Australia’s vast Great Barrier Reef could be added to UNESCO’s list of endangered World Heritage sites.
The Australian authorities and a United Nations body are deciding whether the Great Barrier Reef is in danger of shedding its outstanding universal value.
Australia has desperately tried to avoid that scenario through a flurry of last-minute lobbying, including taking ambassadors on a snorkeling trip to the reef. It has proposed an amendment that would delay a decision until 2023, which has the backing of 12 countries – enough for a clear majority.
Recovery on the Reef this past year has been driven by fast-growing – fast to grow, but the first to go. They are susceptible to cyclones, coral bleaching & crown-of-thorns starfish, so reefs dominated by these corals are at a greater risk to decline quickly. pic.twitter.com/4T5MZph5TG
— Australian Institute of Marine Science (@aims_gov_au) July 21, 2021
The #GreatBarrierReef is in a window of recovery after a decade of disturbances.
Today, our Long-Term Monitoring Program reports hard coral cover has increased across all regions.
Full video: https://t.co/gFmeKPS1No pic.twitter.com/xSBsZheXWh
— Australian Institute of Marine Science (@aims_gov_au) July 19, 2021
According to Australia, there are fears that an “in danger” listing could dent the massive global appeal of the reef — the glittering jewel in Australia’s tourism crown.
The 2,300-kilometer-long (1,400-mile-long) ecosystem was worth an estimated US$4.8 billion a year in tourism revenue for the Australian economy before the coronavirus pandemic.
But the pressure to impose the rating is still coming from scientists and celebrities, with a letter published the same day signed by 13 public figures — actors, former politicians and journalists — pushing the committee to endorse UNESCO’s recommendation.
“There is still time to save the Great Barrier Reef, but Australia and the world must act now,” reads the letter, signed by “Aquaman” actor Jason Momoa and ocean explorer Philippe Cousteau, and several others.
Global warming is an imminent threat to the reef’s survival. Australia’s pre-eminent coral reef experts have publicly praised UNESCO’s draft in-danger rating and endorsed its report which highlighted Australia’s relatively weak climate change policies.
There have been three mass coral bleaching events since 2016 and the risks to the reef’s survival are significant. A recent Australian Academy of Sciences report said if the world warmed by 2 degrees only 1 percent of corals would survive.
Most wealthy nations are aiming for carbon neutrality by 2050 or earlier, but Australia has not set a deadline to reach net-zero emissions. Australia has committed to reducing its emissions by at least 26 per cent by 2030, based on 2005 levels. The UK aims to cut emissions 78 percent by 2035, Japan 46 per cent cut by 2030, Canada 45 per cent and the US 50 per cent by 2030.
The decision now rests in the hands of the World Heritage Committee, but 12 other countries have proposed delaying the decision until 2023, after reported lobbying from Australian officials.
With 14 votes required to pass that submission, Australia would need to find just one other member to back that position, assuming it also votes in favour.
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