate change.”
The UNESCO World Heritage Committee and the Government’s 2050 Advisory Committee have warned that the Australian Government’s Reef 2050 Plan, which primarily addresses water quality and land clearing, is inadequate.