Brisbane (Australia) (AFP)
After years of climate damage to its vibrant corals, Australia’s vast Great Barrier Reef will not be added to UNESCO’s list of endangered World Heritage sites.
The reef was one of seven sites around the world facing degradation during a meeting in China on issues such as ecological damage, overdevelopment, overtourism and security concerns.
But Australia has managed to avoid an “endangered” listing despite growing concerns over climate change.
– What is the World Heritage List? –
There are over 1,100 UNESCO World Heritage sites around the world, recognized for their “outstanding universal value” and their natural or cultural significance.
The Great Barrier Reef – the world’s largest living structure, visible from space – was added to the list in 1981 for its “outstanding natural beauty” and vast biodiversity.
But the list is not definitively fixed and the sites can be downgraded or even entirely deleted on the recommendation of the UN body.
While inclusion on the “endangered” list is not considered a sanction – some countries have their sites added to attract international attention to help them save them – others see it as a disgrace.
– Why did the reef risk losing its status? –
The reef has undergone three episodes of massive coral bleaching in the past five years, by some measures losing half of its corals since 1995 as ocean temperatures have risen.
It has also been hit by several cyclones, as climate change results in more extreme weather conditions and outbreaks of thorn-crowned starfish that eat the coral.
“It is a warning to the international community and to all humanity that the coral ecosystem is in danger,” said in June Fanny Douvere, head of the UNESCO World Heritage marine program.
UNESCO has targeted Australia for its lackluster climate efforts, as the government resists calls to commit to net zero emissions by 2050 while seeking to protect its resource-dependent economy.
Australian government scientists say corals have made a comeback over the past year, but agree it will not improve the ecosystem’s “very bad” long-term outlook.
– How did Australia react? –
When the UN threatened to downgrade the reef to the World Heritage List in 2015, Australia created a “Reef 2050” plan and invested billions of dollars in its protection.
This time around, Canberra has launched a major lobbying effort, sending the country’s Environment Minister to Paris to meet with members of the World Heritage Committee and taking key ambassadors on a snorkeling trip to the reefs.
It was feared that an “endangered” list could harm the massive global appeal of the reef – the glittering jewel in Australia’s tourist crown.
The 2,300-kilometer-long (1,400-mile-long) ecosystem was worth an estimated US $ 4.8 billion in tourism revenue per year to the Australian economy before the coronavirus pandemic.
Canberra succeeded in convincing delegates – including major fossil fuel producers Russia and Saudi Arabia – to give more time to conservation efforts, with Australia being asked to report on the state of the reef in 2022.
© 2021 AFP