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World

Australia to challenge UNESCO downgrade of Great Barrier Reef

  • Ley said she had spoken to UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay overnight Monday to express "very clearly our strong disappointment.
Published June 22, 2021

BRISBANE: Australia said Tuesday it will strongly oppose a UNESCO plan to list the Great Barrier Reef as "in danger" over deterioration caused by climate change.

The UN body released a draft report on Monday recommending the reef's World Heritage status be downgraded because of its dramatic coral decline, after years of public threats to do so.

Environmental campaigners said the decision highlighted Australia's lack of action to curb the carbon emissions which contribute to global warming.

Environment Minister Sussan Ley said Australia would challenge the move, accusing UN officials of backflipping on their assurances ahead of the World Heritage Committee's 44th session in China next month, where the recommendation will be formally considered.

"Politics have subverted a proper process and for the World Heritage Committee to not even foreshadow this listing is, I think, appalling," she told reporters in Canberra.

The UN body did not consider the billions of dollars spent attempting to protect the world's largest coral reef, she added.

The committee's draft report did commend Australia's efforts to improve reef quality and its financial commitment.

But it noted "with the utmost concern and regret... that the long-term outlook for the ecosystem of the property has further deteriorated from poor to very poor," referring to Australia's move to downgrade the reef's health status after back-to-back mass bleaching events in 2016 and 2017.

Ley said she had spoken to UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay overnight Monday to express "very clearly our strong disappointment, even bewilderment".

Placement on the UN body's in-danger list is not considered a sanction. According to UNESCO, some nations have their sites added to gain international attention and help to save them but it is seen as a dishonour by others.

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