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Australia hits back at ‘flawed’ decision to put Great Barrier Reef on ‘in danger’ list

Australia has reacted angrily to a UN committee recommendation that the Great Barrier Reef should be added to a list of world heritage sites that are in danger.

The UN Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation committee said the reef should be added to the list due to the effects of climate change.

Australia has been trying for years to keep the reef off the list and the country’s environment minister Sussan Ley said the UN’s recommendation had been made “without due process” and “on the basis of a desktop review”.

Ms Ley said: “This decision was flawed. Clearly there were politics behind it.”

Reuters news agency cited a government source as saying Canberra believed China was responsible, as China has influence on three committees and also holds the chair of the World Heritage Committee.

“We will appeal but China is in control, the meeting is in China, we don’t have much hope,” the source said.

But environmental groups are not buying Australia’s argument that the recommendation is political.

Australia’s leaders have insisted they are tackling climate change but the country’s attachment to coal makes its one of the world’s largest carbon emitters per capita.

Despite this, the government continues to support fossil fuel industries, saying that it is protecting jobs.

Richard Leck, head of Oceans for the World Wide Fund for Nature – Australia, said: “The recommendation from UNESCO is clear and unequivocal that the Australian government is not doing enough to protect our greatest natural asset, especially on climate change.”

The site off the Queensland coast is one of Australia’s main tourist attractions, supporting tens of thousands of jobs – things that would be under threat if it was put on the “in danger” list.

The reef is composed of 3,000 individual reef systems, 760 fringe reefs, 600 tropical islands and about 300 coral cays.

They house a wide variety of marine life, plants, and animals, including sea turtles, reef fish, more than 100 species of sharks and rays, and 400 hard and soft corals.

Over the past three decades, the reef has lost half of its coral cover, pollution has caused deadly starfish outbreaks, and climate change has resulted in coral bleaching, the World Wildlife Fund says.

UNESCO said in 2015 that the reef’s outlook was poor and since then, it has suffered three major coral bleaching events.

The decision will come up for final consideration in the World Heritage committee late in July.

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