Barrier Reef stays off UN 'in danger' list

A UNESCO committee has put off a decision on whether the Great Barrier Reef is
A UNESCO committee has put off a decision on whether the Great Barrier Reef is "in danger".

The Great Barrier Reef will not be listed as a World Heritage site "in danger" after a UNESCO committee agreed to delay any decision until 2023.

The UNESCO World Heritage Committee met both virtually and in the Chinese city of Fuzhou to vote on the draft decision on Friday night.

Federal politicians have lobbied against the proposal, fearing it would hurt the image of natural wonder which is one of the jewels of Australia's domestic and international tourism sectors.

Environment Minister Sussan Ley flew to several countries and gained enough support to override the listing recommendation, with Australia and 18 other delegates of the 21 members on Friday speaking in favour of the amendments to reconsider in 2023.

The committee, which usually makes consensus decisions, accepted the position to delay without a vote.

Only Norway argued for the reef to be listed as "in danger".

A monitoring mission will visit the reef to determine how the effects of climate change can be managed.

"This has never been about Australia hiding from the challenges facing the reef or the pressures of climate change, it has been about ensuring a fair and transparent process for the Reef and the people who work tirelessly to protect it," Ms Ley said after the decision.

"Our concern was always that UNESCO had sought an immediate 'In Danger Listing' without appropriate consultation, without a site visit and without all the latest information, and it is clear that this process has concerned not only Australia but other nations as well".

Ms Ley said Australia will continue to work with UNESCO and the World Heritage Committee, as well as the Queensland government, to protect the reef's long-term future.

"The World Heritage Committee's endorsement of Australia's position will give reef managers, marine scientists and land managers the ability to demonstrate the success of the outstanding work that is taking place across the reef," she said.

Ms Ley earlier told the virtual meeting on Friday that downgrading the reef's status before the committee had finalised its own climate change policy made no sense.

"Delegates, we ask only two things: time for experts to see first-hand our commitment to the reef, its present condition and our management, and for the final climate policy to provide a consistent framework for addressing the impacts of climate change on all World Heritage properties."

Australia is required to send a progress report to UNESCO by February 2022, with a listing decision delayed until 2023.

Labor's shadow environment minister Terri Butler said the listing deferral was an indictment on the federal government and only a temporary reprieve.

"It was the Morrison government's failures on reef conservation and climate action that made Australia's Great Barrier Reef vulnerable to an 'in danger' listing," she said in a statement.

"Now the best the Morrison government has been able to achieve is kicking the can down the road."

Greenpeace Australia Pacific CEO David Ritter said the government had abandoned its obligations to protect the reef and the UNESCO decision was "a victory for one of the most cynical lobbying efforts in recent history".

"Jetsetting around the world, at great expense to taxpayers, to block a decision that would demand climate action is a slap in the face to all Australians who love and care about our beautiful reef."

The WWF's Richard Leck said UNESCO had put Australia on probation and it should be a turning point for the federal government's policies.

"The Australian government's first action must be to start work on a plan for Australia to do its fair share to limit global temperature increase to 1.5C," he said.

"We have a unique moment in time to harness our endless sunshine, huge land areas, powerful winds and world-class expertise to lead the world in protecting the reef from global warming."

The Queensland government publicly backed the federal government's campaign.

Queensland Deputy Premier Steven Miles said the state government certainly wanted to see the reef remain on the World Heritage register.

"There are billions of dollars of our economy, tens of thousands of jobs reliant, directly and indirectly, on the Great Barrier Reef, and so we do want to retain that recognition."

The Great Barrier Reef has been listed as a World Heritage Site since 1981.

with AP

Australian Associated Press