UN irritates Australia by recommending that the Great Barrier Reef be classified “endangered”


Reef fish swim above recovering coral colonies on the Great Barrier Reef off Cairns, Australia, October 25, 2019. REUTERS / Lucas Jackson

CANBERRA, June 22 (Reuters) – The Great Barrier Reef is set to be added to the list of “endangered” World Heritage sites, a UN committee said on Tuesday, sparking an angry backlash from Australia which has stated that the recommendation was politically motivated.

Australia has been pushing fiercely for years not to be listed as endangered, as this could result in the loss of the World Heritage Site status of the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem, potentially reducing its appeal to them. tourists.

Making its recommendation, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) committee said action was needed to counter the effects of climate change, as the chances of the reef retaining this dear status had deteriorated.

Invited by Australia, UNESCO delegates visited an unspoiled expanse of the reef in 2015, but scientists say the world’s largest living ecosystem has since suffered three major episodes of coral bleaching due to strong sea waves. marine heat.

Defending Australia’s efforts to protect the reef, Environment Minister Sussan Ley said Canberra would challenge the committee’s recommendation, saying a hidden agenda influenced its findings.

“This decision was wrong. Obviously, there was politics behind it,” said Leys, adding that Australia had raised its concerns to UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay.

China chairs the UNESCO committee, but when asked in parliament, Ley declined to say whether she was pointing the finger at Beijing. A government official, who requested anonymity, told Reuters that China was responsible for the committee’s position.

“We are going to appeal, but China is in control,” the government source said.

The Chinese Embassy in Canberra did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Relations with China, Australia’s biggest export customer, have deteriorated in recent years, reaching a low point after Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for an independent investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.

Environmental groups ignored the idea that politics played a role in the unfavorable recommendation, saying it was clear Australia was not doing enough to protect the reef.

“There is no way for a government to have any input. This recommendation is being achieved by world-class scientists,” said Richard Leck, Oceans Officer for the World Wide Fund for Nature, Australia.

Leck was part of a group of conservationists who lobbied 13 members of the UNESCO committee to come to his recommendation, which will now be considered by the 21 member countries of the committee.

Despite sitting on the committee, Australia will not be able to vote if the panel is unable to reach consensus, as per the convention.

Australia’s dependence on coal-fired electricity makes it one of the world’s largest per capita carbon emitters, but its Conservative government has strongly supported the country’s fossil fuel industries, arguing that stricter action on emissions would cost jobs.

How the government deals with the threat of losing the World Heritage site could also have an impact on domestic politics, as around 5 million people visit the Great Barrier Reef each year, supporting nearly 70,000 jobs in the state. from Queensland.

Queensland will be a major battleground state when Morrison returns to the polls over the next year, seeking to secure his party a fourth consecutive term.

Reporting by Colin Packham

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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