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Governments resist Barrier Reef protection measures

Updated: Jul 14

A group of Australia's major environmental organisations have written a letter to the UN's world heritage committee, urging it to add the Great Barrier Reef to a list of 'in danger' sites managed by UNESCO, a United Nations organisation. The Government has strongly opposed this suggestion, acting quickly to block the reef's inclusion on this list.


The Minister for the Environment, Sussan Ley, told The Guardian her officials were "blindsided" by the letter recommendation to help protect the reef. This is the same Minister who lost the case against a group of school students last week, after the Federal Court of Australia found she owes Australia’s young people a duty of care to protect them from the potential harms caused by carbon dioxide emissions.


The letter included the following:

“While parts of the Great Barrier Reef remain beautiful, we cannot underestimate the existential threat from climate change, with substantial coral loss in recent years from mass coral bleaching events in 2016, 2017 and 2020.”

Minister Ley went on to say that “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.”


Contrastingly, Dr Douvere, head of marine at UNESCO has said that out of 29 reef sites worldwide, none had suffered from three bleaching events in five years aside from the Great Barrier Reef. She said that while the reef has been well-managed, the water quality targets have not been met.


“With the planet warming up, it is clear that the government of Australia alone can’t do this. [The longer it takes for the world to get on a trajectory of 1.5C of warming], the more expensive it’s going to become to Australian taxpayers. This decision provides an opportunity to turn this around and to get to a future that will save the Great Barrier Reef, save the jobs and incomes and livelihoods of so many people – more than 60,000 people that depend on the Great Barrier Reef – and it will simultaneously make sure the financial investment remains doable.”

Dr Douvere, UNESCO


So what would inclusion on the in danger list mean?


If the Great Barrier Reef was included on the list, it would act as a global call to action. The reef would serve as somewhat of a 'poster child' for why we need to reduce greenhouse gasses globally. It would not halt nor slow down tourism to the reef, more so spread the word that the beautiful site is under threat as a result of what we're doing to the planet.


But why is the government against putting it on the list?


Is it unprofessional of us to say we have no fucking clue? Because the opposition of this suggestion makes no sense. The Prime Minister was quick to claim that UNESCO's process was "appalling" (he would know), and Australia has rallied a number of other countries to support the claim.


The Queensland Government supports the Federal Coalition in the plight to keep the reef off the list, with Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk requesting a commitment of $2 billion for energy and emissions-reduction projects, which would safeguard the 60 000-odd jobs that rely on the reef. This would be on top of the 2021 state budget's $2 billion for hydrogen and renewable energy jobs. She went on to say:


“The greatest risk at the moment is the National Party in Canberra.”

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk


If UNESCO is correct in stating that tourism would not be impacted by the inclusion of the Great Barrier Reef on the in danger list, why the hesitancy to comply? Would the inclusion not further promote the reef as a place to visit, perhaps before it ceases to exist at all? Previous tourism campaigns have heavily implied that visitors should visit the reef 'before it's too late,' so what's different about this?


It would also be remiss of us to mention the elephant in the room. Until Scott Morrison provides Australians with enough COVID jabs to ensure a safe number of us are vaccinated, tourism will continue to be limited. Tourist spend in Queensland was down 20% between 2019 and 2020. It's undeniable that COVID restrictions are economically impacting our economy. So it's hard to believe this is the reason for the Government's hesitancy.


So what is the reason? Your guess is as good as ours.