A special committee with the United Nations’s cultural agency says Australia’s Great Barrier Reef should be placed on a list of World Heritage sites that should be designated as “in danger.”
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s World Heritage Committee, or UNESCO, recommended the 2,300-kilometer-long coral reef system should be placed on the list because it has deteriorated due to climate change.
Australian officials denounced the recommendation. Environment Minister Sussan Ley said Tuesday that Canberra opposes the designation and accused the World Heritage Committee of “a backflip on previous assurances” and that it would not take such an action before its formal meeting next month.
Ley said she and Foreign Minister Marise Payne had spoken by phone to UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay about the decision, which she called “flawed” and a decision influenced by politics.
“This sends a poor signal to those nations who are not making the investments in reef protection that we are making,” she said.
But Richard Leck, the head of oceans for World Wide Fund for Nature-Australia, said in a statement the recommendation “is clear and unequivocal that the Australian government is not doing enough to protect our greatest natural asset, especially on climate change.”
The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s biggest coral reef system that brings an estimated $4.8 billion annually in tourism revenue.
Climate change has driven temperatures in the Coral Sea higher in recent decades, leading to three mass “bleaching” events since 2015, destroying at least half of the Reef’s vibrant corals and prompting the Australian government to downgrade its long term outlook to “very poor.”