Heat is on Australia to act on climate following World Heritage Reef decision

The pressure to act urgently on climate change and water quality is piling on the Morrison government following the World Heritage Committee (WHC) meeting to discuss the status of the Great Barrier Reef, the Australian Marine Conservation Society said today.

The WHC has requested the Morrison government to report back on its actions to protect our global icon to UNESCO by 1 February 2022.

The decision comes despite a vigorous lobbying campaign by the Australian government to defer the decision by two years. The World Heritage Committee will again review the World Heritage status of the Great Barrier Reef at its next meeting in 12 months. A Reactive Monitoring Mission will be sent to Australia to scrutinize the action being taken to protect the Reef.

This means the Morrison government will be under pressure to face up to its climate responsibilities to protect our Reef before the next federal election, due by May 2022.

The WHC did not adopt UNESCO’s science-backed recommendation to inscribe the Reef on the ‘in danger’ list. Nevertheless, the Morrison government will now have to put in place policies that will benefit the Reef, the marine wildlife and the communities that depend on it.

“The World Heritage Committee’s decision must be the impetus to take the action our global icon needs,” said Imogen Zethoven, World Heritage consultant to AMCS.

“It puts the Morrison government, as custodians of our Reef, on probation. The responsibility lies with them to reduce emissions in line with limiting global warming to 1.5C – a level recognised by scientists as a crucial threshold for coral reefs. It is essential we meet this challenge urgently for the future of our Reef.”

The WHC decision also includes a request for the Australian and Queensland governments to host a Reactive Monitoring Mission to help shape the revised Reef 2050 Plan – the policy document which is currently under review. AMCS welcomes this request and urges the Australian government to organise the mission as soon as possible so the Reef 2050 Plan can be finalised by February next year.

“A climate action plan to do Australia’s fair share of limiting global warming to 1.5C and associated targets on emissions reduction, as well as renewed water quality efforts and a focus on improving fisheries practices, need to be laid out clearly by the Australian and Queensland governments in the renewed Reef 2050 Plan. We expect the Reactive Monitoring Mission will help to shape those policies,” said Ms Zethoven.

“The Morrison government must face up to its climate responsibilities. The government has been swamped by a deluge of reports and scientific evidence, often from its own agencies, warning of the dangers of climate change for the Reef, and we’ve seen the consequences of global heating in the three mass bleaching events in five years.

“While the Reef remains beautiful, the science is clear: the Great Barrier Reef is in danger from rising sea temperatures, poor water quality and unsustainable fishing practices.

“Our polling and statements from scientists, environmental groups, leading Australians and world famous Reef lovers have shown that climate action for our Reef has huge support. With the World Heritage Committee watching, the ball is now in the Morrison government’s court to listen and act.”

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