A UN-backed mission to the Great Barrier Reef has concluded that the world’s largest coral reef system should be included on a list of World Heritage Sites in Danger.
The long-awaited report on the 10-day mission in March said climate change posed a “serious challenge” to the values that saw the reef inscribed as a global wonder in 1981.
Progress to reduce pollution flowing into the reef’s waters from agriculture and grazing has been too slow, and more investment is needed to meet water quality targets, the mission’s report said.
The report’s recommendation that the reef be placed on a list of world heritage sites “in danger” will be considered alongside responses from the Queensland and federal governments before Unesco (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) makes a recommendation official to the world. the heritage committee before its next meeting.
The reef mission was carried out at the request of former federal environment minister Sussan Ley, after the former government successfully lobbied against a 2021 Unesco recommendation that the reef be placed on the “at risk” list.
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Two experts – one from Unesco and another from the International Union for Conservation of Nature – met with the Queensland government, scientists and stakeholders two months before the Morrison government was defeated.
The mission’s final report, released Monday afternoon in Paris after a six-month delay, made 10 priority recommendations that needed to be addressed “with the greatest urgency.”
The implementation of the recommendations could be “drastically improved [Australia’s] the ability to ensure and promote the conservation of the property’ and preserve its ‘outstanding universal value’ for future generations, the report said.
The government’s Reef 2050 plan was due to be strengthened before the end of this year to include “clear government commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, consistent with efforts to limit the rise in global average temperature to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels”. the report. said.
Since the mission, the Albanian government has legislated an enhanced national target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 43% from 2005 levels by 2030 and to reach net zero by 2050.
The independent review found that Australia’s new target is consistent with keeping warming to 2°C – above the 1.5°C target considered critical for long-term reef health.
In last month’s federal budget, the Albanian government announced $1.2 billion in funding to continue work to improve water quality and research to try to increase the resilience of corals and reefs.
The mission’s report said that “considerable work” was underway for scientific research and to improve water quality, but progress on water quality was too slow.
Two recommendations called for the Queensland state government to accelerate the rollout of its sustainable fisheries strategy and phase out the use of gillnets in the marine park.
The report said: “Despite the unparalleled efforts of science and management by [Australia] in recent years, the [outstanding universal value] of property is significantly affected by climate change factors.”
Rising ocean temperatures driven by fossil fuel burning caused widespread coral bleaching in 1998, 2002, 2016, 2017, 2020 and 2022.
[ Australia warns Unesco over placing Great Barrier Reef on its ‘in danger’ list ]
The UN-backed mission coincided with the reef’s first mass bleaching to occur during a La Niña year that, in the past, has kept ocean temperatures cool enough to protect corals.
Scientists fear that without cooler conditions in the coming weeks, the reef could face bleaching again this summer.
The report said: “The property’s resilience to recover from the impacts of climate change is substantially compromised, particularly – but not exclusively – due to degraded water quality.”
The mission’s report was originally scheduled to be released by May 2022, in time for a World Heritage Committee meeting in Russia in July, where the reef was to be debated again. But the meeting – to be chaired by Russia – was postponed following the invasion of Ukraine.
Unesco will now prepare a new report on the state of the reef, which will take into account the mission’s findings and any responses from state and federal governments.
This report will make formal recommendations directly to the World Heritage Committee ahead of the rescheduled meeting in the first half of next year.
Last week, Russia stepped down as chairman of the 21-member committee, and Saudi Arabia is said to be considering taking over the role. – Guard