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Australia opposes UNESCO endangered status for Barrier Reef

November 29, 2022

Canberra will oppose plans to add the Great Barrier Reef to the endangered UNESCO World Heritage site list. The Great Barrier Reef has been considered a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1981.

Dead table corals killed by bleaching on Zenith Reef, on the Northern Great Barrier Reef
Higher water temperatures have ravaged the Great Barrier Reef, causing the worst coral bleaching ever recorded by scientistsImage: Greg Torda/Arc Centre Of Excelle/AAP/epa/dpa/picture alliance

Australia said Tuesday it plans to lobby against UN plans to add the Great Barrier Reef to a list of endangered UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Conservation experts working with the UN warned on Monday that the world's largest coral reef would be added to the list of endangered World Heritage sites.

The Great Barrier Reef, on the northeastern coast of Australia, has been on UNESCO's World Heritage List since 1981.

But if the UN decides to designate the reef as endangered, it puts the Australian government on notice that the site could be removed from the World Heritage list altogether. 

Australia's Environment Minister Tanya Pibersek said that there was "no need to single the Great Barrier Reef in this way" and that her government will lobby against adding the reef to an endangered list. 

What do the experts say?

Eleanor Carter at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and UNESCO representative Hans Thulstrup said the reef was "significantly impacted by climate change factors" despite Australia's efforts.

"The resilience of the property to recover from climate change impacts is substantially compromised," they said in a report based on a mission to the Great Barrier Reef.

The report added that Australia lacked clear climate change targets and noted that some measures the country had pledged were not fully implemented, especially concerning fishing and water quality. 

What has Australia done to protect the Great Barrier Reef?

In January, the Australian government announced a billion-dollar package to protect the reef.

That announcement came after Australia narrowly avoided a UNESCO heritage list downgrade threat.

Environmentalists have described the fund announced this year as putting "a Band-Aid on a broken leg."

In May, 91% of the reef's coral had been damaged by bleaching after a long summer heatwave, according to Australian officials.

Australia elected a center-left government this year, with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese promising more climate action.

The Australian government is reportedly in talks with UNESCO to avoid dropping the Great Barrier Reef from the heritage list. 

ns, fb/ar, rt (AFP, AP)