According to a UN statement for Australia to take "accelerated action at all conceivable levels" on climate change, the Great Barrier Reef should be included in a list of "in danger" world heritage sites.

Great Barrier Reef : IUCN Status Now
(Photo : Wikimedia Commons )

Great Barrier Reef In Danger

The Great Barrier Reef
(Photo : alicia3690/

The world's largest coral reef system, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, should be added to the list at the world heritage committee meeting next month.

The recommendation has generated a flurry of action from the Australian government, with Sussan Ley, the environment minister, stating she had already called Unesco's director-general, Audrey Azoulay, along with Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne.

Experts say that if the committee follows the suggestion, it will be the first time a natural world heritage site has been listed as "at-risk" due to climate change consequences.

Since the last time the committee examined the reef in 2015, global warming-induced by fossil fuel burning has raised ocean temperatures, resulting in three mass bleaching episodes on the 2,300km reef.

Ley stated that the government will "vigorously reject" the suggestion, stating that officials were "stunned" by what she described as a "backflip on earlier promises" by UN officials that the move would not be made this year.

World Heritage Sites

New Study Says Many Climatic Factors Caused 2016 Coral Death and Bleaching
(Photo : Wikimedia Commons)
The changing climate has been killing off corals. During the El Niño in 2016, warm water threatened the corals in the Great Barrier Reef (GBR).

World heritage sites are worldwide symbols, and "in danger" designations are frequently proposed as a result of armed conflict and war, pollution, poaching, and uncontrolled urbanization.

According to the Unesco study, a reform of Australia's primary reef strategy, the reef 2050 plan, should "completely include" results from a significant government review, which concluded that "rapid action at all conceivable levels is necessary to address the danger from climate change."

Despite the efforts and accomplishments of the state and federal governments, major objectives for improving water quality have not been fulfilled, according to the study.

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Great Barrier Reef (image)
(Photo : Gergely Torda/ ARC CoE for Coral Reef Studies.)
Ninety-one percent of reefs on the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef bleached from thermal stress in 2016.

The suggestion came after "a total perversion of the regular process," according to Ley. Officials were persuaded that Unesco would not propose the reef be placed on the "in danger" list a week ago, she added.

China may have influenced the new suggestion, according to the authorities. It is the head of the World Heritage Committee and will hold a meeting on July 16 to discuss the draft recommendation.

Climate change, according to Ley, is the greatest threat to the reef, but the global heritage committee is "not the platform" to "make a statement" about it.

Unesco had identified more than 80 world heritage monuments as being threatened by climate change, she added. The government may have understood if the body decided to label them all as "in danger," but the reef had been singled out, she added.

It's the second time the reef has been put on the endangered list. The last time this happened was in 2015 when the government launched a successful lobbying campaign to exert pressure on the 21-country committee.

Unesco further suggests that a monitoring mission be established to create "corrective measures." The Queensland and federal governments submit a report outlining additional actions to safeguard the reef by February 2022.

Members of the committee were pushed by the conservation organizations WWF-Australia and the Australian Marine Conservation Society prior to the reef decision, encouraging them to encourage Australia to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Imogen Zethoven, an AMCS consultant, stated that Australia's climate policies are "more consistent with a 2.5-3.0C rise in global average temperature - a threshold that would devastate the Great Barrier Reef and all of the world's coral reefs."

She said that the Australian government's inactivity had pushed the reef to the verge of being classified as "in danger."

The Unesco suggestion will shock Australians, said Richard Leck, head of oceans at WWF-Australia, but it was "a forceful message" that the government needed to "raise its game" on climate change.

Australian Emission

Extreme corals in Australian Great Barrier Reef Mangrove Lagoons (image)
(Photo : Dr Emma Camp)

Australia's greenhouse gas emission objectives have remained unchanged since 2015, and Prime Minister Scott Morrison has rejected international pressure to set a definite net zero target for 2050.

James Cook University's Assoc Prof Scott Heron researched the implications of climate change on world heritage reef areas. He described the advice as "surprising" but "not entirely unexpected."

According to Labor leader Anthony, the prospect of an "in danger" designation for the reef came as the return of Barnaby Joyce as Nationals leader made the government less likely to adhere to a target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 Albanese.

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