November 18, 2019

Ministers Assess Protection of ‘Very Poor’ Great Barrier Reef Ahead of UN Scrutiny

News Source: Brisbane Times

Author(s): Tony Moore

Australia has to provide a report to UNESCO's senior technical body on the future of the Great Barrier Reef, one of Australia's biggest tourism drawcards, by December 1.

UNESCO's world heritage committee is the international technical body that sets standards for the Great Barrier Reef's protection. It will rule on the Great Barrier Reef's future heritage listing in 2020.

The Great Barrier Reef has been a UNESCO world heritage-listed site since 1981.

In 2015, UNESCO "noted with concern" the conclusion of the 2014 Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report that the "overall outlook for the property is poor, and that climate change, poor water quality and impacts from coastal development are major threats to the property’s health."

It commended actions to establish an 80 per cent reduction in pollution run-off on the reef by 2025 and "the commitment of an initial additional investment of $200 million dollars" to "accelerate progress in water quality improvements".

In Townsville, ministers including Queensland Environment Minister Leeanne Enoch and federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley will discuss the report before it is made public on December 1.

The report includes a summary of actions from the federal and Queensland governments, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation to improve the health of the reef.

GBRMPA's 2019 Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report said the major threat facing the reef is now climate change and its impact on warming oceans.

It downgraded its future from "poor to very poor".

"The rapid increase in greenhouse gas emissions has caused an estimated 1-degree centigrade increase in global average temperature since pre-industrial times. The rising global temperature is causing an increase in sea temperature, which has a multitude of impacts, including destructive marine heatwaves."

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority released this blunt statement in July 2019: "Only the strongest and fastest possible actions to decrease global greenhouse gas emissions will reduce the risks and limit the impacts of climate change on the reef. Further impacts can be minimised by limiting global temperature increase to the maximum extent possible and fast-tracking actions to build reef resilience."

Australian Marine Conservation Society director of strategy Imogen Zethoven said the report to be discussed by ministers included extensive detail from the 2019 Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report by the GBRMPA.

Ms Zethhoven said the ministers would debate the "report card and then "sign off" on the progress, which was forwarded to UNESCO's World Heritage Centre, which acts as the secretariat of the World Heritage Committee.

"Next year the committee will be looking at how Australia has been performing protecting the Great Barrier Reef," she said.

Ms Zethhoven said despite a range of good efforts, Australia urgently needed to reduce carbon emissions because another coral-bleaching event would emerge.

"In 2016-17 we saw the loss of 50 per cent of the shallow-water corals in the Great Barrier Reef," shesaid.

"That problem has not gone away and so whether it is this summer or a summer after that - this issue is not going away - so what exactly is the government doing?"