Scientists defend Unesco in row with Australia over Great Barrier Reef

Scientists defend Unesco in row with Australia over Great Barrier Reef
Scientists defend Unesco in row with Australia over Great Barrier Reef

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - In a draft report, the UN body last month recommended that the world’s largest reef system, the jewel in Australia’s tourism crown, be downgraded because of damage to the corals. — Reuters pic

PARIS, July 1 — Five climate and marine experts wrote to Unesco today to thank it for threatening to put Australia’s Great Barrier Reef on its list of endangered World Heritage sites.

Ove Hoegh-Guldberg and Terry Hughes of the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, Andrea Grottoli of the International Coral Reef Society, Johan Rockstroem of Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Research and American marine biologist Sylvia Earle said the UN’s cultural agency “made the right decision to recommend that the world’s most iconic Reef system be inscribed on the List of World Heritage In Danger.”

In a draft report ahead of a key meeting in China from July 16-31, the UN body last month recommended that the world’s largest reef system, the jewel in Australia’s tourism crown, be downgraded because of damage to the corals, chiefly from global warming.

“It’s a warning to the international community and all of humanity that the coral ecosystem is in danger,” Fanny Douvere, the head of Unesco’s World Heritage marine programme, said at the time, emphasising that the decision was made on the basis of scientific reports coming out of Australia itself.

Applauding the move, the scientists said that protecting the reef “requires effective global action to reduce carbon emissions”.

“Yet Australia has so far not pulled its weight in this global effort,” they said, echoing complaints from climate activists over Australia’s refusal to commit to a target of becoming carbon-neutral by 2050.

Placement on the UN body’s heritage “in danger” list is not considered a sanction but it is seen as a dishonour by some countries.

Australia has lobbied hard against the move, which could severely impact the tourist appeal of the reef.

Last week, the Unesco envoys of Australia and 11 other countries wrote to the Paris-based body to share their “collective concerns” over its decision-making. 

In the letter, published by the Guardian newspaper, the ambassadors of the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Turkey and other countries said that Unesco had “limited ability” to “evaluate and analyse reports” and to visit World Heritage sites during the Covid-19 pandemic.

They said any recommendations about world heritage sites should be based on “close consultation” with the country involved.

The reef, which was inscribed on the World Heritage list in 1981, is one of seven sites threatened with being classed as “in danger” due to ecological damage, overdevelopment, overtourism or security concerns.

The Italian city of Venice, which has been overrun with tourists, and the waterfront of the English city of Liverpool, which is undergoing a major redevelopment, are among the other listings in Unesco’s sights.

Australia has accused Unesco of playing politics with the reef and said it will strongly oppose it being put on the endangered list. 

Some in Australia suspect China, which is embroiled in a trade war with Canberra, of pressuring Unesco to downgrade the reef—accusations rejected by Unesco.  — AFP

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